Dear Sam: I have been reading your column for years, even when I was employed in what I thought was a “forever” job. I have since, however, come across a new issue and need some help.
I am a 60+-year-old technical writer. Following in-house jobs in the ‘80s, I embarked on a consulting career that lasted until 2006. In 2006, I landed my dream job but unfortunately was downsized in 2014. Since then, I took some time off for health reasons, engaged in a 5-month contracting role, and returned to freelance work.
Due to my journey, my resume contains a lot of “Consultant” titles. While I have only explored the past 12 or so years of my career, a recruiter recently told me that it looked like I had “hopped” from one job to another. I really did not move from one role to another; I simply engaged in a project, completed the project, and assumed the next consulting opportunity. The recruiter told me that even though I had 9 years with my past employer, as I had served in freelance roles before and after—creating the appearance of “job hopping”—no employer would look at my candidacy because I had “jumped around.” He said there was no solution to present myself in an advantageous manner and that I would have to hope I would have the opportunity to “explain myself” if I were to get an interview. Do you have any insight? — Anonymous
Dear Anonymous: Wow, I am so sorry you were told there was “no solution!” I am shocked that with your consistent history of freelance work, not to mention the solid career history with your employer between 2006 and 2014, the recruiter could not see past your coming across as a job hopper.
I work with clients all of the time who have been freelancing for some time. To create a more solid picture of your candidacy, why not group all of your freelance engagements together? As you were a 1099 “employee,” this is a perfectly appropriate way to convey your experience. To do this, present an overview statement about the types of tasks you were charged with. Then, in the Highlights section, you could even present the logo of the “client” and some bulleted highlights of what you did for them. This eliminates the look of moving around and instead reinforces a track record of value-added contributions.
I just did this for a client recently; while he was in a slightly different situation, we needed to showcase highlights from some of his earliest experiences. To engage the reader, I created a Highlights section that preceded the Professional Experience section. In that section, I presented logos of his key clients/employers and offered highlights of his experience with said employers to the right of the logo. The look this created was so visually appealing and took attention away from the potential disqualifier we were trying to minimize. I think this approach would work really well in your situation.
Of course rounding out the Professional Experience section would be your employer-employee experience going back to 2006. If you think it would add value, you could present a byline beneath that section that would present just a snapshot of your earlier experiences. Doing this would allow you to communicate the information without dates, eliminating the possibility of unnecessarily aging your candidacy.
There is, indeed, a solution! It just takes a little creative thinking and the ability to see beyond unfortunate assumptions. I wish you tremendous success!
Dear Sam: I have had several jobs over 10 years, including 2 in the past 2 years, and have been receiving feedback that I have too many jobs and too many gaps in employment. If I don’t include all of my jobs, it looks like I am hiding something; if I do include everything, it really looks bad. What do I do? – David
Dear David: A resume is a strategic picture of what you have done which positions you for what you now want to do. Very different from an employment application—which typically requires the disclosure of all roles—a resume affords you the ability to be somewhat selective in what you include and omit.
Once you omit months in your dates with each employer, a cleaner picture will emerge. Often the omission of months allows the rather clean exclusion of short-term and unrelated positions, not to mention near elimination of the appearance of employment gaps. For example, if you were out of work from January 2014 until December 2015 and you include months and years, potential employers will see a rather large gap in employment. If you omit months of employment, you end one position in 2014 and pick up another in 2015. While one would have to assume you ended one engagement in December and started the other in January, it at least closes the gap and removes a potential disqualifier. If you held multiple short-term and unrelated roles during that time out of your career, you can omit those from your resume without fear of retribution. Hiring managers understand that your resume is not a narrative of everything you have ever done, so don’t worry about being seen as “hiding” something. As I mentioned, an employment application is a very different animal, but let’s hope most of the positions you apply for are resume- and not application-driven. Best of luck.