Career Center Blog

December 12, 2011

Erasing unsightly blemishes from your resume


In most cases, the more experience you have on a resume, the better it looks to hiring managers. But are all experiences created equal? Not always.

Have you had several jobs that only lasted a few months? Were you ever fired from a job? Do you have gaps in your experience that have lasted longer than a year? If so, you may want to be careful about how you present this information on a resume.

Think of your resume as an advertising campaign. In it, you are marketing your personal brand, so you must only include information that supports that brand. Here are some tips on how to eliminate the negative and give yourself a customizable, blemish-free resume.

Don't lie -- First and foremost, never add deliberately incorrect information. Even if you manage to get the job under false pretenses, odds are you will be found out eventually. For many employers, lying about your work history is grounds for dismissal.

Be selective with information -- Many job seekers make the mistake of trying to cram every job they ever had into a resume. Hiring managers don't want your life story; they just want to see a progression of relative experience. Leaving out tangential work isn't exactly lying -- it's just making your case with the most important information. If you left a job under poor circumstances, save the explanation for a more appropriate time, such as during an interview. If you were fired from a job that lasted less than three months, was not the right fit or was outside the field in which you are currently looking, it's probably best not to mention it on a resume.

An important distinction should be made here: A resume is not the same as a job application. If you fill in an application that asks you to fill in information on every job you've held for the last five years, be sure to include everything -- even jobs that ended on bad terms.

Use years, not months -- The stigma of experience gaps on a resume has been greatly reduced since the Great Recession, when mass layoffs forced even well-qualified candidates into months-long job searches. Still, to help soften the blow, remove the months from your start and stop dates. If you worked at a company from, say, March 2004 to October 2008 and then found your next job in August 2009, it looks much better to include just the years of service ("2004-2008" and "2009-present") to hide the 10-month gap.

Fill in the gaps -- Include any other relevant activity you did in between jobs, such as contributions to a professional blog, part-time work or volunteer activity. As long as you show hiring managers that you are engaged in the working community during these interim periods, these negative gaps can be turned into positive experiences.

Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

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I absolutely agree that a resume should be written for the job you are applying to get. Rather than sending an exhaustive history of often unrelated or irrelevant experience, it is advisable to write your resume in a way that shows that you are qualified for the position you are applying for and speaks to the needs of the hiring manager. I offer additional tips for resume writing in my recent blog, “Distinguish Yourself – Resume Writing Tips for Job Seekers”

What obvious and useless advice. The resume is used by hiring coordinators as a screening tool; it can only hurt you, not help you. Make it sufficient, spell-check it, then farm it out to thousands of employers just like every other overqualified, underemployed 99%er out there.
If you don't "tailor" your resume to "fit" the job (euphemism for embellishing your credentials), you won't even get in the door due to companies revealed preference for waiting for the "perfect" candidate, i.e. desperate enough to work for peanuts, just qualified enough to not need training, and non-threatening to entrenched managers.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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