Those who have been out of work several months, or are working outside their area of expertise in order to make ends meet, tend to want to hide that on their resume. They’re worried it will reflect poorly on them and adversely affect their chances of getting an interview.
Actually, the opposite is true, because unexplained resume blanks cause question marks. These career aberrations need to be accounted for. Human nature defaults to the negative. We look for problems in order to avoid them. Holes in the resume cause questions which equal problems.
Whether or not your odd jobs or unemployment compromise your interview possibilities depends on what you were doing, why you were doing it, and especially how you spin it, both in the cover letter and in the interview.
Why, if you’ve held a job outside your norm, should you be faulted for “doing what it takes” to feed yourself and your family? Stepping outside of your career track shows a positive attitude, a way of thinking, and of solving a problem. It’s also the attitude and behavior you’ll bring to a company, as opposed to a person who does nothing, worrying and whining all the while. Additionally, there’s the experience in both life and people that are now part of who you are.
One of my clients was in the finance industry, and decided to go to school full time to get her master’s in Divinity. She wasn’t planning on pursuing a career in that area; it was just something she wanted to do. And then she went back into finance. How to spin that? Focus. A love of learning. But she feared the nature of the degree would make people uncomfortable, yet that was the easiest part, because by nature, she was serene, even keeled, and considerate of others. She hit the proselytizing fear head on, and learned her schooling was a matter of interest, not concern.
Another individual was out of work for two years with a serious illness and wasn’t sure he should list that. Absolutely he should. This is life. Stuff happens. It doesn’t need to be listed as anything other than “Illness preventing employment,” and presented on the resume just as a company heading would be.
A strange, but brief, change of direction in a career is frequently a result of someone internally examining their direction in life. Be open about that. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue the path I was pursuing, so I went in a direction that seemed viable. What I learned was that I didn’t like it as much as I thought, and for these reasons, I really do like what I’m doing.”
And then know those reasons to assure a potential employer you won’t be slacking or leaving the company to take off in some new direction.
Unfortunately almost everyone misses the opportunity to use their cover letter to both inform and introduce these experiences. This is one reason generic cover letters are a mistake. Another reason is that they fail to address the specifics of what the company wants. They’re the easy way out, spotted at a glance, never read, yet perpetuated by professional resume writers.
Write a custom one, use the exact words from the ad, lead into examples from your career, and use the last paragraph to put a brief, but positive spin, on the section you feel is questionable. Now you’re quelling objections before they arise, eliminating questions, and solving problems.
It’s not about whether you’re honest; it’s about how you spin the honesty. I don’t mean “spin” as altering the truth, because honesty is paramount. Be who you are. Be comfortable and straight forward about that.
If the hiring authority is going to judge you and consider you damaged goods rather than appreciating your honesty and acknowledging the factors one might associate with the alleged resume blotch, you don’t want to work there anyway.