Article by Kim Isaacs, MA, CPRW, NCRW
While hiring managers are more understanding of an imperfect work history than they used to be, you still need to carefully present your experience to avoid being seen as unstable. Start by evaluating your situation and determining how bad it really is. If you are panicking about two months of unemployment back in 1984, your job search will probably not be affected. However, if you are dealing with recent periods of unemployment extending for months or even years, you will need to start strategizing.
If You're Concerned About Employment Gaps:
Think about other activities you can use to fill that time period. You might have experience relevant to your job target, regardless of whether you were paid. Volunteer activities, community involvement, special projects, consulting engagements and continuing education can be used in the Experience section.
Short gaps might not be apparent if you eliminate months from your traditional resume. Use the Objective statement to summarize your goal as well as your top qualifications. This will draw attention to your selling points and downplay your work chronology.
If you're returning to the workforce after an extended absence, show how you've kept up-to-date with changes in your industry.
If you've been out of work because you raised a family, continued your education, cared for a sick family member or recovered from an injury, be sure your tone is not apologetic. There's nothing wrong with being out of work for whatever reason, and a negative attitude might affect your resume's quality.
If You're Concerned About Job-Hopping:
Some fields are prone to short periods of employment, and job-hopping might not be a concern. For many other occupations, there is less of a stigma regarding job-hopping than in the past.
The best way to handle job-hopping on your resume depends on your specific job titles and companies. You may be able to lump two or more similar positions under one heading (for example, Sales Representative, ABC Company and DEF Company, 2/94-4/96). You can list your combined work experience's highlights. Independent contractors and temporary workers should consider grouping their experience under one time period (such as IT Consultant/Network Specialist, 4/95-present) with project highlights.
You don't need to include every job you've ever held. Short-term positions that don't do anything for you can certainly be omitted. Keep in mind: A resume is a marketing piece, but you will need to provide a complete work history if you are asked to fill out a job application, which is a signed legal document.
Employers might be leery of hiring candidates with a history of job-hopping due to recruiting and training expenses. Use your cover letter to explain your work history and put a positive spin on your circumstances. Also, indicate your interest in a long-term position.
What About a Functional Resume?
Many hiring professionals say they prefer chronological resume presentations to the functional format. They are often suspicious of functional resumes, which are usually used to hide something. Only select this format if you have an extremely poor work background with extended gaps or a terrible history of job-hopping.
Accentuate the Positive
There's nothing you can do to change your work experience, so the best strategy is to develop a forward-looking resume that shows the value you offer potential employers. If you are sticking with a chronological resume format, lead with a Qualifications Summary, a narrative profile summing up your key qualifications for the position. This will draw attention to your strengths.
Layoffs and Downsizing: Quick Tips to Improve Your Resume
Update your resume right away and be sure to showcase your recent achievements no matter how you may feel about your employer.
Ask your former employer or colleagues to supply you with written reference letters. Consider including a positive quote from a reference letter in the Qualifications Summary or Experience section.
Read as many job openings as possible to evaluate the skills and experience employers find desirable. Incorporate your matching credentials into your resume.
Don't misrepresent your employment status by indicating "to present" on your resume.
Don't write the reason for leaving on your resume, but do use the cover letter to explain your circumstances.