Not The Perfect Candidate? How to Write Your Resume for Challenging Situations

If your career trajectory contains a few speed bumps (such as a gap in work history or job hopping), you have plenty of company.

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.

As shown by my contributions to What To Do When Your Resume Looks Like Bad News on by Jacquelyn Smith, job situations that were once problematic can be overcome – with a few key changes to your resume.

Here’s how to address common problems that can trip up even the most well-qualified job seeker:

Job Gaps

Given that a period of unemployment is no longer an automatic red flag to employers, 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. However, if you were merely job hunting during the gap, you’ll want to consider leaving this off your resume.

Job Hopping

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).

No Degree

Many professionals lack a degree—a fact that always seems to catch job hunters by surprise. Yet, most people in this situation seem to believe they’re alone in this dilemma, and fail to realize how easily it can be handled on a 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.

It’s never too late to go back to school, either. Some degree programs, such as managing conflict through negotiation and mediation training, will not only arm you with knowledge that is key to your success in the business world, but it will also give you a leg up on other applicants. There are plenty of degree programs out there with the busy individual in mind, meaning that you don’t have to set your career aspirations to the side for four years. Remember that pursuing a career and advancing your education are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

In summary, remember that what seems insurmountable 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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