How to Fill Gaps In Employment History
Employees are out of work for some time during a
typical year, presenting a favorable employment history can pose a challenge for
many resume writers. While frequent downsizings and job hopping have become more
commonplace, nontraditional and nonsequential employment dates still signal red
flags for most hiring managers and can harm your candidacy. Some of the most
troublesome situations include recent employment outside your career, several
short-term jobs in succession and periods of temporary employment.
Candidates increasingly are seeking ways to present the dates in their
employment history in a more favorable light. Many find an effective approach is
the "divide and combine" formatting strategy.
Consider the high-tech sales manager who had taken a career detour into the
retail brokerage profession. After five years as a national sales manager for
two brokerage firms, he sought to resume his high-tech career. While his resume
boasted of several impressive accomplishments in the high-tech field, they were
buried by his recent employment in financial services.
To solve this problem, he revised his resume. To focus the reader immediately
on his high-tech experience, he divided his career history into two sections:
"TECHNICAL/INDUSTRIAL" and "FINANCIAL SERVICES." The division permitted him to
lead with his most marketable points, so the reader immediately sees the results
he'd achieved for a start-up using cutting-edge technology.
Further, within each section, he listed his employment chronologically, with
the dates to the right. Placing the employment dates on the right keeps the
reader's attention on his experience, not on the to-and-from years in an exposed
The sales manager also used a qualifications summary that described him as an
"Entrepreneurial executive offering accomplishments in sales/marketing of
high-tech, industrial and financial products." The summary reinforced his image
as a sales executive and linked his two career tracks.
Dividing your career history into different sections also can help to
minimize periods of temporary employment that threaten to diminish an
outstanding career record. A network TV producer who took temporary clerical
assignments while raising a child took this approach.
She began her resume with "TV PRODUCTION." The banner allowed her to lead
with her experience at a major network rather than her temporary employment. A
section titled, "SUPPLEMENTAL EXPERIENCE," neatly tucked her temporary work
experience on the second page. After all, that's what the temporary assignments
represented in her career: a brief diversion from an established career in TV
production. She also used a strong positioning statement: "Experienced
production coordinator with a record of accomplishments for national networks."
Susan Whitcomb, a professional resume writer in Fresno, Calif., calls this
approach a "reordered chronological format."
"Reordering experience works well for job seekers who want to return to a
profession that relates to an earlier career track," she says in her book,
"Resume Magic" (1998, Jist Works). She considers it critical to "unearth older,
more dated experience and position it at the all-important, visual center of the
Most recruiters in human-resources departments prefer to see employment
histories in chronological order. But Rosalie Prano, human-resources director in
Paramus, N.J., for Mikasa Inc., a china and giftware company, says that
reordering dates "makes sense for a dual career person." Conveying strong skills
is more important than presenting employment dates in chronological order, she
Combining Short-Term Jobs
Hiring managers usually will frown on resumes that list several positions
within a short period of time. This was the problem for a sales manager who had
advanced quickly in his most recent job, but who previously held positions at
several different real-estate firms. With four different sets of employment
dates in six years, the manager's resume screamed "job hopper."
To convey stability, he treated his real-estate work as one employment
experience. He combined the years he'd worked and used the generic heading,
"REAL ESTATE SALES" where he'd normally had listed his past employers. His
duties were the same for each position. In parentheses below, he included an
explanation: "Represented four firms in Sussex County during this period,
including Weichert Realty, Home and Garden, RE/MAX Realty and Prudential. Ranked
as a top producer at each firm." This format also allowed him to tout his top
Ms. Whitcomb urges job seekers to use this "divide and combine" strategy.
"Don't be afraid to experiment with variations on resume format. The goal is to
catalog and convey your capabilities without confusing the employer. If it
works, it's right," she says.