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Five Steps: Build a Career Before Graduating from College

Contribubed by Karen Dickson

 

 

Five Steps: Build a Career Before Graduating from College

 

In 2015, the Georgetown University center on Education and the Workforce released a report showing that around 14 million college students were working. That’s over 70% of college students. Around 76% of graduate students and 40% of undergraduate students work full-time.

The question is: how many of those students are working towards career progress? The reports show that most of them must work to pay for their education. Since the work does not provide enough finances for tuition and expenses, they must take loans, too.

If you must work, why don’t you do it with a higher purpose? If you choose your positions wisely, you won’t start looking for a job after graduation with a clean sleeve. You’ll already have experience that shows how good you are. We’ll suggest 5 tips that help you start building a career while you’re still at college.

1. Be a Freelancer!

Freelancing can be a real job in today’s economy. People from all around the world are making money through writing, graphic design, coding, photography, and many other skills. Whatever skill you have, you can turn it into a profession that will be related to your future career.

Robert M., a student at Monash University, works as a freelance writer at Best Essays. He shared his experience with us: “During my first year at college, I was wondering: do I want to be a writer or a social worker? I decided to combine these two passions and write about social issues. This company gave me an opportunity to do something I loved and get good money for it. I believe this is a great contribution towards my future career. Every project demands extensive research. I’m learning a lot and I’m boosting my writing skills on the go.”

2. Start a Blog

Did you know that a good blog can bring you good money? That’s not all. A great blog can also make you an authority in the niche you choose for your profession. For example, let’s say you want to be a graphic designer after you finish college. You can create an impressive blog that covers all points of graphic design. You will share your tips and knowledge, and you’ll showcase your projects.

The sooner you start working on your blog, the greater your opportunities will be. A successful online project will look great on your portfolio. It will open the doors to your future.

3. Consider Internships

If you must work for the money, maybe this won’t be an option for you. However, you should consider an internship, even if it’s just for a month during the summer break. The biggest advantage of an internship is focus. When you opt for a position related to the career you want in future, you’re basically building that career during college.

An internship gives you great chances to build a professional network. If you prove yourself as a great worker and you get people to notice you, the organization that gives you an internship opportunity may offer you a job after graduation.

4. Take Part in Professional Events and Conferences

Colleges organize career events for a reason: during an occasion like this, the best students get a chance to be noticed from different organizations. They can develop their professional network and make connections with potential mentors. When you get a chance to attend an event of this type, you need to be very active. It’s not the right time to be humble and shy. Talk to these people; they are there to meet and attract the most talented students.

Don’t stop there! Find conferences related to the profession you’re focused on and attend them. Professional events offer you great chances to build your network. Connect with the people you meet via LinkedIn, so they will be updated about your progress.

5. Get a Job that Demands Communication

When you choose to work throughout your studies, choose your positions very carefully. Organizing the books in a bookshop is a good way to spend your time, but such position won’t get you in touch with many people. Store cashier, barista, help desk representative… – these are some of the most common jobs a student can get. The good thing about them is that they directly face you with people. No matter what career you choose for your future, communication skills will be crucial for your success.

Don’t perceive this as a job you need to have just because you lack the money to pay for college. That attitude leads to frustrations. Think of it as an opportunity to develop important skills that help you become a better applicant to any job after graduation.

It’s never too early to start doing something that will make your CV look good. A student has many opportunities to start building a career before graduation. You just need focus!

 

About our guest contributor. Karen Dikson is a college instructor and blogger from New Jersey. She writes for several educational websites, including Huffington Post. She loves teaching, writing and helping her students to reach their goals. Connect with Karen via Twitter.

Schmooze or Lose (Or Tis the Season to be Networking)

CWR Career Zone with Terry Pile, GCDF

Schmooze or Lose (Or Tis the Season to be Networking)

Reprinted from The Mercer Island Reporter

 

“I know I should be networking, but it’s so hard for me. I’d much rather put my resume on the Internet and wait for someone to call.”

 

Terry Pile, GCDF

Terry Pile, GCDF

I hear this sentiment repeatedly from my job-seeking clients, introverts and extroverts alike. The reality is more than 65 percent of job finders get their jobs through word of mouth (aka networking). In this economy, the figure may be even higher. Comparatively, less than 10% get jobs by posting resumes online. With those odds, job seekers can’t afford not to network.

 

Why the aversion to networking? Many job seekers say it makes them feel needy. Some fear rejection. Others see it as being pushy or aggressive. It you consider networking only as something you do when you are unemployed, these feelings may be justified.

 

Successful networkers view the process as an exchange of information. They treat it as an important life skill. Sharing information about babysitters, restaurants and auto mechanics is networking. Participating in discussion groups, listserves and chat rooms is networking. Attending professional meetings, civic groups and hobby clubs is networking. Most of us do this kind of networking with enthusiasm. Yet, when we think about networking to advance our careers we retreat to our computers and press the “send” button a few more times.

 

It’s not about job openings

According to the Five O’clock Club, a national career counseling network, the biggest mistake job seekers make in networking is to ask people if they know of any job openings. Generally people don’t and they feel put on the spot. “Some of the most important people in your search may provide you with information and no contacts. Be sincerely grateful for their help, form a relationship that will last a lifetime and plan to reconnect regularly with the people you meet. Many people report that they got their jobs through someone six or seven levels removed from where they started.”

 

It is about talking to people

Naomi Sanchez is the director of MBA career services at the University of Washington. She tells her MBA students, “The most important thing is that networking is not about you, but about the person you are meeting. Make meeting others easier by being genuinely interested in them. Be ready to share information about yourself in interesting ways. Networking is sharing and giving, not just taking.” Sanchez also said, “I tell students not to wait for the perfect pitch, the perfect feeling, but to venture out and meet people, to create opportunities where none exists.”

 

One of the most successful networkers I know could be found at the southend QFC until a year ago. Grocery checker Jimmy Pliego knew something about almost every customer who came through his line. His light banter and habit of asking questions may have irked a few impatient customers, but everyone knew Jimmy, and Jimmy knew everyone. “I just enjoy talking to people and helping them, “said Pliego. “I would be asked to watch people’s homes when they were out of town, or babysit their boats. I even met my wife at the QFC.”

 

When an injury caused Pliego to take time off from work, he considered a career in real estate. After his first year and a half he was making over $100,000. “About 95 percent of my customers were people I knew from the store, ” said Pliego. “When you do a good job of networking, you are rewarded.”

 

Networking during the holidays

With the holidays approaching, most people find themselves in more social situations than normal. Take advantage of holiday parties, concerts and church gatherings to hone your networking skills. Here are a few additional tips for holiday networking:

 

Make sure you have “personal” business cards on hand. They are inexpensive to make and serve as a useful leave-behind.

 

Have your “commercial” ready. When appropriate, provide a clear message about the type of work you are looking for and your unique strengths.

 

Look for temporary volunteer opportunities. During the holiday season they are abundant. Work in a soup kitchen, food bank or shelter. You’ll feel good about your efforts and meet other volunteers for future networking.

 

Follow-up with the people you found interesting and showed interest in you.. Send them a holiday greeting. Continue to follow-up a few times throughout the year.

 

Don’t forget to give back. Look for opportunities where you can offer tips, advice and information. The simple gesture of sharing a favorite holiday recipe could cook up a future job lead.

 

Many of my clients say their biggest career mistake was not keeping up with their network while they were employed. I say, schmooze and you can’t lose. The experience can enrich your life, and yes, even lead you to a job.

 

About Terry Pile, GCDF:  Terry Pile is principal and senior consultant with Career Advisors. Terry has over twenty years of experience in corporate, government, non-profit and entrepreneurial settings. Terry’s areas of effectiveness include working with individuals to identify their strengths and passions and develop a career destiny within their current company or for future employment. Terry has a Master’s degree in Education from Indiana University and a Certificate in Career Development from the University of Washington. She is certified by the Center for Credentialing and Education as a Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF).

 

 

Job Seeking: Employment Agency, Recruiter, Counselor or Coach?

CWR Career Zone with Terry Pile, GCDF

Job Seeking: Employment Agency, Recruiter, Counselor or Coach?

 

Terry Pile, GCDF

Terry Pile, GCDF

The Internet can direct you to numerous resources for career assistance.

 

But, how do you know if they are legitimate or the right service for you? Finding appropriate career help is similar to finding a job. It requires research. Knowing the difference between the types of career resources and the services they deliver is a good start.

 

 

 

Executive search firms

 

Executive recruiters work for employers, not job seekers. Executive recruiters, also known as headhunters, generally target senior level or hard-to-fill positions. Most specialize in specific industries, professions and geographic areas. If a recruiting firm is working on retainer, it gets paid for its efforts whether or not a position is filled. Contingency recruiters are paid after they make a placement and tend to be more aggressive as commissions can be as much as 30 percent of the candidate’s annual salary.

 

Neil Thompson was a recruiter for the high-tech industry until Sept. 11, 2001. He now provides a job listing and advisory service for the health care industry and is the founder of Washington Health Careers. He advises individuals who want to work with recruiters to approach them in a direct manner.

Cover letters should be to-the-point and demonstrate some knowledge of the recruiting firm.

 

By working with an executive recruiter, you have a chance at jobs that are rarely advertised and you’re competing with a narrower field of candidates. The downside is that a recruiter won’t be interested in talking to you unless you’re a match for the current position he/she is pursuing. If your phone calls and e-mail messages are ignored, don’t take it personally. Stay in touch. Your timing may be better in the future. But keep in mind, the recruiter is working for the employer, not for you.

 

Employment agencies: Public and private

 

Employment agencies match employees with employers who have job openings at the entry-level to middle-manager range. Employment agencies save the employer from having to screen candidates and give job seekers access to jobs that may not be advertised. If it is licensed by the state, an employment agency can charge the employee a fee after making a placement. However, most agencies tend to charge the employer exclusively.

 

WorkSource is a one-stop public employment agency. With approximately a dozen sites, it offers job listings, employment counseling, job-finding workshops and computer access at no charge.

 

Private agencies may specialize in skilled and/or unskilled labor in a variety of industries. It is important to do your research before you send in a resume unsolicited. Human Resources, Inc., is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and specializes in entry to mid-level jobs in a variety of fields, including human resources, accounting and office work.

 

Sheri Hervey, co-owner with husband Rick, advises job seekers to check its agency job board and then send in an application if there is a potential match. HRI broadcasts its openings on about 50 job boards including those sponsored by WorkSource and local community colleges.

 

Hervey said she believes, “the employment service is a ‘beautiful thing.’ It makes employers happy to have someone screen candidates. It makes job hunters happy to have someone advocate for them, and it makes us happy to make a good match. It is a win-win-win situation.”

 

HRI also provides temporary placements, which often turn into full-time positions after employer and employee have had a chance to check each other out. In a “temp” situation, the worker is actually hired by the employment agency to go on special assignments. The agency gets a fee from the employer and the employee receives a wage after the agency takes its cut. Some “temps” may be eligible for health benefits depending on the agency policy.

 

Career consultants and coaches

 

The difference between career consultants, counselors and coaches can be murky. Consultants and counselors tend to give advice. Coaches help you to reach your own conclusions. In either case, career specialists don’t place you in jobs. They provide you with the tools and support to market yourself, and you pay for their services. (If you are fortunate enough to have a former employer pay for career assistance, it is called “outplacement.”) Services include skills assessments, resume preparation, job search strategies, interview practice and salary negotiations.

 

If you are looking for a career counselor or coach, Janet Scarborough of Bridgeway Careers suggests, “Ask friends who have experience with career professionals for a recommendation. Attend a lecture or read articles by career professionals to determine if you like their style.”

 

Beware of career consulting agencies that claim to have access to “the hidden job market” or guarantee to find you a job. Also, watch out for one-package, one-price deals and high pressure sales tactics. Legitimate career professionals will follow a code of ethics established by their professional associations. They will assess your needs and tailor their services accordingly.

 

Although some will offer a free introductory consultation, most established practices will not. Fees can range from $50 to $250 an hour, so it is important to shop around to find assistance that meets your budget and personality.

 

 

About Terry Pile, GCDF:  Terry Pile is principal and senior consultant with Career Advisors. Terry has over twenty years of experience in corporate, government, non-profit and entrepreneurial settings. Terry’s areas of effectiveness include working with individuals to identify their strengths and passions and develop a career destiny within their current company or for future employment. Terry has a Master’s degree in Education from Indiana University and a Certificate in Career Development from the University of Washington. She is certified by the Center for Credentialing and Education as a Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF).

 

 

The ‘Dos and Don’ts’ of Making A Resume Sizzle

CWR Career Zone with Terry Pile, GCDF

The ‘Dos and Don’ts’ of Making A Resume Sizzle

Reprinted from The Mercer Island Reporter

Terry Pile, GCDF

Terry Pile, GCDF

Everyone has an opinion about résumés. Give your résumé to 10 people and you will get 10 different suggestions on how to improve it. As a career coach, I tell my clients it is their privilege to accept or reject résumé advice, but there are three résumé rules that shouldn’t be compromised.

1. A résumé must be accurate. Don’t stretch the truth about degrees, skills, achievements, honors or job responsibilities.

2. A résumé should highlight your accomplishments and portray you at your best. Too many résumés look like job descriptions. Show your “value added” to former employers with accomplishment statements, and quantify the accomplishments if possible.

3. You should be comfortable with your résumé. It should be a sales piece you are proud of and can easily talk about.

With that said, there are some tricks for getting your résumé to stand out from the hundreds stacked on the human resources manager’s desk. I asked human resource managers who live or work on Mercer Island to share their opinions on what makes a résumé “sizzle.”

Linda Jack, International Bio Products: “I feel like a matchmaker when I look at résumés. I want the person with the skills that best match my job opening. I look for recent, relevant experience with supporting information.”

Linda Kaminski, Personnel Management Systems Inc.: “I can usually make my decision about a candidate after reading the top third of the page. It must really grab my attention to keep on reading. Every line must count. There shouldn’t be redundancy or filler. I don’t want to read personal information such as religion, health status or age. Of course, typos will be an immediate disqualifier.”

Janelle Quinn, former senior human resources assistant, Farmers Life Insurance: “I like résumés that are easy to read, one page or two at the most. I look for work history that is relevant to the job for which I am hiring.”

Kryss Segle, city of Mercer Island: “Fancy résumés don’t do it for us, we are looking for related experience. I like to study the cover letter. It speaks to who you are. I recommend putting a lot of thought into the cover letter.”

A common complaint from human resources professionals is that they are receiving a large volume of résumés that aren’t remotely related to the job opening. It may be a result, in part, to the unemployment compensation requirement that job seekers make a designated number of contacts each week. Before launching a mass mailing, consider the odds. A 2 percent return rate is considered pretty good in the direct mail world. That translates to two “call backs” for every hundred résumés mailed.

Want to increase your odds of getting a response? For each résumé you write, do your research and tailor your résumé to address the job requirements. Twenty very targeted résumés will increase your rate of return.

A follow-up phone call improves the odds even more. With the technology available for research and word processing, there is no reason not to have a focused résumé for each job you target. “Fast food” résumés are a thing of the past. A gourmet résumé that speaks to the job is much more likely to whet the appetite of a hiring manager.

Although each hiring manager may have a personal bias about résumés, there are standard guidelines to follow that add professionalism to your sales piece and are universally accepted.

DO:

Include your name and contact information on each page. Proofread for correct spelling, grammar and consistency of format. Don’t depend on spellcheck alone.

Use sentence fragments and write in active voice starting with action words (created, developed, implemented, initiated…). Pronouns such as “I,” “we” and “my” should be used sparingly in résumés.

Use lots of white space and a legible font, preferably 12 point; 10 at the smallest.

Print on white or cream paper without texture or prominent water marks to ensure clarity in case résumés are scanned electronically.

Follow the employers instructions explicitly for submitting résumés, especially electronic ones.

DON’T:

Create an objective that focuses on what you want. The employer doesn’t care. The objective should match the job you are applying for and tell what you have to offer. An example of a poor objective for a customer service position would be: “Seeking a job with a progressive company that will allow me to grow my management skills.” A better objective is: “Customer Service rep seeking position where I can use my customer relations skills to improve service and impact sales.”

Include references on your résumé or the statement “references available on request.” Of course you will provide references if asked. Don’t use up valuable space saying the obvious.

Include dates, grade point averages or degrees older than 10 years. At this point, your experience is more important. Relevant training should be included to show you are keeping current in your field.

Use acronyms or buzz words assuming they are generally know. For example, the term “stat” has very different meanings in the medical, financial and advertising industries.

About Terry Pile, GCDF: Terry Pile is principal and senior consultant with Career Advisors. Terry has over twenty years of experience in corporate, government, non-profit and entrepreneurial settings. Terry’s areas of effectiveness include working with individuals to identify their strengths and passions and develop a career destiny within their current company or for future employment. Terry has a Master’s degree in Education from Indiana University and a Certificate in Career Development from the University of Washington. She is certified by the Center for Credentialing and Education as a Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF).

Using Your Employment References Strategically

CWR Career Zone with Terry Pile, GCDF

Using Your Employment References Strategically

Reprinted from The Mercer Island Reporter

 

Terry Pile, GCDF

Terry Pile, GCDF

“May we contact your employer?” This common question on job applications catches many job candidates off guard because they haven’t given employment references much thought. References can be crucial in determining whether a candidate gets an offer. Many job seekers carry around a predetermined list of references without considering their relevance to the specific job they want. The following are employment reference questions frequently asked by my clients. The responses highlight how important it is to use references strategically for the best results.

 

What if my employer and I didn’t have a good relationship or I don’t trust my supervisor to give me a positive reference?

 

Although most employers would like to talk to an authority figure, it doesn’t need to be your immediate supervisor. Kandi Hebert, Human Resources Manager at National Securities advises, “Choose people that know your work, such as a previous supervisor, a manager of another department or someone who worked closely with you on a project.” References can also be trainers, customers, vendors and other coworkers. If an individual can speak in detail how you performed similar duties as in the job you are going after, he/she is strategically the better reference.

 

What if I am new to the workforce or reentering the job market after a long break and do not have job references?

 

Don’t forget your volunteer work or school internships. Many of the associations you make in these environments will be valuable references regarding your skills and character.

 

Because of her husband’s work with the Canadian Consulate, Cynthia Nuzzi moved frequently making it difficult for her to find employment. Referring to herself as a “professional volunteer,” Cynthia quickly volunteered for activities that match her interests in public health and the environment. “I have met a lot of terrific people who will give me outstanding references for the volunteer work I have done,” said Nuzzi. “The challenge is finding the employer who sees my skills as a good match and will want to check my references.”

 

What if my former employer won’t give out references?

 

Many companies are reluctant to give out information on former employees and often assign this task exclusively to the human resources department. Kandi Hebert said, “As the HR Manager, I am the only person in the company allowed to give references. I respond to written requests and give out hire date, job title, job location and salary.”

 

If your former employer has a nondisclosure policy, find individuals in the organization willing to give you a personal reference. For example, in my previous job as a manager in a large non-profit agency, I told reference seekers to have the employer call me at home or send an email to my private account. In this way I could provide a personal reference without compromising my organization.

 

Are my chances of getting a job diminished if I am not “eligible for rehire” by a previous employer?

 

Many references checkers will ask the question, “Is this employee eligible for rehire.” If the answer is “no” it may raise a red flag but it won’t absolutely prevent you from getting the job. Kryss Segle, a Human Resources Manager points out, “We do ask if a person is eligible for rehire when conducting employment references. A negative response is not necessarily an automatic rejection.. It just prompts us to investigate further.”

 

Many organizations ask potential employees to fill out a “hold harmless agreement.” It protects former and potential employers from liability for any information that is given out about an individual, both positive and negative. “If a job candidate refuses to sign the agreement, consideration ends right there,” said Segle.

 

Any other words of advice regarding references?

 

Be sure to get permission from your references in advance. Provide them with a copy of your resume and the types of jobs you are interested in. Remind them of relevant work experience with specific examples. Offer your references judiciously. You don’t want to squander an important reference on a job you are feeling luke-warm about.

 

Hebert advices, “Once you know an employer is going to call your references, give them a ‘heads up’ that they should be expecting a phone call from XYZ company and advice on the types of questions that they might be asked. After the background check is finished, thank your references. Once you land that new job, don’t forget to share the great news. Engaging your references in your job search will assist you now and in the future.”

 

 

About Terry Pile, GCDF:  Terry Pile is principal and senior consultant with Career Advisors. Terry has over twenty years of experience in corporate, government, non-profit and entrepreneurial settings. Terry’s areas of effectiveness include working with individuals to identify their strengths and passions and develop a career destiny within their current company or for future employment. Terry has a Master’s degree in Education from Indiana University and a Certificate in Career Development from the University of Washington. She is certified by the Center for Credentialing and Education as a Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF).

 

Old-fashioned Courtesy Still In Vogue When Job Hunting

CWR Career Zone with Terry Pile, GCDF

Old-fashioned Courtesy Still In Vogue When Job Hunting

Reprinted from Mercer Island Reporter

 

Terry Pile, GCDF

Terry Pile, GCDF

In my previous job as marketing director at a local hospital, I overheard my staff debating the merits of two candidates being considered for one summer internship position. Both were qualified and likable, so the staff was having a difficult time deciding. Finally, an astute employee pointed out that one candidate wrote a thank-you note and the other did not. Guess who got the job?

What ever happened to old-fashioned politeness? When did mothers stop teaching their children to write thank you notes?

Having talked to hiring managers about thank-you notes, I got responses similar to this one from Valerie Wilson, office manager, Indigo Real Estate:

 

“In the old days, people would send thank-you notes after an interview. But it is very rare to get them today,” she said. “Occasionally we get a thank-you note from a candidate, and it makes a definite impression.”

I believe the thank-you note for receiving a referral, job lead, information meeting or interview is a must. It is an additional opportunity to sell your benefits, address specific concerns that may have come up in a meeting, demonstrate your interest in the company and display your professionalism.

As Judy Hahnel, senior account manager at Premera Healthcare points out, “More professional candidates tend to send follow-ups. Ultimately, they do not influence my decision to hire. But I do give a ‘nod of approval’ if one is sent.”

Thank-you notes come in a variety of forms. They can be an e-mail, letter, fax, card or phone call, depending on the culture of the organization. The most important thing to remember about a thank-you note is that to be effective it must have substance. The following thank-you notes were written after an information meeting. Compare them and consider who you would call back if you had a position to fill.

Letter No. 1: “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me yesterday. It was a pleasure to learn more about the company and your department. It sounds like it would be a great place to work. Please keep me in mind if an appropriate position should open in the future.”

Letter No. 2: “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me yesterday. It was very interesting to learn about the challenges you face with a high turnover of employees. As someone who takes pride in her ability to mentor employees, I have been considering your situation and was reminded of some strategies I used in a previous job to boost employee morale. I will call in a few days to request another meeting to share my ideas. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have some available time to talk.”

Letter No. 1, although polite, is not memorable and will do little to advance the author’s chance of a second meeting or a possible job in the future.

The second letter not only displays courtesy to the manager for extending a meeting, but also highlights the author’s strengths and presents a possible solution to a problem the manager is facing, creating a bit of intrigue. Surely it will stick in the mind of the manager far longer than the first letter.

Not long ago, I was presenting a workshop on “interviewing skills” to a very diverse group of individuals who were looking for work.

When I broached the subject of sending a thank-you note after an interview, one former assembly line worker said incredulously, “Why would somebody like me write a thank-you note? Nobody does that in my line of work.”

A woman who had experience hiring assembly line workers interjected, “That is exactly why you should do it. If nobody else does, you would certainly stand out in my mind.”

Getting a job today is all about standing out. Writing an influential thank you note is another opportunity to separate yourself from the crowd. Besides, your mother would be proud.
 

About Terry Pile, GCDF:  Terry Pile is principal and senior consultant with Career Advisors.  Terry has over twenty years of experience in corporate, government, non-profit and entrepreneurial settings.  Terry’s areas of effectiveness include working with individuals to identify their strengths and passions and develop a career destiny within their current company or for future employment.  Terry has a Master’s degree in Education from Indiana University and a Certificate in Career Development from the University of Washington.  She is certified by the Center for Credentialing and Education as a Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF).

How To Deal With Employment Gaps On Your Resume

CWR Career Zone With Terry Pile

How To Deal With Employment Gaps On Your Resume

 

Terry Pile, GCDF

Terry Pile, GCDF

You took a break from work to raise a family, go back to school or spend time traveling.  Perhaps you were laid off and used the opportunity to recharge emotionally before looking for another job. The time off was worth it, but now you have a glaring gap in your work history.  How do you explain it on a resume?  The answer depends on two factors – how long and how productive your period of unemployment has been.
How did you use your time off? 

When employers see a large gap in work history on a resume, it is natural for them to wonder what the job candidate was doing during that period of time.  Were you at home watching daytime television and eating bonbons?  Were you doing time in a correctional facility?  Were you procrastinating on your job search until your unemployment ran out? Or were you working on your personal and professional development?

Employers like to know you were doing something productive to enhance your marketability during your absence from the workplace.  If you returned to school, say so.  If you did volunteer work while raising your family, document it.  If you did any kind of freelance, temporary or contract work during your time off, call yourself a consultant and include it on your resume.  If you prefer to be vague about a gap in employment, consider writing “On Sabbatical” or “Special Project.” Just be sure you have a reasonable response prepared for the interview. For example on sabbatical could mean, “I had the opportunity to travel and conduct research for a novel I plan to write,” or “I was lucky to have a generous severance package that allowed me to do volunteer work for a year.  It enabled me to acquire valuable skills I’d like to offer your company.”

How long was your time off?

In today’s economy it is taking job seekers longer to find employment.  A gap of a year is not unusual in an economy with a high unemployment rate and will probably go unnoticed.  However, if your hiatus from work is pushing two years or more, you will want to address that gap on your resume. Here are a few suggestions:

Consider how you represent dates 

This is not permission to lie. You never want to put a falsehood on a resume.  How you use dates on your resume is more about perception.  For example, if you left a job in November 2009 and it is now March 2010 you will want to indicate the month and year of your separation from your last job – 11/2009.  The employer will see you have been unemployed for just a few months.  However, if you were laid off in January 2009 and it is currently March 2010, you may want to leave off the month and use only the year 2009.  In this case, the employer will have to speculate how long you have been away from the workplace.  It could be anywhere from three to 15 months. Be prepared to have a plausible response if asked.

Lead with relevant work

Perhaps you are not returning to the same kind of job you held in your last position.  For example, six years ago John worked in public relations, but his last two positions were in sales.  He wants to return to the public relations field.  In this case he could use the headline Relevant Employment and bring earlier public relations jobs to the top of his resume.  After listing relevant jobs, he could add another headline that is titled Additional Employment. Under this category he could briefly summarize his sales jobs or other employment.

Let’s say John’s public relations jobs were 20 years ago.  He may not want to advertise this fact.  Instead of Relevant Experience, he could lead with the headline,

Relevant Accomplishments. In this case, he can include several bullets highlighting his public relations achievements and leave dates out all together.

By leading with the skills and accomplishments relevant to the job being advertised, you have taken your work history out of chronological context. If the employer is impressed by your qualifications related to the vacant position, he/she will be less inclined to care about dates or the order of you work history.

Focus on the last ten years

Today most employers are interested in what you have been doing in the last ten years.  This is good news if the gap in your work history occurred more than a decade ago.  You can sum up your employment prior to the year 2000 by simply stating Previous Experience includes and briefly list employers and jobs you may want to highlight without going into detail. Leave dates off.  Not only will you be covering up gaps, but you will also avoid revealing your age, a vital statistic employers should not be able to glean from your resume.

There are many ways to downplay flaws in your work history.  Fortunately, there are also many good resume books on the market to help job seekers improve their marketability. Two books I recommend areResume Empower: Shattering the Paper Ceiling by Tom Washington (Mount Vernon Press, 2009) and The Targeted Resume, by Kate Wendleton of The Five O’clock Club (Thomson Delmar Learning, 2006).  

 

About Terry Pile, GCDF.

Terry Pile is principal and senior consultant with Career Advisors.  Terry has over twenty years of experience in corporate, government, non-profit and entrepreneurial settings.  Terry’s areas of effectiveness include working with individuals to identify their strengths and passions and develop a career destiny within their current company or for future employment.  Terry has a Master’s degree in Education from Indiana University and a Certificate in Career Development from the University of Washington.  She is certified by the Center for Credentialing and Education as a Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF).