Getting Hired: Overcoming A Spotty History

Everyone knows how difficult it can be to land a job under the best of circumstances. Those with poor work histories must face additional hurdles created by a past they’d rather erase. Whether you’re trying to overcome being fired, or a history of jumping from job to job, past improprieties can trouble you for years to come.

There is hope. When employers are deciding who to hire, work history is one of many factors they’ll consider. If you’re struggling to find your way as you rebuild from an ugly past, there are things you can do to compensate for what may have been the result of bad luck or youthful immaturity. Consider this advice as you prepare to work towards earning the fresh start you deserve.

Employers want more than just a perfect work history.

When trying to find the best person for the job, employers consider many factors. Interviewers are always impressed by candidates who demonstrate an eager attitude towards learning about the company, share examples of strong work ethic, reveal past accomplishments, and convey an easygoing personality that can blend into the office culture. If you have a less than impressive work history, do your best to emphasize what you do have to offer. Share positive statements focusing on other areas that would influence them to consider you for their opportunity.

Try this resume formatting tactic to compensate for lack of experience.

Perhaps you are a recent graduate with little work experience other than short-term summer gigs. Or, maybe you went through a spell of hopping from job to job without staying at one place very long. When formatting your resume, consider trying out a technique to prevent you from scaring an employer away before they give you a chance to interview. Instead of listing several short-term jobs in your employment history, consider grouping different jobs under a single heading. For example, if you had four different jobs as an office assistant in a span of one year, you can place your experience under a general heading like the example below. This will not draw immediate attention to your past of having many short-term jobs.

Office Administration: Buffalo Firms (2012-2013)

Don’t underestimate the value of volunteering.

Besides being good for the community, volunteering can be the perfect path towards redemption if you are trying to rebuild from your past career indiscretions. Consider finding a volunteer position that allows you to use your current skills and expand upon those by gaining more responsibility. If you can demonstrate hard work, dependability and integrity, you will walk away with more than a paycheck could offer. Not only will you feel better by helping a good cause, but you can also earn positive professional references and “work” experience.

Be realistic with your expectations.

Your rebuilding process will not happen overnight. Regardless of the reasons that led to your less than stellar work history, nothing will get you to the next level without dedication and hard work. If you claim you’re committed to making better choices to improve yourself, back your claims with action. Look for career-based training offerings in your community to brush up on your technical skills. Often times, you can find courses for little to no cost through the department of labor or your local community college. Or, perhaps you will need to accept entry-level jobs early on in your rebuilding process. Embrace this time to work on adjusting your work ethic and demonstrating your value as a committed employee.

Prepare to answer questions about gaps in employment.

Most employers are used to seeing some gaps in employment history from applicants. Having a gap will not immediately put you out of the running for the job you desire. What’s important is how you explain the gap to your interviewer. Believe it or not, this is often more important than why you took time off from working. The best tactic is to answer questions about gaps in an honest and direct way. Be sure to focus on any productive accomplishments you participated in such as volunteer work or schooling. End your explanation with a positive by conveying your enthusiasm for returning to work.

Most importantly, remember that you are at the core of your future. There is every reason to believe you can be gainfully employed.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a regional director and senior consultant with JL Nick and Associates Inc. She is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for more than 13 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at or visit JL Nick and Associates’ website at