Dear Sam: I worked in the financial services field for a company that eventually shut down. I was in the middle of finishing my degree in a course of study that was somewhat related to the financial 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. Early on, having been at this unrelated job for just a month, my resume still worked well, as it started with my related experience. Now, with five 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 resume? – Bob
Dear Bob: To minimize the impact of a segue from the industry you could approach your resume in two ways. First, you could use a combination format to present your experience. This resume format would begin with a qualifications summary showcasing only 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, you would present a “Selected Highlights” section. In this section, you would explore your past experience that position you for what you want to do next in your career. Organize these either by employer or by functional skill area. If the employers you worked for were notable, you might want to organize this section by employer, meaning you would have selected 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.
The second approach would be to not include the most recent five-month role at all. Given your prior employment would end in 2018, it is not critical that you show employment “to present.” You can easily justify this omission in an interview by explaining that you were completing your degree when your employer shut down and, in order to continue to focus on your professional development objectives, you engaged in a position that would allow for a more effective work-life-school balance until you neared graduation and reentered the financial services industry equipped with experience and a degree. This is not all that uncommon Bob so will not be seen as untoward whatsoever. Now, if we were getting into spring or summer of 2019, that’s when I would start considering adding the current experience in order to minimize the gap in employment. Right now, however, if you only present years on your resume, there really isn’t a gap of any significance.
If you do present your current experience, try to translate the skills gained in this position to your current career target, being sure you communicate why this experience is valuable regardless of whether it was related or not. I wish you the most success re-engaging in your career.
Dear Sam: How much experience should I present on my resume? I have 22 years of experience total and don’t know where to cut it! Is it misleading to do so? – Ashley
Dear Ashley: Typically, hiring managers expect to see about 10 to 15 years of experience presented on a resume. Omitting earlier experience will not be seen as misleading as recent, relevant experience is most important. Having said that, this does not mean you can’t include earlier positions. You may, however, want to consider bylining foundational roles without dates to avoid potentially aging and/or over-qualifying your candidacy. This simply means breaking format—and therefore justifying a change in the way information will be presented—and placing a note at the end of your professional experience with a mention that you possess that foundational experience, yet not dating the role(s). This could be as simple as, “Foundational experience with National Enterprise as a Sales Specialist” or you can go into greater detail, even presenting some highlights.