If you have been in the workforce for a decade or more, it is highly probable you have some complex employment scenarios that may require more finesse when describing your background to a prospective employer. Things like layoffs, mergers, acquisitions, department relocation and time off to care for your family add a layer of complexity when writing a resume. Here are ways to effectively address some of the most common challenges faced by professionals with more complicated work histories.
[See: 8 Tacky Job Search Faux Pas.]
Transition to a different industry: By choice or necessity, it is still tough to show how experience in one industry is relevant to another industry. Hiring is about minimizing risk, which means hiring managers often rely on a track record of success in a similar role to give a high degree of assurance that you will be happy and successful in their role. In other words, "If you were happy and talented at doing this before, you are likely to be happy and talented at doing this again." Whether you agree with that statement or not, it is the prevailing way companies hire.
Candidates from one industry looking to move to another have the burden of proof -- they must show in their resume how their background transfers to the new role as convincingly as someone already in that field. Again, this may not be fair, but it is reality. Start the process by uncovering what the key business problems are that you will solve in the new role. With that knowledge, you can rework your employment descriptions to display how you had successfully addressed similar issues. A well-written summary at the top of your resume also gives you the chance to bridge your past and their future. Try to include key words and expressions the targeted company or industry uses in their website and job descriptions, assuming they accurately describe you. In short, do your best to mirror what the new role requires in your resume. It is critical to be truthful and not exaggerate transferable skills, but write in the language of your target audience, not in what is easiest for you.
Layoff due to circumstances beyond your control: If you work long enough, you will hit an economic downturn (or two) or a corporate transition that results in the elimination of your job. In these instances, if you have been with your employer less than two years or if it takes more than a month to find your next role, you should include a statement regarding role elimination. The three concerns a manager has when seeing tenure under two years or breaks in employment are: job hopper, someone who seemingly quit a role without a backup role or someone who was fired. These are signs of a riskier hire.
The best strategy to minimize the perceived risk is to include a statement (or bullet) that reads something like, "Role was eliminated as part of a companywide 30 percent reduction in labor force." Or, "California-based sales operations were moved to Colorado." The sentence or fragment should be to the point and at the end of your impact statements. It helps the reader recognize that it was circumstances beyond your control, not poor work performance, that ended your role.
Break in employment for personal reasons: Taking time off can be an amazing thing for many professionals. It can clear their minds, re-energize them and ignite professional passion. In most cases, taking time off is a necessary thing to start a family, raise kids, care for a parent or recover from a serious illness. From most employers' standpoint, time out of the workforce complicates things and adds to your risk profile. Some of the concerns are stamina to work 40 hours per week, distraction from personal issues, increase in absences and poor past work performance that has impacted other employers' desire to hire you. Hiring managers are human beings, and human beings are naturally drawn toward those who are wanted by others. The subconscious motivator is that working employees are in demand by other companies, therefore it is safer to want an already "wanted" employee.
You can help to mitigate some of this perceived risk a couple of ways in your resume. Start by displaying relevancy or transferability of your skills, especially digital ones. Technology moves at light speed, so productivity is tied to your command of digital tools required for your desired profession. Take a class or online tutorial, watch Ted talks, download free trials of software, master online calendaring, learn how to set up webinars, seek out volunteer projects, etc. You should also join industry associations, attend conferences, follow (or write) industry-centric blogs or tweets and pay attention to industry thought leaders.
The return on your initiative is high -- you can include many of these activities and skills on your resume. Additionally, you will have a better sense of the terms and critical issues in your chosen industry and you can address them more effectively in your summary and past position descriptions. Finally, as you meet people in your industry, you are more likely to tap into the hidden employment network where you are considered for a role because you were referred by a trusted resource.
A well-crafted resume is a powerful career development tool. Employers expect you to understand what they need and build a written case to show your skills and experience make you the best person to spend their salary dollars on. Not everyone is (OK, probably most people aren't) skilled at customized branding and writing, which is why many people engage a professional resume writer or a career coach to assist them. When expertly handled, the potential negative impact of life's complexities can be minimal to null. Your efforts can make a huge difference in your employment prospects.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting and staffing firm that connects college students and business professionals with the organizations that hire them. She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. She is a Careers contributor for U.S. News and World Report and her career tips and advice have been used by national clubs, associations and businesses in addition to media outlets such as Yahoo, Business Insider, Fast Company, Monster, Kiplinger and Schools.com. Robin is also a frequent speaker on professional development for the alumni associations at Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business and University of California, Davis, plus the School of Economics and Business Administration at Saint Mary's College of California. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association.