Sneaky Resume Tips for the “Unemployable”
So, you really need that job, huh?
Despite the nature of this website as being, shall we say, “anti-job” I’m only too aware of the need we sometimes have to take the plunge into the 9-t0-5 world. Perhaps you just need some part-time income while pursuing your real entrepreneurial dreams. Or maybe you recently got laid off and need the money.
Or maybe, just maybe (shudder) you just want a job.
Never fear. There are some tricks you can use, no matter what your situation, to cover up potential problems on your resume without lying. No matter what they tell you, and no matter how bad your work history is, it is pretty difficult to be completely unemployable. Your situation may look grim (ie: 16 jobs in 2 years) or desperate, (down to your last $50 and need work immediately) but there is always a way in the door.
If you follow some of my advice, you will walk a fine line between “covering up”, “promotion” and straight up lying. We want to avoid the latter. Your resume lie may go unnoticed, but if it doesn’t, you’ll be in trouble. And to a certain extent, it isn’t fair to your employer. Please take my suggestions seriously, but be careful not to go overboard. While my tips may be invaluable to promoting your skills, if you take a few of them too far, you just might be right back where you started.
Bad Situation #1: I have jumped around from job to job a lot
Solution: This is surprisingly easy to fix. Most employers do like to see one or two jobs that you have held for at least a year or more. Even if you are just out of school, they expect 2-5 years of experience for some reason, even though this is almost impossible. To counter this social stupidity that exists, you need to be a bit sneaky.
Let’s say that you have worked 5 jobs in the past year, none for longer than five months, and you were fired from one. Your resume would look really bad if a prospective employer saw how much you jumped around. They will figure something must be wrong with you because you have no staying power. What’s the solution?
First, you must understand that nobody in the professional world expects you to put every little fast-food restaurant job on your resume. What’s the point of admitting that you cleaned the bathrooms at Burger King when you were 16 on an application that you plan to submit to apply for a software-production position at Intel? Nobody does this. Omission happens on ALL professional resumes.
Take this a step further. If you are applying to a position that has little to do with your previous “dabblings” why put them down at all? Don’t bother. Pick your best/longest job and put down the YEAR and not the months on your resume. In other words, don’t write “Macy’s Sales Associate: January 2006-June 2006.” Just put down “2006.” Hey, it’s the truth. Of course if they ask in an interview, you’ll have to tell them that you were only there for six months. Odds are, they will not ask such a specific question. You’d be surprised. If they call your former employer, then they probably will find out. But (as I’ll explain later) you won’t need to list former employers as references. This is optional, unless otherwise noted!
After omitting jobs that are unrelated/would make you look bad, you may have gaps in employment. The horror! These gaps may not exist if you used my “omit all but one” and “year trick.”
To cover up gaps, see the next section
Bad situation #2: I have gaps in my employment
Solution: This is the easiest thing to fix of all. You can do one of two things:
1. If you were recently a student in ANY capacity (in the last year or current) then don’t worry. You can ALWAYS justify this by saying you wanted to focus on school, or recently graduated. Case closed.
If this isn’t the case, use what I call the “self-employment” trick. Here’s how this works:
2. Do you have any hobbies or extracurricular projects that you are passionate about? Chances are good that you do. And chances are better that you have pursued/enjoyed one of these hobbies in your leisure time. Would you ever consider pursuing one of these hobbies professionally? What if this hobby was your day job? It would feel wonderful, of course!
Well, for the sake of filling in employment gaps, we will pretend that it WAS your day job.
You are going to say that during the dreaded gap in employment you were working on business pursuits related to your hobby. And don’t call it a hobby. Call it a business pursuit. You tried to make a go of it and failed (or didn’t make enough to live on). This can be to your advantage. Not only does it show your prospective employer that you are a self-starter and are entrepreneurial, it also covers up a gap nicely! To make this more believable, you’ll also want to say that you continue to work on this project “on the side” but also say that you are fully prepared to focus on the job you are applying for. You realize now that it was better off meant to be a hobby. You don’t want a prospective employer thinking that your mind is elsewhere. Don’t leave them any doubt.
It’s barely a lie. After all, you did work on this hobby, didn’t you? Just make sure the “hobby” is something transferable to a business. I don’t know anybody who makes a living by playing video games, eating popcorn, and getting fat.
Bad situation #3: I have bad/no references
Solution: You have friends, right? If this is the case, you will be fine. If not, then contact your nearest temp/employment agency and ask them what to do. Sell them your skills and be honest about your references. Sometimes they will let you in anyway (especially for menial jobs like stuffing envelopes.)
If you are young, not having great references may not matter much.
If you are recently out of school, think about various professors/teachers you have had where you got decent grades.
If neither of these apply to you, think about times you have worked with your friends on various projects. Did you go to school with any of them and work together in a capacity where they could see the quality of your efforts? Did you volunteer with any of them? If you shared any work-related activity at all, ask if you can list them as a reference and make sure they are prepared to put in praise for your quality of work. Once you begin to think of your friends as witnesses to your skills, it gets a lot easier to justify them as references.
You should never put down a parent/family member/spouse as a reference though. This looks really bad. You are actually almost better making up a fake name and hoping they don’t check. (Don’t do this either though!)
The bottom line is this; be creative with your references. If you have friends, you have references. I often use mine, not because I don’t have professional references (I do) but because friends give the best recommendations. This is because they love me the most.
Bad situation #4: I got fired. This looks bad for future jobs.
Solution: No you didn’t. You got laid off.
The wording is very, very important here IF you choose to list the job you were let go from. I’ve been fired twice. I only list my most recent “firing”, because it was actually a lay-off. My boss could no longer afford to pay me. It’s ok to list lay-offs because it’s not your fault. Never use the word “fired.” When you get laid off, it’s because the company couldn’t afford to keep you, or cleared out a department. If you got fired, it has a negative connotation which insinuates that you were a terrible employee.
If you truly did get fired, omit this entirely. See part 1 and 2 of this guide on what to do with omission and gaps. It isn’t bad to omit a job if it’s unrelated to your next endeavor! In fact, it’s good.
Bad situation #5: I have had only one job for a long time and worry that I’m not marketable.
Solution: In today’s changeable job market, it’s expected that people move a bit from job to job (or even switch careers!) What you need to do is look back over your tenure at your job. What have you specifically contributed to your company for all these years?
Highlight this and explain how you would transfer your skills to the new company. This is your selling point: that you’d give just as much to your new place of employment as you old one. Don’t worry that they may think you are “out of date.” Being dependable and a team player are qualities that never become old in the working world. Just make sure you are specific. Instead of saying you are a “great team player” say that you “delegated strategic planning roles within five different divisions of the company, which saw an increase in profits of 45% over the five years while I was manager.”
Specific is good. You are selling you skills, not explaining your personality traits .
For more resume tips, check out this site. This is a little more “mainstream” than my guide, but helpful nonetheless.
Handcuffed by Your Salary: The Evils of a Regular PaycheckMay 2nd, 2015
Hey! Why Has My Paycheck Shrunk?February 10th, 2013
It’s All in the Writing: Make a Professional Impression With a Few Choice WordsFebruary 5th, 2013
Disappearing Act: How To Make Yourself Less Available at WorkJanuary 28th, 2013
How to Avoid Company MeetingsJanuary 26th, 2013
V June 28, 2013 at 3:20 pm
Do you help people with their resumes for a price? I have a friend in the late forties and fired multliple times and is losing hope. Good person, just can’t seem to get a break.