Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Addressing Employment Issues on Your Resume

Recently, a client asked if they should include a line in their resume to explain several short-term positions.  Your resume is not the place to include explanations about why you left a company or why you were unemployed.  Many of us - I would even wager most of us - have positions on our resume that only lasted a few short months or time spans of weeks or months where we went unemployed.  These issues can raise red flags for employers but there is a way to mitigate the damage of this faux pas.

Functionality
I prefer a functional resume style for several reasons one of which is it focuses on your skills and achievements in your career rather than the chronological list of where you worked and when.  I recommend using a functional style resume in this situation to help downplay employment gaps or short-lived jobs.  Utilize 2-3 subheadings for career achievements with 5-8 bullet points each.  Be sure to emphasis hardcore facts and figures, not just a list of duties and tasks for which you were responsible.  A well-written resume is going to illustrate how your skills have influenced the bottomline.  For the short-term jobs, you can emphasis how well you did in a short time period.  For example, "Achieved company-best inventory adjustment by reducing inventory by 99.75% in 12 months..."  This can actually be a selling point!

Don't be Unemployed
This is easier-said-than-done, especially during the last couple of years!  There isn't much you can do about the past, but a plan for future set backs is crucial.  Knowing how you will move forward in your career in the face of a layoff or termination will buoy your career.  If you were laid off today, what would you do to minimize the down time and subsequent employment gaps this can bring to your resume?

The best thing you can do is never be fired or laid off in the first place!  We don't have much control over that, so first, always have a polished and professional resume on-hand, and pencil in time to update it every 3-6 months.  Keep track of on the job training and accomplishments as they happen.  A professional resume writer can help you think of objective questions to ask yourself continually to identify those achievements.  See my article on developing a job search marketing campaign and keep the networking lists updated should the need arise.  Spend the first week of a layoff enacting that job search marketing campaign, calling contacts, printing and emailing resumes.

If you are not going to job interviews during week two of a layoff/termination then crank up the job search marketing campaign.  Get face time with your networking contacts, knock on doors, make phone calls, and be where the people you want to work with and for are hanging out!  Work with a job search coach on interviewing skills and take any interview you can get (even if you know you don't want that assistant manager job at Burger King) because every interview gets you new contacts as well as valuable experience and skills to enhance the next interview.  Join Toastmasters or take a public speaking class to help polish your presentation and interview delivery.

Still no perfect job offer in weeks three and four? 
Don't give up!  And don't be unemployed!  Take classes at your community college, take a part-time job in a related field or industry, volunteer for an organization in a role that fits your job search, seek out internships!  Anything you can do to avoid having those gaping holes in your employment history without just cause is a good step.  See my blog article about experience and job hunting for more information on internships (they aren't just for college kids).

Cover It in Your Cover Letter
Your resume is not the place to provide explanations about employment history.  It just isn't.  Utilize the all important and often underrated cover letter if you feel it is necessary to address any issue.  I have written many resumes for men or women returning to the workforce after a hiatus to care for children or ailing family members.  A lot of people experience bouts with failing companies, crummy bosses, recessions and poor economies, or their own health issues - so it is common for a professional resume writer to have come across most every resume-writing challenge and concern.
Hopefully, you have a well-crafted and professionally written resume and cover letter and have pounded the keyboard and the pavement on your planned-in-advance job search marketing campaign and now it's your time to shine in an interview!  If asked about your employment gaps, short-term positions, or other issues - know ahead of time how you will answer.  Honesty is always the best policy, if a prospective employer doesn't feel like you were being upfront with them, why would they consider hiring you.

Summary
The best policy is to be prepared for the inevitable.  Have a plan.  Keep your resume perpetually updated and polished.  If you are unsure about how to handle your personal resume issues, it is well worth the investment to hire a professional resume writer.  You only get one chance to make that first impression so make it count!

Ramsey Penegar is an executive resume consultant and is certified as a professional resume writer by the Professional Association of Resume Writers.  She has developed more than 600 resumes for executives all over the United States and for international clients as well.  With more than 10 years experience in marketing and sales, she has the skills to build effective job search marketing campaigns and attention-getting resumes.

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