Secrets to a Great Employment History Section on Your Resume

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There’s no such thing as a “perfect” employment history. For starters, it’s subjective. In addition, most people experience minor setbacks that negatively affect their work history. For example, you may have found yourself without a job at times or even done some “job hopping” for a while. 

Don’t fret, however—a spotty employment history doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dream job. Whatever the issue with your employment history is, learn how to resolve it on your resume. If you’re having problems smoothing out your employment history section, turn to our resume experts for help.

Issue #1: A string of short-term jobs 

A string of short-term jobs doesn’t look good on a resume, and a potential employer may question your loyalty or competence. How do you handle this when creating your resume? Well, you don’t need to include every single job you’ve ever worked. In general, if you only held a position for up to three months, you shouldn’t add it to your resume. You have limited space, so choose jobs that highlight the skills essential to the one you’re applying for. 

However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. If a temporary job you did allows you to showcase important skills or achievements, you should add it. It may also be worth including if it’s the only way to cover a gap in your employment history. You should exercise your own judgment based on your specific circumstances.

Short-term jobs could also involve a lot of freelancing. Often, the best way to handle freelance gigs is to bundle them together under one job unless they’re in wildly different fields. You can explain in the description the type of freelance work you did, making sure to include the end results. 

Also, while some hiring managers may look down on freelance jobs, the truth is that such work can demonstrate certain skills that regular positions might not. For example, engaging in freelance work shows that you’re enterprising, disciplined, independent, and good at self-regulation and time management, among other things. Make sure to present your freelance work from this angle.

Issue #2: A bout of unemployment

No recruiter likes to see a period of unemployment. They want to see that you can not only maintain a job but thrive in it, and gaps raise a red flag. So, how do you handle a bout of unemployment? 

One solution is not to include the dates that you worked at your other jobs, which allows you to obscure your period of unemployment. Just keep in mind that if you do this, the hiring manager will probably catch on and ask further questions. You’ll eventually have to address this issue, so you’ll still have to come up with a way to explain any gaps. The recruiter may even notice that you don’t have dates in there and brush your resume aside, giving you no chance to explain. In short, this solution is risky.

Alternatively, you could include a short section explaining why there’s a gap in your employment history. If your reason for exiting the workforce was maternity, caring for a family member, or getting laid off, this is a good choice since those are valid reasons for leaving work, and hiring managers like to see honesty on resumes. 

You don’t need to go into great detail in your explanation—just expect questions about it if you get an interview. A hiring manager won’t fault you for taking time off due to medical reasons (whether the patient was you, a family member, or a close relative), for taking a break to care for your young children, or for being laid off because your employer had to let go of half their staff to stay afloat. As long as you have a solid reason, you shouldn’t worry too much. 

A final option is to change up your resume format. This could take some work, but it may be just what you need to shift the focus from your employment history to your qualifications. This is the purpose of a functional resume—it focuses on your skills and expertise, not on the chronology of your work history. It allows your experience to shine, obscuring your inconsistent employment history. 

However, be warned: Some hiring managers dislike this format because it’s vastly different from the regular one, so you could leave a negative impression right from the start. Also, this format doesn’t work well with applicant tracking systems (ATSs), which are standard at large and mid-sized companies today. If you don’t get past the ATS, you’ll never have a chance to explain your spotty work history to a human. So, this option also comes with a risk.

Issue #3: No relevant work experience 

You might be applying for a job you’re qualified for but lack relevant work experience. This is particularly an issue if you’re trying to change dramatically your career direction. 

Don’t fret—there are other ways to showcase your skills in the field. You may have completed an internship or done volunteer work that allowed you to gain relevant experience. Work experience doesn’t have to be paid—any activities that helped you develop relevant skills are fair game. Be sure to add any accomplishments you achieved during these activities. Keep in mind that a potential employer is more interested in whether you have the right skills, experience, and traits for the job than in all the specific paid jobs you’ve worked in your life.

If you don’t have any relevant experience, paid or unpaid, spend some time on your professional development. Find ways to learn or enhance your skills and train yourself for the job you want. You can even obtain certificates to prove your achievements. Then, you can list your professional development in your work experience section. If you’re trying to pull off a major career change, you may have to attend school for more training, but look for opportunities wherever you can to gain experience in your targeted field. 

You may also look for ways to make irrelevant work experience more relevant. For example, communication skills, time management skills, discipline, independence, leadership, and the like are desired competencies in any job. See if you can make your irrelevant work experience work for you.

Regardless of the issue with your employment history, filling in the gaps is crucial for keeping it consistent. Everyone’s situation is different, so you have to figure out the best approach for your circumstances, but a gap in your employment history isn’t the fatal flaw you might think it is. Don’t let your less-than-stellar work history keep you from creating a fantastic resume. Need help tackling the issues in your employment history? Ask a professional resume expert to help.

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