Making your life experience pay off

Recently, I have worked with some amazing job seekers by providing them with a free career counseling session, resume edits and cover letters. One question that came up a few times was how to handle career gaps.

I want to thank each of the job seekers for opportunity to travel their career seeking journey with them. It’s been such a pleasure working with them that I would like to offer two more FREE  sessions during the month of June! What’s that about? Click here to check out the details.

OK, so how to deal with career gaps? First, define the reason. Basically there are two types of career gaps:

  • Intentional gap? Did you intentionally take time off work to care for a loved one, start a business, go to school, illness, travel, volunteering, etc.?
  • Unintentional gap? Laid off, company went out of business, could not find a job after school, could not find employment in your field, etc.?

Either gap can seem positive or negative at the time. But even the unintentional lay off or other job loss can have a positive outcome; provide time to add to your skill list or provide time to mentally focus, etc. The important thing is to focus on that positivity for your own well being and when talking to potential employers.

Next explain why. Both types of gaps offer explanations that employers are open to hearing about. Why? is the big question, but can be easily answered and even provide additional experience that the employer may be looking for. For example if you had a child and wanted to take a few years off that is not only understandable, but you also gained certain skills such as time management. And possibly additional experience by joining parenting groups (PTA, coaching, managing a charity drive, etc.), taking some classes during your time off, focusing on advancing your current skills, etc.

Maybe you took time off to start your own business or help someone else start one. There are skills learned with any business start up. Even if the business was not as successful as you had hoped or you found out you didn’t like the hours or type of work, you still have valuable skills to add to your resume. Examples of skills depending on the type of business could include;  budgeting, inventory, scheduling employees, customer service, hiring, meeting deadlines, organizational skills, computer programs, writing, labor skills, and more.

Unintentional gap examples include being laid off or unable to find work in your field. Both are self explanatory and more common than you may think, but you can discuss HOW you handled this time off, how you turned a possible negative time into a positive situation. Did you learn new skills, enhance your current ones, etc.? Did you volunteer, take any classes, teach yourself a valuable skill, find a mentor, realize the career change you wanted, etc.?

A brief statement on your resume with the career goal you have now is an excellent way to highlight your gap. The cover letter will allow you to go into more detail and turn the gap into a positive opportunity to discuss your skills and experiences. Explaining the positive impact the gap had on you will help the employer focus on your skills, positive attitude and how your experiences will fit into the position you are applying for.

Whatever the reason a career gap can be presented as a valuable experience by highlighting your current skills and experiences while explaining your gap in a positive manner. Remember, the main focus of any interview is to discuss how you are the best fit for the current position you are applying for!

Questions about career gaps or other career topics? Please do not hesitate to reach out to me!

Thank you so much for reading! Please share any tips or questions you  may have below or email me at successencourager@gmail.com

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Resumes – Time to brag

Resumes are important for career changes, finding a new or different job, and to personally see what skills and experience you have all on one convenient form. Even if you are starting a business and not currently applying for jobs, it’s important to have your skills and experience on a resume to easily access your work history and knowledge you have gained and earned. This will help prove why you will succeed at the business you want to start or expand (especially if you request funding).

Typically, an employer spends about 20 to 30 seconds skimming through a resume. Obviously, it’s important to grab their attention quickly. Business investors and loan officers may skim through sections of a business plan, but will pay close attention to your skills and experience to ensure it’s a solid investment/loan.

For those seeking work outside the self-employment realm, you should update your resume for every job you apply for; using each job description as your outline to match your skills with the skills required. Even if you are applying for a job that is almost exactly what you are currently doing you should add any new skills you have learned and connect that information with the requirements of the particular position you’re applying for. This is not a time to be modest; be proud of yourself and share that with the employer!

Here are some key points that can be used to ensure enough information is provided without getting too wordy. You want to make your 20 to 30 second review highlight your most valuable skills that match the job requirements.

The basic outline of a resume includes: The Objective (optional), Skill Highlight, Work History, Training, and References:

Your objective is what catches an employer’s eye first, I realize some hiring managers say this section could be deleted. I like to use it to not just focus on my objective, but to focus on what I can provide to a potential employer. You can have a general focus as long as it relates to the type of work you are applying for or you can make it specific to the company and type of position you are seeking. For example “Seeking a position with a company that will encourage me to utilize the skills I have learned over the past several years and offer an opportunity for additional learning in (insert your category info here).” – that is a simple example, but you get the idea…it’s a direct statement, YOUR statement, to sum up what you are looking for and how you help the company/department to advance. Be specific, but keep it to two or three sentences. Or of course you can leave out the Objective entirely.

Under your objective highlight your skills such as equipment you are trained to use, computer programs, databases, web research, safety skills/training (CPR, OSHA), etc.

A basic web search will provide you with thousands of tips and resume templates!

Basic resume outline and tips:

  • Center your contact details at the top of your resume. Include your name, address (at least city and state), phone number and email address
  • After your objective (optional) and/or skill highlight, list your career history, starting with the most recent (there are also options to do a task focused resume). Include  job title, employer company name, and dates employed by month and  year. Under that information outline your key responsibilities, skills and accomplishments. Use the past ten years of employment (up to 15 years). If you had a break in employment mention that and why at the end of your resume or in your cover letter. Were you going to school, starting a family, did you move, were you taking care of a loved one, starting a business, traveling, etc.? Did you gain any new skills during that time? Did you gain experience and skills through volunteering? List them if you did.
  • After your employment history list your education, training, awards and/or community volunteering, organization memberships, etc. if there is room. This is also an optional section. If you have achievements relevant to the position you are applying for then list them.
  • Finally, list your references; their name, email, phone number, organization/company they are with, and years known, or state References are available upon request. Contact all references to ensure they are available and their contact information is correct.
  • Keep it simple and easy to read. Include some bullets and a basic font. Don’t add color or bold attention grabbers this can be distracting and some employers dismiss resumes formatted like this entirely. (And NO, don’t use scented or textured paper!)
  • It should be no more than two pages, so highlight only the relevant skills for the current position you are applying for. Ask a friend or someone to proofread it.
  • Never exaggerate on a resume! Leaving out a job that didn’t work out is not lying, but you need to be prepared to explain that gap during the interview. Be honest, be yourself and highlight only what you confidently know and will discuss at the interview.

Finally, but a key first impression, is the cover letter, the intro to your resume. This is your chance to introduce yourself so be confident and professional. Brag a little and confidently highlight why you fit the job description and should be considered for the position. Describe at least one of your accompaniments that relates to the position. It can be a volunteer opportunity you organized or helped accomplish, a spreadsheet you created to be more efficient, a money saving technique you came up, a training manual you developed, a new procedure that saved time and money for the company, a project you succeeded at with a team or alone, etc. Throughout the letter (and resume) use action words such as  developed, completed, improved, created, trained, resolved, etc.

Research the company and include at least one key point about them in your letter, this key point can be their mission statement and relating to a particular section of it, incorporating a recent announcement by the company or milestone they achieved, a record sales year, etc. This shows that you are familiar with the company and/or what they do.

Always end your cover letter with “thank you for your time and consideration” or similar appreciative statement. And end with ‘Sincerely, Respectfully, or Best regards followed by your first and last name.

Additional information – Most libraries and community education programs offered through colleges and local school districts provide resume assistance, computer program training and refresher courses, etc. If you have been out of the workforce or need more experience with certain programs before applying for jobs, explore your local options!

Do you have any tips you’d like to share or have questions? Comment or visit www.danabuchanan.com or email me at successencourager@gmail.com

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