Dear Sam: I have been actively looking for a project coordination/organizational position for the past few months to little avail. I see three major reasons my résumé goes unnoticed.
The first is a large gap in my employment. From 9/08 to 10/09, I was taking care of my dying mother and then taking care of her estate after her death. Even though I wasn't getting paid, I was definitely working: scheduling and making appointments, keeping track of medication, arranging specialty care, speaking with doctors, filing the necessary paperwork, etc. Is it appropriate to include this kind of information on a résumé to cover up that time gap? Many of the job descriptions I have seen in this field list skills that I fine-tuned during the time I took care of my mom. I was told by a few of her homecare workers that they were extremely impressed with my ability to not only take care of everything, but also to make it accessible and workable by anyone who came into the house to help. Is it appropriate to list these experiences and skills if they apply to a particular job requirement?
The second is a lack of consistent work in a single field. Prior to moving to Columbus, we lived in a rural area where my husband had a great job as an engineer. While the area was flooded with employment in manufacturing, there wasn't much else, leaving me to take jobs as I could get them. I've tried to use this to my advantage by highlighting the different relevant skills I've developed by working in various environments, but I think it comes off more as I'm not really skilled in any area at all.
Third, I have been very actively involved in a nonprofit and have used these same kinds of organizational/ planning skills to successfully create fundraising and development events. I've received a lot of praise from my organization's representative with regard to my abilities.
How should I go about taking what I have and making it work? - Allison
Dear Allison: I'm so sorry to hear of your mom's passing and your challenging job search. Let's address each of these concerns, one by one.
First, I assume as you mentioned your gap in employment ran through October 2009, you are currently working in some sort of position. Today's résumés do not need to include months of employment, so I imagine if you omit the months, you will show employment through 2008 and then pick up again in 2009. The gap disappears when you utilize this strategy-as one can assume employment ended in December 2008 and resumed in January 2009-and there is nothing to explain unless you choose to do so at the interview. As far as highlighting this experience on your résumé, I would probably advise not to. The reason being is it seems that you have had ample other experiences that you can use to showcase your organization, project coordination, and administrative skills. When this is the case, I'd rather you be able to remain private with your personal life.
Second, one of the best ways to minimize frequent job hops, lackluster titles, and what I imagine are some other employment gaps, is through a combination or functional résumé format. Depending on the severity of this situation, the combination approach would be my first choice.
In the combination format, you would open with a qualifications summary selling all of the related skills and experiences you possess-these could be from any phase of your career or volunteer work-that position you as aptly qualified for the jobs of interest. Next, and key to this format, would be a Highlights section where you would introduce more explanatory statements as to your strengths in select related areas. I'd recommend introducing these bullet points with some sort of functional keyword, and to illustrate this format I have presented a combination résumé in this column (if not shown, view at www.ladybug-design.com/blog). What this allows you to do is to focus the reader's attention on the most important and related aspects of your candidacy.
You'll notice in the combination format that the first time dates and titles appear is in the Professional Experience section which, if you are careful about it, may not even begin until page two. Whether falling on page two or toward the end of page one, it minimizes the potential impact from your frequent job changes, lesser related titles, and employment gaps.
Third, you will pull forward your related skills gained and refined during your volunteer work with the nonprofit(s) to the Highlights section, exploring further in a Community Involvement section toward the end of your résumé. The thing you need to remember about volunteer work is that it will only be seen with the strength in which you deliver it-in other words, if you want it to be seen as value-added, then make sure it is presented in full and in the same manner as you would a professional, paid position.
I hope you can now see how to overcome what seemed like insurmountable obstacles and place your job search on the right path. Best of luck to you.