No matter what position, company, grade level or age, if you are looking for a job you need a resume. You may have had a lot of fun jumping from job to job, taking some time off in between to “find yourself” or save the world, but when you want to make a job switch or get back on the work treadmill, you’re going to have to put your past down on paper. Even though you understand the reasons why you’ve had four jobs in the past two years or had a two-year gap in employment back in ’95, explaining it to a prospective employer without sounding like a loser needs some planning. Here are some tips on how to explain potential “resume roadblocks” that could keep you from your next employment opportunity.
1. Termination. You got fired. Just that word conjures up visions of blindfolds, last words and gunpowder. And it was your fault. You did spend four hours a day working your online EBay business from your cubicle. Or you consistently missed your sales goals. The best way to handle these situations is honesty. Don’t blame the boss, the lousy, unfair policies or the phases of the moon. After admitting your mistake, continue with what you learned from the experience and how it will help make you a better employee.
2. Laid off. It doesn’t hold the same stigma as getting fired, but a potential employer will still want to know why you were put on the redundancy list. Were you at the low end of the performance appraisal scale? Not able to meet production quotas? Made a lot of mistakes? Not promotable? If the entire plant or department was laid off, that’s all the explanation you need. If it was just you, take some tips from #1 above. Be brief, lessons learned and how it will make you a better employee.
3. Gaps in employment. It happens because life happens. Families with children make decisions on how to care for kids; you take time off to follow a dream, see the world or just get your head straight after a physical, mental or emotional setback. It’s important to be able to explain gaps without embarrassment or defensiveness. If you were a guest of the prison system, be matter of fact and emphasize how you are prepared to work hard to make a new start. The facts will also come out in a background check, so be honest.
4. Only one previous job. You wouldn’t think this would be a roadblock, but someone who worked for one company for 20 or 30 years may be loyal but can also be in a rut and difficult to retrain to a new company or position. Show progression through your career, levels of responsibility and opportunities to develop new skills.
5. Less than a year at several jobs. I once had a client who had about six jobs in succession with only about nine months or less at each job. On the surface she looked like a “job hopper” and a bad employment risk. She had a good explanation for each move, mostly due to the recession and bad luck. In that case, I suggested she mention something in her cover letter to prepare the employer for the list and quiet any fears before seeing her resume.
At the end of the day, your resume is what it is. Employment and life experience are both valuable. Practice explaining your life and employment choices clearly and with confidence. Show an employer you’re a great candidate because of your varied work and life experience.
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