May 15, 2008

The Top 5 ... Tips on hiding employment gaps in your resume

When you look at your resume, do you find yourself worrying about how many jobs you've had? Does it seem like you've had more jobs than all of your friends combined? If so, then this post is for you.

Today I'll be talking about how to hide employment gaps on your resume. Now, you might be thinking that as a student, you don't have to worry about this. After all, isn't there a movie cliché that makes it seem as though every high school student stays with the same part-time job throughout school? Sure, if you live in a fairy tale world. But in reality, most students will move around - some do it more often and they are often labeled "job jumpers" or "job hoppers".

Ten years ago, anybody with a spotty employment record filled with month-long stints at various companies was seen in a negative light. Nowadays, with the increase in contract work, having a patchy employment history has almost become natural. But that's only for people who move around because they have finished contracts.

On the other hand, for those that move around because they are bored, don't like their boss or can't stand the environment, they are still seen negatively. In fact, I'd argue that most applicants with spotty employment histories that were caused by the applicant's actions automatically go to the 'NO' pile!

So, if you are someone with a spotty employment record, what can you do? Well there are five different avenues you can take, each with their pros and cons. Read over each and then decide which one fits with your individual circumstances.

1. List the year only, instead of listing the month and year.

From what I gather, this is the most oft-used solution to dealing with instances where you have multiple employers within the same year. After all, this is the easiest solution - rather than say you worked at a particular store from 'May 2007 to July 2007', you just put '2007'.

This method is most often used because the prevailing idea is that employers will not know exactly how long (or short) you've been with a particular employer. This is great in theory, but in reality, if you've had a number of jobs within a year, a well-trained hiring manager will be able to conclude that you are a job jumper simply by noting how many jobs you have had within a particular time frame. For example, let's say you list 4 jobs that you had in 2007 – on average, that means you stayed with a job for 3 months before moving on!

2. Frame your jobs in a positive light.

This might sound confusing, but its really simple. Let's say you worked at a store from November to January during the busy holiday season. Rather than just put the dates, make sure you specify that it was a seasonal contract. This works wonders for jobs you've had both during the holiday season as well as over summer. Ideally, put "(Seasonal Contract)" or "(Summer Contract)" or "(Contract)" right after your job title. This way, any potential employer knows that you did work at the place in question, but that you left after the contract was over.

3. Only list jobs that you have had for more than a month.

This is a tricky one. If you take this route, you must first establish an arbitrary minimum number of weeks/months that you worked at a particular job before it can be included in a resume. For some people, this means every job that you stayed at for more than 2 months or jobs that you were there for more than 5 weeks – it depends on your individual circumstances.

This is particularly useful for people who have had many short periods of employment. For example, I once had a client who had worked for 8 different telemarketing companies and 7 stores in a year. By listing them all and deciding that only places she worked for more than 2 months would be mentioned on her resume, we came up with 4 jobs that were included on her resume. But again, the major problem with this route is that you still have to put the dates you worked for these companies on your resume which will further highlight your patchy previous work experience.

4. Create a functional resume.

When I was working with Service Canada, students would often tell me they want to create a functional resume to compensate for employment gaps. After all, a functional resume is designed to highlight skills instead of experience, which is what job hoppers would want to do. For some people, this is the path they want to take because it affords them the opportunity to list their skills and other information that employers might find pertinent.

But be warned! Recruiters and hiring managers typically frown upon applicants who use functional resumes. The prevailing idea is that those who use a functional resume (except for those applying for their first job) are attempting to hide something. Many hiring managers have said that function resumes tend to raise suspicion. So use it sparingly - and if you do, make sure you've got an absolutely fabulous cover letter to compensate.

5. Only list positions that are relevant to the one you are applying for.

In my opinion, this is the best way to compensate for having a number of jobs within a short time frame. If you take this route, only list the positions that you consider to be relevant to the position you are applying for. Make sure the heading on your resume is "Relevant Experience", as it provides a legitimate way for you to omit information about previous employers while highlighting your previous jobs that relate to the one you are applying for.

If you struggle in deciding which of your relevant jobs you should include, make sure you include the most recent ones. Include however many you want - based on whether you have a one page or two page resume.

The only thing that I caution clients about who use this route, try and include your last job. If you include only relevant positions that you had 6 months ago, hiring managers and recruiters will wonder what you've been doing for those 6 months - were you working, unemployed, or attending a training course?

At the end of the day, if you are someone with a high number of jobs within a short period, it is important that you find a way to present your employment experience in a positive light. Use one of these solutions (or a combination of them) to compensate and ensure that you put your best foot forward.

Good luck!

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