As a resume writer you tend to run up against the same issues on a regular basis. One of the most common challenges is working with a client who has a very diverse background, or who has taken a career detour.
This is perfectly possible to address, but every now and then, I work with a client who truly believes that all those experiences are equally valuable in getting their next job. Sometimes, it’s hard for this person to accept that the year they spent teaching scuba diving won’t help them in their quest to secure a marketing role.
“I learned how to deal with adversity,” they’ll say, “and I had to fend for myself in a new culture. Surely that’s valuable?”
Perhaps it should be, but it’s not.
The dirty little secret about recruiting
Here’s the thing: I’ve managed recruiting in the past and the truth is that when you’re filling a new position, you’re not necessarily looking for the best candidate. You’re looking for the least risky candidate.
If you’re an HR manager or recruiter working internally, or an external headhunter who has been appointed to fill a specific job, you have been charged with finding someone who fits a certain set of criteria. As you sift through resumes, you are looking for someone who exactly meets what your boss or the hiring manager asked you to find. This is because you want to look good. Ideally, you want each of the resumes you choose to be such a perfect match that the hiring manager slaps you on the back (metaphorically speaking of course) and tells you what a fantastic job you’ve done and hopefully goes on to say how you’re way better than all those deadbeat recruiters who came before you, and by the way why don’t you have a raise?
That means that that the average HR manager or recruiter is looking for people with a straightforward career chronology that perfectly matches the job they’ve posted.
What if you don’t have that?
If you don’t have that, because you took a year off after you left your last marketing job and then spent the next year teaching scuba diving and working as a waitress in the evenings, should you just give up?
C’mon. You know me better than that. Of course not!
But what you do need to do is to sift through those experiences and decide which ones are going to hurt rather than help.
Your resume needs to tell a story
Have you ever noticed how when someone coughs in a historical TV drama or movie, it always presages death? You hear that cough and you think “oh no! TB!”
Of course people suffered from normal coughs in the olden days, but a scriptwriter only puts in the things that matter to his story, so he isn’t going to show little Timmy getting the flu, spending a week in bed and then feeling better. No, if Timmy coughs, it means that he’s going to die. End of story.
The same applies to your resume. You must be careful not to include a cough unless it’s TB. Or to put it another way, don’t include a job or details about an experience unless it makes a direct contribution to the story you’re trying to tell. If you do need to include unrelated experience – for example because you spent the last 3 years caring for a sick relative and don’t want people to think you were being idle – mention the experience briefly and position it as a detour from your ‘real’ career.
The truth is that if you have a varied background, or have taken a detour from your ‘normal’ career, you will need to disguise that detour as much as possible. It’s simply not possible to weave it into your story without veering that story off course – and that’s true even if you find the very best resume writer in the history of resume writing. We can’t do it and, if we’re honest and ethical, we won’t try.