Dear Sam: Previously, I worked for several years in the financial services field with a company that eventually shut its doors. I was also in the middle of finishing up my degree in a course of study that was somewhat related to the industry. To be able to pay bills and support my family while I went to school, I took a job that was not related to my experience or education in the financial services field. Early on, having been at this unrelated job for just a month, my résumé still worked well, as it started with my related experience. Now, with 5 months in this position, I am forced to add it to the top of my professional experience section which not only takes away from the other strong experience, but also causes employers to ask why I didn't pick up something that was related to what I'd been doing. How do I minimize this period of time on my résumé? - Bob
Dear Bob: To minimize the impact of a segue from the industry, use a combination résumé format to present your experience. Begin your résumé with a qualifications summary showcasing all of your related experience and education, of course not making any mention of your brief hiatus from your chosen field. Next, instead of starting the professional experience section, present a selected highlights section. In this section, explore your past related experience that positions you for what you want to do next in your career. Organize these either by employer or by skill. If the employers you worked for were notable, you might want to organize this section by employer, meaning you would have select employers' names presented with highlights underneath. If you decide highlighting your experiences in key areas would be better, then simply present your content underneath functional subheadings. Next, present the professional experience section. Hopefully, your highlights section will fill the remainder of page one after the qualifications summary, strategically dropping your most recent, unrelated experience to the top of page two-and, most importantly, minimizing its impact during the screening process. Try to translate the skills gained in this position to your current objective, being sure you communicate why this experience is valuable regardless of whether it was related or not. One last point I want to mention is to make sure you are not presenting months of employment on your résumé. If your last related position ended just 5 months ago (in 2009), then really there isn't a rush to include your nonrelated experience just yet. If that's not the case, and it ended in 2008-meaning you had a gap in employment between positions-then implement the strategy explained above to minimize its impact on your search. I wish you well.
Dear Sam: I am an electrical engineer in my fifties and looking for ways to not show my age in my résumé, which I think is adversely affecting my job search. I deleted the dates from my college degrees and also deleted my earliest job experience. However, I still show my dates of employment for each of the jobs that I have included, such as 1995-2002. Do you think this is a problem, and is there a good way to omit these dates without raising the suspicion of gaps in employment? - John
Dear John: Omitting dates of employment from all positions will definitely raise enough red flags that it will likely prevent you from getting in the door every time. You have taken the right approach in omitting your year of graduation and excluding earlier experience. I typically start thinking about whether an experience is adding value to someone's candidacy when I start seeing dates back in the very early '90s and '80s; it's then that I really need to see a compelling reason to include that early experience, for it to make the cut on a résumé. As long as your content is in line with today's industry jargon, and you are not opening your résumé with a statement like, more than 20 years' experience, you should be seen as not such a seasoned professional and be a little more competitive in the job market.
Dear Sam: I'm really struggling to see why my résumés aren't effective. I have spent time explaining what I did at each job, highlighting accomplishments, and still I don't get a response. I even developed multiple versions with different objectives noted. Help! - Rachel
Dear Rachel: I noticed that your résumés do not contain qualifications summaries, and instead use very valuable real estate at the top of page one presenting an objective statement. Defining your purpose or objective is critically important to the development of this section, but instead of simply stating your objective, this section, along with everything on your résumé, should be developed to sell yourself for the type(s) of roles you are seeking. Develop this section based on a primary objective, presenting a brief summary of your key qualifiers related to your objective. Engage the reader by performing due diligence to understand the keywords for the position(s) of interest, and infuse those keywords throughout this summary and the remainder of your résumé. I know that most candidates struggle with this section; it is, after all, the most difficult part of a résumé to write. As a tip, start writing your résumé from the bottom up, beginning with the easier sections and leading to the summary. Write the summary last so that you have a clear picture of what you have to offer your target audience. Check out samples on my website for inspiration.