By Janice Burch, Co-founder, Pro Resume Center, LLC
Worried about what a potential interviewer might think of your resume because of large gaps in employment, several job stints, multiple unpaid internships, or lack of relevant experience?
Remember, today’s hiring executives are faced with an onslaught of applicants and resumes. To speed up the process, they are often looking for any reason to weed down the initial pool of candidates.
Don’t fret. We can help you prioritize and organize your resume and showcase your skills in a resume, cover letter and social media sites to increase your odds of getting noticed, getting a phone call and landing an interview..
Here’s what you can do to stay in the running, even when you think your resume looks like a bad news bear:
Be honest. Don’t lie on your resume. For instance, if you’re applying for a job that requires a college degree and you don’t have one, don’t say you do. The employer might be willing to overlook something like this if you’re otherwise fully qualified and a strong contender. But if you’re not honest and the hiring manager finds out, you’ll probably be written off completely.
Emphasize the positives. Add a line or three at the top of your resume highlighting your qualifications. The upper part of the resume page is most critical to a hiring manager. Highlighting your top assets to the position for which you are applying and the company is your best bet to get noticed so they keep reading. You want to motivate the resume reviewer to action – to pique their interest so they call you for more information, schedule an interview or pass your resume up to the next phase of reviews. Think big picture for this lead paragraph. If for instance, you can piece together three to five years of project management experience from a variety of positions held for shorter periods, this is the place to do so, as well as in the cover letter.
Address the issue. Use your cover letter, introductory e-mail or the interview to speak to the issue at hand. But be brief in doing so and use discretion. Do not put the red flags into the resume itself. For instance, if it has been three years since you last held a job because you took time off to raise a family—briefly explain that you left the workforce by choice. Acknowledging the “elephant in the room” will help smooth over their concerns or hesitations in taking you to the next step in the hiring process.
Specific Advice for big employment gaps. Because of layoffs, downsizing, mergers, family situations, having a gap in employment is no longer rare. We suggest you ignore short gaps of a year or less but give a name to longer gaps with words like “family care,” or “volunteer experience,” or “employment search,” where appropriate. Give potential employers a one line sentence after this to alleviate their concerns so they can move forward reviewing your qualifications.
Don’t make excuses. While you want to address the issue by offering a brief explanation, you never want to make excuses or justify the problem. Be careful to focus much more on your qualifications and unique personal brand, than on any reasons for a potential red flag. If you focus on the negative, so will the interviewer. Be ready and rehearse your explanation for the gap, so you can have a smooth transition that works to bring the conversation back to your qualifications. Explain perhaps, how this downtime, or the job loss gave you the opportunity to explore another career path or spend time developing another skill, gave you time to earn certification, further your education or learn other important applicable experience.
Group together jobs by type of responsibilities held. If you’ve held 14 jobs in six years, in all different occupations and industries, you should consider formatting those various positions to fall under functional sections with headings like project management, marketing, sales support, etc. then place each position you held under the appropriate header under a banner headline of “Professional Experience” and a subtitle along the lines of, “The following provides an overview of broad based experience gained working in diversified positions from 2003 to 2009.”
Good luck in your search!
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