March 20, 2014
How to write your resume when you’re NOT the perfect candidate
By Laura Smith-Proulx, Executive Resume Writer
If your career trajectory contains a few speed bumps such as a gap in work history or job hopping, you’re among the multitudes in this job market.
Given the state of economic affairs over the past few years, most job seekers don’t fit the classic picture of a “stable” work history at a single employer the way they once did.
I recently sat down with Jacquelyn Smith of Forbes.com to discuss ways of dealing with a not-so-perfect career history and what to do when your resume looks like bad news, reiterating that problematic job situations can often be overcome with just a few key changes to your resume.
Here’s how to address common “sticky” situations (ones that seem to trip up even the most well-qualified job seekers).
A period of unemployment is no longer an automatic red flag to many employers. Therefore, you’ll want to be as up front and concise as possible when dealing with a gap.
If you can give a “name” to a period that stretched in between jobs, then provide a descriptive term, such as "Volunteer Work," "Family Care," or "College Studies."
Avoid mentioning specifics, such as a cancer scare or the number of children you have, as this is too much detail for a resume (and can knock you out of the running if employers think you’re focused elsewhere).
And if you were merely job hunting during the gap, you’ll want to consider leaving this off your resume—it’s a given.
Frequent job changes have, in recent years, become much more common than the long tenures (and 30-year gold watches) that used to be standard for most American careers.
If you’ve had jobs that lasted just a few months, consider adding them (without dates) at the end of your resume work history section in an area entitled “Additional Experience.” That way, you can talk about the role and include it on a formal application, but it won’t take up space in your career chronology.
If your last several positions ended in employer layoffs or downsizing from an acquisition, you can mention this fact (wrapped into the job description for that role) with a note such as “pursued sales opportunities until company went through acquisition” or “assisted to transition staff while personally undergoing RIF.”
These quick explanations of circumstances beyond your control can help prospective employers understand your situation (and avoid making the assumption that you left under different circumstances).
Many professionals lack a degree—a fact might catch you by surprise. However, if it applies to you, it’s often not a deal-breaker.
Many employers consider “some” college perfectly fine—and they’re more interested in how you’ll add to the bottom line than your scholastic activities. Still, here are ways to handle this on your resume:
If you’ve decided to start or go back to school during unemployment, list your degree program as “Studies for Bachelor’s Degree,” along with the school name.
This method also works well if you attended college but did not graduate (as shown in this example of a Sales resume. No matter the situation, showing the program on your resume will assure employers that you have some college experience which can suffice for many positions.
If you didn’t attend college, consider whether you really need the education section of your resume. While you can list professional training, seminars, and other specialized education in this section, it’s best to leave the entire category off if your training and academic experience is light. Remember—what seems hugely problematic in your job search might be more the norm than you think. Rather than dwelling on credentials or experience you don’t possess, you’ll get better results by framing your experience in a way that highlights your value proposition to employers.
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About the Author
Laura Smith-Proulx of An Expert Resume is an executive resume writer and former recruiter who partners with CEO, CIO, COO, CFO, CTO, SVP, and Director candidates to win interviews at major corporations. A certified Professional Resume Writer, Online Professional Networking Strategist, Career Management Coach, Interview Coach, and Microblogging Career Strategist, she is a multiple award-winning resume writer and author of How to Get Hired Faster: 60+ Proven Tips & Resources to Access the Hidden Job Market.
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