Addressing problems in your career history

Why did you only stay with this organization for such a short time?

Alternative and related questions:

Why did you leave that job?
Have you ever been made redundant and, if so, why?
Have you ever been fired?

The meaning behind the question:

This question is related to a question we’ve already previously covered, ‘Why did you leave that job?’  The difference here is clearly that they’re curious as to, not only why you left that job, but also why you left it after ‘such a short time’, the definition of a ‘short time’ varying of course.  The interviewer is hunting again for possible skeletons in your cupboard…

Your answer:

If you only stayed in a job for a short time then there was obviously a reason for this – but it may not necessarily be a positive selling point for you.  Employers are always wary of hiring people who might not stay for long and especially people who have done a fair bit of ‘job-hopping’ in the past.

If the answer to the question is that you were either made redundant or fired then please refer back to question no. 27 in Chapter 3 where I cover how to handle these specific cases.

However, if you left of your own volition then why?  Problems with your boss?  Problems with a colleague?  To deal with these, I’d suggest you refer back to the advice given under the top 10 question in Chapter 2, “Why do you wish to leave your current position?”

But there are of course many other possible reasons, for example:

  • You found the job you took didn’t turn out to be ‘as advertised’.
  • You found the job you took changed dramatically, for example due to restructuring.
  • The next job you took was an opportunity not to be missed.

 

My advice is very simple.  Just tell it like it is.  You made a positive move for positive reasons with the intention of achieving a positive outcome – simple as that.

Example:

Shortly after I started with the company, external management consultants were called in and tasked with undertaking a major restructuring.  While my role wasn’t made redundant as such, it did change out of all recognition and it simply wasn’t the job I signed up for.  In particular, the marketing element was completely removed from my job description and yet that is my main interest and was what I had hoped I would be focussing on when I initially agreed to take the job.  I therefore felt I had to look for a new job, one which would enable me to continue on my desired career path – and that led to my successfully being hired for my next job.

Word of warning:

As always, don’t let this question tempt you into saying anything negative or critical of any previous employers you have had.

Why did you stay with this organization for such a long time?

Alternative and related questions:

Why didn’t you move on sooner from this organization?

The meaning behind the question:

There are both good and bad reasons for staying with any one employer for a long time. The interviewer is checking whether they might be able to unearth some of the bad reasons.  Their main concern will most likely be that you might have become set in your ways as a result of staying too long with one organization and will struggle to cope with and adapt to new challenges.

Your answer:

In your answer what you must aim to achieve is to portray the fact that you stayed with that organization for “such a long time” as a positive thing, as a conscious decision you made.  You definitely don’t want to give the impression that you lack initiative and just drifted.  Maybe you did just stay there because you were happy and secure and quite content with the status quo – but that’s not the kind of answer which is going to impress the interviewer.

If you undertook more than one role within that organization, for example you gained promotion and moved up in the organization, then that’s all you really need to say.  However, shouldn’t your resume make that quite clear already?

Maybe you did only undertake the one same role for all your time in the organization but, while your job title may have stayed the same, can you perhaps tell them how your job description evolved over time with new and interesting tasks and challenges?

If your work is largely project-based then you could convey how, with your handling one different project after another, it felt more like a series of different jobs, rather than just the same job, because it was always changing.

Above all, shift the focus onto what you learned and how you developed during your time with that organization, in particular useful, transferable skills.

Example:

I chose to stay within that organization because my work always remained an interesting challenge.  Over the course of the decade, the company grew from a small outfit with just five employees to a much larger organization with well over 50 employees.  It changed so significantly that it didn’t actually feel like I was necessarily working for the same organization.  Clearly, the way an organization with just 5 employees operates is very different to the ways in which one with over 50 employees operates.  While my actual job title may not have changed over the years, the actual nature of my work evolved and changed rapidly.  The job I was doing when I left the company bore very little resemblance to the job I first took when the company was just starting up.  With each new year, I learned new and valuable skills and, from having been there from the beginning, I am fortunate enough to have gained very useful experience in every department, from finance through to marketing, including much experience which is directly relevant to the job for which I am now applying.