Every month our resident panel of experts answer some of the most popular, challenging and unusual questions posed by job applicants.

We can’t answer every query individually but check regularly and you may well find your question being addressed.

“I’ve been offered two jobs and don’t know which to take. At one company I really liked the people and the job is very close to home. The other pays a lot more but I am not sure about the commute. How do I decide which one to choose?”

In the long term job satisfaction is about finding a role that gives us as many of the things we love about work as possible. And at the same time we need to avoid the things that frustrate or annoy us. We are all motivated by different things – so a job that thrills one person may be the very definition of career hell to another.

In an ideal world a career motivation psychometric would probably be your best bet. However here’s a simpler exercise you can do for yourself. We call it “the fridge test”. That’s literally because we invented it on the back of a fridge door. Any flat surface will do – a wall, a whiteboard or even a window have been used before.

The only other things you need are two packs of post it notes in different colours and a pen. It then works like this.

  • Think about every job you’ve ever done.
  • On one set of post it notes write down all the things you loved about those jobs. One item on each separate post it note.
  • Usually that takes no more than 5 or perhaps 10 minutes. Don’t worry about the size of the pile. It’s the quality that counts.
  • Now, on your fridge door (or whatever surface you choose) layout all those post it notes in a vertical list. Putting the most important at the top and then the rest in descending order.
  • Then grab the other colour set of post it notes. Repeat the exercise but this time thinking about all the things that you haven’t liked. For example ask yourself “why am I leaving my current job”.
  • Place them on the fridge door in a separate vertical column with the absolute worst thing at the top and then the rest ranked downwards.
  • Every time you go to the fridge look at both lists and juggle the order of the post it notes until you are happy you’ve got it right. If may take a day or two until you get everything just right.

What you’ll end up with is your “must have” and “must avoid” career preferences. Which job is right for you will depend on which job has the most “must haves” and the least “must avoids”. Using the ranking order, if necessary, in order to weight your decision.

“My CV looks a bit of a mess. I’ve changed jobs a lot of times and I am worried that won’t look good to an employer”.

Seeing a CV of a job applicant who looks like a “job hopper” can put off a lot of employers and recruiters. It looks as if you might be short on loyalty – or keep jumping just before you get pushed. Or worse still you keep being dismissed.

The best way for job applicants to overcome that is to demonstrate clear career logic in your CV. That says I made all these changes for very clear reasons that have nothing to do with my resilience, capability or any lack of loyalty.

We all change jobs for different reasons. And sometimes they are things beyond our control – like a significant change in personal circumstances or simply being made redundant. You may have taken a series of fixed term contracts to fit around study or just because that’s all that was available at the time.

What you need to do is explain all those moves – not leave it to the recruiter to jump to their own, possibly negative, conclusions.

“I have had a relatively long career break but now want to go back to work. I’m worried I’ll have nothing to offer a new employer.”

Stop right there. What made you good at your job before the career break hasn’t gone away. It’s still there – even if it might need a bit of work to get back to full speed. It’s just like jogging. If you don’t run for a while you can’t expect to do a PB the first day out. You will need to build up.

What a lot of employers will want to see is that you’ve already started that “come back” process. That shows commitment. Whether that’s updating your skills and knowledge to the latest standards or simply getting re-familiarised with the basic tools of your trade.

Don’t under-estimate what you’ve done while you’ve been away either. It always amazes us how so many people do some amazing things that they never put on their CV. The most common example is voluntary work. That could be anything from being a school governor to organising a children’s sports team or activity group. That can demonstrate a huge range of transferable skills from communication and team work to organisation, planning and decision making.

What we think the majority of employers and recruiters want to see from job applicants is a real passion for returning to work. Not just doing it because you have to. That’s not something unique to returners by the way. Nothing puts a potential employer off faster than attitude. They have got to believe you’re ready to commit and deliver.