As a resume writer, I often run into the challenge where a client has a very diverse background; one who has taken a career detour or two.
And 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 search for a marketing job.
“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: the truth is that when recruiters are filling a new position, they’re not necessarily looking for the best candidate.
They are 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. 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 they go on to say how you’re way better than all those deadbeat recruiters who came before you, and by the way… when’s the last time you got a raise?
What this all means is that the average HR manager or recruiter is looking for safety.
They are looking for candidates with a straightforward career chronology that perfectly matches the job they’ve posted.
What If You Don’t Have the Exact Experience Wanted?
If you don’t have that, because you took a year off after you left your last marketing job to work as a waitress in your best friend’s coffee shop, 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. And that year as a food server hurts; to a recruiter, it makes you less than safe as a candidate.
Your Resume Needs to Tell a Story
Have you ever noticed how when someone has a cough in a historical TV drama or movie, it always presages death? You hear that cough and you think “Oh no! They have TB!”
Of course people suffered from normal coughs in the olden days. A scriptwriter, however, 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 little Timmy coughs, it means that he’s going to die. End of story.
The same concept applies to your resume… only things that matter to the audience should be included. 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.
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 causing concern for the recruiter.
Tell your story well. Demonstrate how your experience — your work specific to the job the recruiter is filling right now — positions you as the best candidate. Everything else… well, everything else becomes a tangent. An unsafe, red-flag-waving tangent, that will cost you an interview.
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Blue Sky Resumes!
About the Author: Louise Fletcher is President and Co-Founder of Blue Sky Resumes and Managing Editor of Career Hub blog. Prior to starting her resume writing business, she worked as an HR executive in a number of different industries including music, video games, fashion and advertising. Louise has written three books about looking for work, and has been a featured expert for Oprah Winfrey Magazine, The Washington Post and The Ladders among many others. In her spare time she paints, cooks, and drools over Mac products. Follow Louise on Twitter!