Solving Common Resume Problems

Posted by The Editors on May 5, 2011
Solving Common Resume Problems
In his book, From College to Career: Entry-Level Resumes for Every Major from Accounting to Zoology, Donald Asher takes on five issues that typically arise during a job search. They are:

1. What do you do if you don't have enough experience—or have no experience at all?
If you don't have enough experience, expand your definition of experience to include paid, nonpaid, volunteer, community service, political, tutoring, sports, and church/synagogue/mosque/ashram activities. You can even feature classroom experiences if they support your career goal.

Here's one example:

Office of Admissions/Physical Education Department, Fall 2005 and 2006
Orientation Coordinator (Public Relations)
•  Conceived role of public relations representative for the Sports Complex to the orientation process; was appointed by the A.D. as "Czar of PR."
•  Won approval for Sports Complex as site of "Bop Tilya Drop" orientation bash.
•  Convinced cheerleaders (male and female) to lead Sports Complex tours.
•  Increased Sports Complex utilization by over 15% in first year alone. See enclosed letter from A.D. citing my contribution as key to exempting S.C. from budget cuts.

Pay particular attention to this example. This student created this project for a lark. The only pay was a few extra perks around the gym, but look how well it turned out on his resume. Many students do something for their departments, for some branch of student government, or for some student organization. Sometimes this kind of unstructured "work" can round out the rest of your experience rather nicely.

Also, here's how one student sold her classroom research as experience of interest to business employers:

Sample Projects:
•  Analyzed all sectors of the Norsk Hydro conglomerate of Norway, including industry and competitive trends, financial and management strengths, corporate infrastructure, and historical performance.
•  Prepared comprehensive country profile of Brazil's business climate as part of feasibility analysis of investment and joint-venture potential.
•  Developed study of crosscultural organizational behavior investigating corporate communications protocols using Pakistan as a model.

2. What do you do if you're too young?
Too young usually means not enough experience. See Troubleshooting Tip #1, Not Enough Experience, or No Experience at All and #3, Wrong Kind of Experience.

If you still think you look too young, don't put any dates on your education, and then at the bottom of your experience listings put what is called a "summary statement," implying additional experience. Here are two examples:

"Additional experience in customer service positions of considerable responsibility," a.k.a. babysitting, or

"Additional experience in outdoor aesthetics requiring operation of dangerous equipment," a.k.a. mowing lawns.

You don't need to do more than hint at this additional background; and no one can know your age for sure from your resume.

3. How do you create a resume when you have the wrong kind of experience?

Tell what you learned in your old experience that might be applicable in your targeted new industry. For example, in the restaurant industry, the standard way to describe a position is to describe the menu, the number of tables, or "covers," and the volume, i.e., gross sales per annum. To interest a corporate recruiter for marketing and sales, though, you would have to use entirely different language. This candidate makes restaurant experience relevant to her future career goals:

Neptune's Sea Palace, Miami, Florida, Summer 2007
Food Server
•  Acted as a "sales representative" for the restaurant, selling add-ons and extras to achieve one of the highest per-ticket and per-night sales averages. Prioritized and juggled dozens of simultaneous responsibilities. Built loyal clientele of regulars in addition to tourist trade. Used computer daily.

In short, make your old experience relevant to the newly targeted industry. Ask yourself, "What can I say that will convey to a prospective employer that I gained skills that are relevant to her needs?"

Always use the language and address the concerns of the targeted industry, not the industry you want to leave behind.

4. What do you do if you have the wrong degree?

If you got a degree in music history and now want a job in financial services, omit the major:

Stanford University, Stanford, California
Bachelor of Arts, 2006

No matter what your major was, you can feature the coursework that is related to the field you have targeted, as in this example:

Michigan State University Bachelor of Science, 2007
Coursework included:
•  Financial & Management Accounting
•  Statistics & Statistical Analysis
•  Research Methodologies for Social Scientists

5. What do you do if you have date gaps?
Stop worrying about date gaps. It's a modern world, and most resumes have gaps of some kind on them. Students, grad or undergrad, usually don't list specific months, anyway. Use dates like these:

Summer 2005
Fall-Spring 2005–2006

If an employer wants to know about a specific gap that shows on your resume, she'll ask. Then you can tell her what you were doing (hopefully in a positive light).

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