Q. For the past few years, I have had by necessity (layoffs, family illness, economy, etc.) a series of short-tenured jobs. Before then, I was a very successful top salesperson. Now, everybody who reviews my resume comments on my short stays and despite my explanations they are done considering me as a candidate. What can I do?
A. Everyone, and especially every hiring manager, has very concrete ideas about what is too long a period of time to be at a job and what is too short a time frame. The implications of the length of time on the job impact whether your resume will make it through screening, and how far you will make it through the interview process is often based on the reasons behind why you have changed jobs. Managers assume they know a great deal about you as a worker, a performer, and the kinds of issues you would bring should they hire you just by looking at your resume.
Short term jobs raise concern with most managers. They make you "suspect" as an employee. Hiring managers want answers to why it seems you can't hold a job. Are you incompetent? Unreliable? Did you cause problems in the work place? Perhaps you were just too hard to get along with. One short term job - with a good explanation, most people can understand, but multiple short time jobs are a cause for concern. When acquisitions and layoffs were at their peak, many people stayed in the same chair but had a new employer. For example, professionals in hi-tech became known as nomads as their careers followed company hiring or laying off based on that quarters success or failure.
You say you left the jobs by necessity, but many employers would not agree with you. Your goal is to make sure the reader sees a commitment to work and to your career. Resumes often create short term jobs where there aren't any. If you had a number of jobs with the same company, make sure the dates show the entire time at the organization in bold, and use a smaller notation for the number of months or years for each role at the company.
When you say short tenured, I am assuming you held the jobs for less than one year. If it is even less - perhaps several months, you may consider eliminating the position from your resume. Some people would disagree with this tact, but I believe it is worth considering.
Others might think that close to a year is a reasonable amount of time, which could be true for very junior or pre-professional jobs. The selection process and training a new employee are expensive endeavors and employers are not happy to have to go through this process more often than they need to. Most employers believe that past performance is the best predictor of future performance. Their belief is if you left jobs after a short period of time, you do not show a commitment or loyalty to the job.
The easiest and most effective way to explain short term jobs is by meeting with people face to face, so networking still leads the preferred methods of job seeking. The answer you develop needs to encompass a period of time, and not a litany of "I left that job because...and that job because..." You will be asked why you made the transitions you did and your answer might be something like, "After five very successful years in that role, I needed to care for a relative. I left my position and was able to be a primary caretaker. When I then found a new position which I knew I could commit to, the economy took a turn for the worse, or my relative became seriously ill once more (whatever was the case). This was a time of challenging and difficult decisions. I am committed to my career, and to the companies I work for, and would hope to show you that in this position."
Practice, fine tune, and get comfortable with a truthful answer that represents you well. Use those selling skills, and show why this hire is low risk, and what you will be able to contribute will more than make up for the trepidation they may have wondering if you will leave them having to hire again before they are ready.