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 left-hand margin.
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 page."
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 says.
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 sales record.
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.