Advice from H. R. D'Rector
Dear H. R.: I’m currently employed, but recently began a search for a new job. However, before I got my current position, I was out of work for over six months. My resume needs to be updated, but I also noticed that on some prospective employer’s online job applications, they want an explanation for any missing work history. How do I fill in the blanks?
Dear Missing: The first thing you want to do is tell the truth. If you were out of work because of a layoff or downsizing or even if you were fired for telling off the boss, don’t lie about it. Be upfront and honest with the prospective employer; honesty is a virtue many employers want and seek. Inform them why you were unemployed, but don’t dwell on the reason. Emphasize how hard you worked to find a new job — which you eventually did. These days, looking for work is a full-time job anyway! Secondly, six months used to be a long time to find a job, but now with 18 month, 24 month and longer searches, it’s considered short. In those instances, it’s important to keep at the search, but also make yourself busy in other ways that can be used on a resume to show that you’re still in the loop. Take classes relevant to your business or in something you’ve always wanted to do. Try to secure a part-time job, even if it’s not in your chosen field. Act as a consultant in your industry — for free if necessary. Volunteer with a local charity, library, community center, or church for a few hours a week. Build something for someone. Start doing freelance projects. Hell, if you’re successful at freelancing, you won’t need to find another full-time job! The advice here is to never sit still. Then, if you find yourself having to answer the question again, you’ll have more than enough activities to give a prospective employer the real and truthful impression that you’re not only energetic and serious, but you don’t let a setback stop you from your goals.
Dear H. R.: I feel like I’m between a rock and a piece of paper. I wrote a résumé for myself, had a writer colleague review and edit it, and designed a cool letterhead. When I send it off to recruiters I receive advice on the résumé that is contradictory from one recruiter to another. One tells me to leave off dates, another insists I include them and add more jobs. Some tell me to avoid formatting or design, others want to see creativity. Some recruiters send me templates to follow. Career sites offer to review my resume (the ones that charge a monthly membership fee) and then imply that my CV is poor. Then they offer to rewrite it for $1000. Hey! I’m unemployed here! I don’t have a grand to spend!
–Bad Case of the Head-Spins
Dear Bad: Confusing, ain’t it? My advice is to take the advice with a large grain of salt. Except my advice, of course. Most recruiters will tell you what they like to see in a résumé because it may be based on what works for their candidates or what they know their clients like to see. If you’re into a large job-search effort, you could end up with many résumés formatted or designed in different ways. Heck, I have close to 12 different versions of my own. I’ve been on both sides of the recruiting table and was responsible for hiring creative people, so I've heard and seen just about everything. What I advise can apply to any résumé for any profession; therefore, this is what I like to see:
– Open with a short paragraph about yourself, which is the so-called “elevator speech.” A fifteen-second (if spoken) synopsis of what it is you would tell a stranger you do.
– Only list your last three or four jobs with start and end dates. Include a brief description of your responsibilities and then bullet-point three or four major accomplishments.
– List any technical skills separately that may be relevant to performing your job.
– List any certifications and special education or classes you’ve taken that are relevant.
– List your education. High school is not necessary unless you didn’t go to college. You can add the dates of graduation if you want, but personally, I’m only interested in if you graduated.
– List any organizations you are active in or belonged to, especially if they’re trade related.
– List three references and their contact information. Many candidates will state “references available upon request” but I don’t want to ask for them. I want to see them now.
– Design or no design? I used to like — and recommend — that people applying for positions like art director or copywriter provide a résumé that was creative. My thinking was that the job was for a creative thinker and not an accountant, so why should the résumé look boring? I’ve changed on that so now I advise everyone to have a straight-laced, MS Word-based non-formatted résumé for easy uploading to online job applications. Keep the page count to two to three at the most. If you like, have another résumé in a designed format with a clean but creative letterhead that can be used as a PDF to send via email or to print out on a classy paper stock to mail or leave behind. If you’re an accountant, beg your niece at art school to help you or use a template. Artists should now have — actually, it’s mandatory — a personal portfolio website, so being overly creative with a résumé isn’t necessary.
– Many career advisors suggest that a résumé be tailored to the specific job; i.e. that Molecular Integration Cell Biologist gig you have your four eyes on. My experience has been that with the literal resume broadcasting of online job boards that most people use, a generic résumé is the most practical. You can always speak to the specific job and why you’re the best damn candidate in your cover letter.
Basically, be true to yourself when writing it — it’s your short autobiography. If you're like most people and can't afford to hire a professional résumé writer, have a couple of friends look over your document and listen to what they have to say. If you’re happy with it, then use it for your job applications and good luck!
Steve James owned and creative directed an advertising and design studio in Buffalo, NY with the un-snappy name of SteveJamesDesign, Inc. Steve and his family now live in Indianapolis where he worked as a Creative Director and he is currently in transition, flux, metamorphosis, segue, or whatever looking for work is now called.