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How to Evaluate Job "Switchers"

EDITED BY KAROLYN SCHUSTER

Q: What special cautions do you take in evaluating a job candidate who has switched jobs frequently?

Be especially candid. "If an applicant has a history of leaving jobs, you want to be very sure he understands the requirements of your job. This is especially true if it's an entry-level job like washing dishes.

"With these jobs, we try to tell applicants the absolute nastiest parts of the job—how hard the work is, how your hands are in dishwater all day, how your back hurts, how heavy the pots are. If they're not willing to do what the job requires, you might as well find out before you hire them.

"Of course, we also tell them that we promote from within and that there is room for advancement here. They can move up to easier jobs with better pay but they've got to put in their time at the entry level jobs. Our message to them is that if they are ambitious, they can move up the ladder here.

"You want to try to find out what they didn't like about the jobs they've quit because their excuses on those jobs are likely to repeat themselves. If they didn't like getting off at midnight or they had trouble finding babysitters, you want to be sure your job opening isn't on the night shift or that their child care arrangements are settled."

Julie Bishop
Manager, Food and Nutrition Services
Del Sol Medical Center
El Paso, Texas

Stress job variety. "We're very careful about how we word our questions in interviewing applicants who have moved around frequently. We usually start by saying, 'I see you have a variety of work experiences.' That puts their many jobs in a positive light. And then we ask them to describe their work experiences or we ask them to talk about why they have chosen some of the jobs they've had.

"All of the service industry in this Research Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill) is after the same people, whether it's for jobs in healthcare or restaurants or cleaning and laundry. At any given time, we have an unemployment rate of about 1 1 /2% so there are very acceptable explanations for people changing jobs frequently. If they change jobs to get more hours or more benefits or more responsibility, that's perfectly understandable.

"Of course, we also hear reasons that are not acceptable. If an applicant is coming to us from a job in daycare, and she says she left the job because the children got on her nerves, well, she's certainly not going to fit in with us.

"Even in this labor market, an applicant would have to have a job history of at least six months in a job here, six months there, or we wouldn't call him in for an interview.

"Other questions we like to ask are: What are your expectations of this job? Where do you see yourself in six months?

"It's fine if an applicant says, 'I don't want to be washing dishes in six months. I'd like to be a cashier by then.' But if he says, 'I don't have any idea, I never look that far ahead,' that's an applicant who's probably going to leave us for a job that pays 25 cents more an hour."

Elaine Hunt
Director, Food and Nutrition Services
Wake County Schools
Raleigh, North Carolina

Look for job similarities. "We want to see a progression in learning and responsibility when we look at an applicant's job history. As long as an applicant was moving into better jobs or jobs that paid more, we don't worry so much about the amount of time spent in each job.

"In the foodservice industry, it's not unusual for employees to switch jobs frequently. That's not always a negative. Sometimes, an employee who has a history of changing jobs is an employee who has a greater variety of skills and broader work experience.

"What we don't want to hear from applicants is that the reasons they left other jobs could very easily apply to this job. If an applicant tells us he left a previous job because he didn't get along with his boss or his co-workers, that could indicate a problem. If he says the work was too hard or the hours were too long, well, that would concern us because we work hard and our hours are long, too.

"Or, if the applicant complains that his previous job schedule didn't fit with his family's schedule and our work schedule is similar, that might mean this applicant would have trouble showing up for work here, too.

"Many times, applicants come to us for jobs because the college offers tuition benefits for an employee's family and they have a son or daughter starting school here. We would certainly understand that as a reason for leaving a previous job."

Jean Anderson
Foodservice Director
College of St. Scholastica
Duluth, Minnesota

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