Job glitches needn't spoil your CV
Don't sweat: Your worries about being linked to a project that has a less than glowing reputation may be far greater than those of prospective employers. Photo: Rob Homer
A new year traditionally brings new resolutions and a collective dusting off of resumes as people begin looking for greener pastures.
About 100,000 information and communications technology workers change jobs each year in Australia, according to the Information Technology and Recruitment Association's 2011 estimates.
A straightforward process perhaps, for folk whose unblemished past includes a string of stunningly successful projects. But what of those who have done significant time at a company where things haven't gone so smoothly?
Will a long stint in, say, the ICT project office at Queensland Health, whose payroll system debacle is set to cost north of $1 billion to rectify, or CenITex, Victoria's shambolic ICT agency, see your CV pushed to the bottom of the pile?
Or should you blot out such experiences altogether with a bit of date fudging or other creative accounting for time?
No, and no, according to headhunter Peter Acheson, chief executive of national IT recruitment firm Peoplebank.
“Just because you've worked on a project that has a bad reputation in the industry, it's not the end of the world, provided you've demonstrated you've learned from the issues,” Acheson said.
“You need to be able to answer how you'd do it differently if you had your time over again. Everyone expects the odd bad project or two – projects are often late or overspent. If it's been a valuable learning experience being on that project and as a result you'd do things differently, it can be spun very positively.”
If you do make it to the interview stage, dissociating yourself from a dud workplace when discussing it with future employers can be a useful tactic for those fretting about finding a new berth.
“People are cautious – 'How should I talk about the project? I know it will make me look bad',” Ambition Technology managing director Andrew Cross said.
“We advise candidates to use 'I' not 'we'. There are only so many things an individual can influence. Don't shy away from mentioning a negative project but stress your contribution and talk about solutions, not problems.”
For the most part, potential employers have short memories when it comes to previous contretemps, providing they happened at someone else's site, one Sydney contractor said.
“I find people mostly care about the job you've done most recently, not stuff from a murky past,” he said.
Prospective employers were often more curious than judgmental when interviewing staff fresh from a project war zone.
“I have had feedback from prospective employers that they thought project X had been a disaster, according to their sources at least, and wanted my take on that. And I think there are always at least two sides to a story.”
Far more damaging than a stint somewhere dodgy is being rumbled for glossing it over or erasing it from your CV. In today's relentlessly connected, social media-driven global market, it's a matter of when, not if, the unmasking will occur.
“The world we live in today is so open and it's so easy to check on someone's career and history; at the very least you can see someone's career history on LinkedIn and the people they know,” Acheson said.
It's a foolish thing in terms of representing your career not to be fully transparent.”
A CV in reverse chronological order is the norm for mid to senior-level hires, but recasting it into a skills-based history with an employment table at the back can also be effective if you've spent time somewhere you'd rather not highlight, adds career coach Sally-Anne Blanshard.
“I have had clients who have had success rewriting their resume this way as the recruiter/employer focuses on the skills gained,” Blanshard said.
Worked somewhere notoriously dodgy in the past? Did it hold you back looking for future roles? How did you deal with questions about your part in what went wrong?