When a job applicant lists a number of jobs that only lasted for a brief period of time, it can be a red flag. It may indicate an employee who has difficulty working well with others, one who has issues with authority or a problem coming to work on time. Obviously, in most cases you would want to steer clear of such candidates.
However, don't eliminate a person from the candidate pool based solely on a listing of limited-duration jobs. First, the world has changed. It used to be typical for people to spend 10, 15 or 20 years with an employer. That length of service is rare these days. Employment terms of two, three or four years have become more the norm.
Even if a resume lists several jobs of shorter duration, there may be legitimate reasons. Young people often have a series of short-term jobs while they are in school or even for their first job or two after school. More established workers might lose their jobs if the company they work for is acquired and their job eliminated. Perhaps the company hired them for a short-term assignment that ran its course or the company went out of business. There are many completely legitimate reasons for truncated work assignments.
The fact that the candidate clearly disclosed limited-duration jobs is positive in at least one way. It’s an indication of honesty. Most applicants know that multiple short-term jobs won’t reflect well on them. The fact that a candidate is up front about their situation shows some character. What is more troubling than a candidate who has several short-duration jobs on his or her resume is one that tries to cover up this fact, perhaps by not putting dates on the resume.
If the candidate is attractive except for the short job stays, find out the reasons for the brief employment stints. Begin by asking the candidate. Walk through each job on the resume and make sure that you understand the reason for each end to a job. If there are gaps in employment, ask what the candidate was doing during those periods. Some candidates will leave jobs that were of short duration off of their resume. Get a complete view of the candidate’s job profile, but don’t stop there.
To quote Ronald Regan, “Trust, but verify.” Have the candidate provide references from colleagues at each of the companies where he or she held jobs. Contact each of the references and ask specifically why the person left. Ask if the person would be eligible for rehire.
Don't stop there, though. Most candidates are clever enough to provide references who will say kind things about them. Ask the references for the names of others at the company who are familiar with the candidate's work. Alternatively, call people not listed as a reference by the candidate who you know works at the company. By pushing to get to the second level and beyond, you can assemble a very clear picture of why the jobs were of short duration.
A number of short-duration jobs on a resume can be a red flag, but before eliminating a potentially strong candidate, make sure you understand why the jobs didn’t last.