Too much or too little…finding that perfect balance for your resume.
It’s sometimes tough to balance necessary information with multiple jobs on a resume. You don’t want to lie or hide anything, but you don’t want to focus on irrelevant experience and skills when you have relevant material to cover that relates to the position you are applying for. So how do you find that balance?
I have discussed this with other hiring managers and employers. The answer is not a short one, but I hope to clarify a few general ‘rules’ in this post.
During positions I held that gave me an opportunity to be on a hiring committee or volunteer selection committee I focused on how applicants matched their skills and experience with the duties listed for the position. Confirming they actually read the entire post and identified their related skills. As a writer of open position duties, I tried to be specific, yet open to related skills; writing such statements as ‘office experience or equivalent education/training’, etc.
The committees typically focused on seeing a personality showing through on a written, typo-free, well-organized resume while scanning for keywords in the applicants employment history that matched the open position. We focused on achievement, paying close attention to those that stated an accomplishment in the highlight of each position they had held. Showing professionalism, even if their employment history was short or listed more than one job in a year. We asked ourselves if that position helped them gain experience, did they accomplish a goal or solve an issue and did they word it in a way that confirmed they were ready to make a commitment with our company. We would form questions we wanted to ask the applicant quickly, which was always a good sign.
Someone once wrote they had developed a team to focus on outreach with donors that had never contributed funds or volunteers for their fundraising. This was an interesting and confident statement. As the committee read that, we wanted to know the details, how did they reach out to them, what was the anticipated goal, did they achieve it, etc. We needed to meet this person!
With most employers giving a resume a 20 to 30 second look over, you want to highlight your skills and experience most relevant to the position you are applying for. Most managers say they understand not putting jobs that lasted less than six months onto a resume, unless it’s extremely relevant. If the short term employment provided an opportunity for you to solve a problem, learn a new process or skill, etc. then include it.
Remember, any employment lapse needs to be explained either in your cover letter or during the interview process. If you leave off a few short term jobs, you should be prepared to answer why. Were they unrelated to the job you’re applying for? Were you not given the tools to learn the job properly and you decided to find a better one? Were they longer than ten to 15 years ago?
Most of us have had jobs unrelated to current career choice or focus. Right out of high school I cleaned houses and offices for living. Although, I did not gain any writing or professional assistant type experience, I did gain customer service and a stronger work ethic. So I incorporated those skills onto my resume for my ‘early career’ job search. As time went on and as I gained more work experience in my related field I left that position off my resume.
I have also had a couple of jobs that I felt did not give me the right tools to succeed. The tools (computer, programs, etc.) were outdated, duties were not clearly defined and the working environment was unprofessional once I actually started working there. I decided to start looking for other opportunities and quit once I found the right one. I eventually left those off my resume too, but discussed them during any interviews I accepted. I simply stated the truth and found that the hiring manager and/or hiring committee actually commended my ability to recognize the mismatch with myself and the position. I explained the indifference in a professional way, never badmouthing the company or department, but simply stating the recognition of not being a good fit.
I’ve also had gaps in employment history. I was laid off from a job and it took me over six months to find a new one. Another time I had a stressful position I eventually quit after almost three years for a different job at a different company and that company decided to not fill the position after all…it took me almost five months to find another job. During the first gap I helped my husband grow a contracting business. I processed invoices, did some advertising, and helped answer phones, etc. That was relevant experience and I have included that as an explanation to the several month employment gap.
The second employment gap I was actually grateful for not feeling stressed to find ‘just any job’. My husband’s business was going ‘well’ (better than it had been) and I focused on a few small freelance projects and we got through the months with some budget cuts and without extreme debt or stress. I used that time to focus on what I wanted, research writing, I volunteered, wrote some business blog posts, and spent time with my ailing mother. Once I started seriously applying for positions, I looked at my resume and knew a gap of several months might not look the greatest to potential employers. I reviewed how my time had been spent and actually realized the freelance opportunities and volunteering provided added experience and skills that I included in my cover letter. In the near future I will share how volunteering can help you gain experience, and make great connections for future jobs and references!
Remember applying for a job is a ‘project’. Review the job and your experience/skills carefully to best match yourself with the right job. You want to be happy at what you do and succeed by meeting the goals of the position/company. I keep at least two forms of my resume updated; one business focused and one writing focused. Over the 20 plus years I have been working I have gained experience in both fields.
Key points when job searching and developing your resume’s employment history section:
- Keep the resume content honest and relevant
- Research the position requirements, skills needed and company; focusing your resume and cover letter content to highlight your experience and why you are the best match for the position!
- If you have several positions lasting less than six months review them and highlight the most relevant and be prepared to discuss gaps in your cover letter and/or the interview
- Review all of your experience and job titles (positions) before applying. Focus on what skills overlap with requirements (customer service skills can really expand into several requirements including receptionist, assistant, sales, public transport, almost any job where you will deal with the public or even other employees.)
- Complete a self-evaluation; what type of job are you looking for, what benefits do you want/need, can you further your education or begin a degree while working (do they have tuition assistance, support, etc.), acknowledge some ‘deal breakers’ (yes, you can be picky and require certain request and decline other requests), etc.
- Hone in on applicable positions that will help you accomplish long term goals while matching some skills and experience; not all positions have to be viewed as permanent…they can lead to larger, long term career goals
- Utilize your cover letter as your own personal career and education history and mention at least one highlight from the company you are applying for
Finally, if you have had contract or employment through temporary services It’s best to list the services and highlight the positions that are relevant (yes that word again!). And remember education, training, workshops, certificate completions, etc. are worthwhile topics to include as experience and skills.
Questions or want to share your personal experience tips? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you so much for reading!