Answer the Obvious Question

I read a resume today from an individual that was well written and showed a significant pattern of achievement.  It’s an impressive resume.  Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Executive Summary:  A clear statement of his objective and overall experience

  • Skills:  List of about a dozen major skills related to his field

  • Accomplishments:  Eight bullets, each with a specific accomplishment – several are very impressive

  • Professional Experience:  Two jobs listed.  The most recent was with a civilian firm, lasted 3 months and just ended.  The other lasted 20+ with a government agency.

  • Education:  Bachelor’s and MBA along with continuing eduction certifications – overall impressive education credentials.

Everything about the resume says that this person has been successful and is very capable.  I would move some things around (shorten the exec summary and accomplishments, and move the skills section further down) but it’s a pretty good resume.

The thing that’s missing is an explanation of why this individual is on the job market.  He spent more than 20 years with one organization.  His next job only lasted 3 months.  This is an obvious question every hiring manager is going to want answered.

There are a number of possible reasons why this happened.  A few I consider likely are:

  • It was a short term contract

  • The company downsized and laid him off 3 months later

  • He misjudged the opportunity and quit

  • The company misjudged his abilities and fired him

  • The person had relocated for the civilian position (more than 1500 miles) and for family reasons, he had to move back to their original location

All of these are possible and none of them are deal breakers.  The important thing is to address the question.  The best place to address it is in the cover letter.  This job seeker had a lengthly cover letter, but it was limited to a recap of his accomplishments. 

By leaving out the reason why he’s on the job market, the tendency is to assume the worst.  If I had a position I was trying to fill where he would be a fit, I would still call him.  I would focus my interview on why he left the position after three months.    His omission of a reason why he’s on the market would effectively shift the focus away from his 20+ years of achievement to a single event that hurts his chances. 

Usually, when someone leaves an important detail like this out, I find they are uncomfortable talking about it.  Instead, they guarantee they will end up talking about it a lot, with a very skeptical interviewer – someone that’s probably assuming the worst and will be reluctant to believe a simple reasonable explanation.

Bottom line: If there is something in your background that is giant red flag – address it upfront.