Six résumé tips for people with unconventional career paths By Nicole Raphael, MA

The Great Recession and its indiscriminate job cuts have forced many people to take a long hard look at their career paths.  For many of us, that path has taken many detours which make it hard for us to craft a cohesive and convincing résumé.

The good news is that we’re all in this together.  There are fewer people than ever before who have what anyone would call a conventional career path.   The average worker changes jobs every two to three years and the typical person will also have several careers in different industries during their working life.  Meanwhile, Labor Department figures suggest that Millennial are accelerating this trend and will hold an average of 10 jobs before they turn 38.

If you’ve had a meandering career path, then the tips below will help you to tackle résumé-writing challenges.

1)    Remove jargon from your résumé

All industry specific jargon should be replaced with universally understood terminology.  A friend of mine is a Mary Kay money magnet.  She has been very successful with her sales and recently acquired “Sapphire Star Status”.  Although it’s a fantastic accomplishment, she would be better served to quantify the exact amount or percentage to goal that she sold on her résumé.

2)    Quantify your accomplishments

You can create a bridge from one industry to the next by quantifying your accomplishments. It’s not impactful enough to say that you increase sales in 2011.  Be more specific. Say instead that you “exceed sales targets by 32% in the second quarter of 2011.”  To be sure, I’m not advocating that you lie or exaggerate results. You should be keeping track of your performance.  Start right now if you haven’t.  Figures really make a résumé pop.

3)    Choose the right format

Standard chronological résumés are great tools for people with traditional career paths, but as I’ve mentioned, a non-traditional path is becoming more commonplace.   Chronological résumés list employment prominently with bullet points describing key duties under each role.  I’m going to suggest that there is a better résumé layout for an unconventional career path.

Our résumés are very effective at highlighting a candidate’s accomplishment first and foremost, rather than directing the focus to a job title or organization.  The beauty of this type of résumé is that it allows people to highlight achievements that are germane to the role that they’re applying for or industry that they’re interested in. This is a particularly useful approach when you’ve had a “tapestry” career that comprises of several disparate roles as you can customize the language of the bullet points to fit the position you’re applying for.

4)    Specify

I can’t say this enough.  When you’re writing your résumé it’s not the time to be bashful or modest.  Have you heard the saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease?  This adage suggests that you need to make some noise about your skills and why someone should employ you. So, toot your own horn – if it’s true.  Make your résumé so complementary that you’d want to hire yourself.   Also, try your hand at story telling.  The best story always wins.  If you’re relaying how you lead a successful project then paint a clear and compelling story about why your efforts were exemplary.  Tug on a few heart or head strings so that the hiring manager will want to have you on their team.

5)    Keep it Relevant.  

For the employment section of your résumé, the heading should read “Relevant Work Experience.”  As such, you don’t have to list every job you’ve had if they are not relevant. This is especially the case if the roles are running consecutively.   Generally, my advice for people who fit the experienced non-manager category and beyond is to NOT list college employment or internships. Presumably, you’ve had much more responsible positions since then, so I’d start with your professional work experience after college.

6)    Only include degrees & certifications in the education section of your résumé


Many people with portfolio careers have a wealth of education.  I don’t really know why this is, but perhaps it has something to do with our varied interest and courage to pursue our passions.  While higher education is great, in an economic down turn excessive education experiences outside of the requirements for the position may make us look expensive.  My advice is to take off the semesters abroad and masters levels classes that didn’t result in a certification or degree. You don’t want employers to think that the job can’t afford your student loans.

In our practice, we advise our clients that your résumé isn’t chiefly important in your job search.  Instead, we advocate a networking approach to landing your next career opportunity.  That being said, you need to have a really good résumé in this competitive environment to get past HR gate keepers and to endear yourself to Hiring Authorities. That is doubly true if you have a non-linear job history. Get help if you need it.  Your résumé is the first thing that many HR Professionals and Hiring Authorities will see.  It’s like you’re front lawn.  It will be hard to sell the house if it doesn’t have curb appeal.



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