Career

Five Ways To Streamline Your Resume Without Lying

You know you can do the job… but does your resume reflect this? The usual format favours career employees who’ve enjoyed a steady rise in seniority and prestige through similar companies in related fields. Trouble is, plenty of younger workers take more circuitous paths. You might mix work with travel, make a radical career shift, stop work due to health or industry upheaval, or juggle paid employment with freelancing and independent projects – none of which is easily explained by a traditional resume.

Whether you’re only just starting your career, or are trying to shift it in a new direction, don’t resort to bluffing, evasion or straight-up falsification to bulk up your resume. Instead, find a more creative way to present yourself.

Here’s how to solve five common resume problems.

Problem #1: you haven’t had any (or many) full-time jobs

If you’re fresh out of school or university, of course your full-time work history is going to look slim. But chances are you’ve already had plenty of part-time and casual jobs, as well as internships, volunteer work, and involvement in community groups or campus clubs and societies. It all counts.

Write down everything you’ve ever done – whether or not you were paid. Which roles gave you hands-on experience that’s relevant to your chosen industry? Which ones saw you solving problems, using your initiative, and making a difference to an organisation? When did you take on roles of responsibility, even if it was off your own bat, or for a temporary project or event? And did you ever train, mentor or supervise others?

Use dot-points to succinctly explain how each role is relevant to the kind of full-time work you want now. Focus on transferrable skills, such as “project management”, “customer service” and “teaching/mentoring”. If you were a shop assistant, perhaps you also designed window displays, invented a new customer loyalty scheme or showed new staff how to use the register. If you worked in a call centre, maybe you researched public transport times to help your co-workers get home from late shifts. If you were on a club committee, maybe you developed human resources and event management skills.

Problem #2: you’ve spent your career freelancing

Sure, it doesn’t look too impressive to write: “2011–2016: Freelancer,” but working for yourself gives you a history of independent project management that regular employees your age might struggle to match. And if you think prospective employers won’t like the word ‘freelance’, call yourself a ‘consultant’ or ‘independent contractor’.

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Consider converting your work history from an ‘employer and role’ format to a ‘client and project’ format. Create a new entry in the list for each client – or if you’ve only had a few clients, for each project. Then explain in dot-point form how you demonstrated the key skills and requirements of the job you now want, and how your work boosted your client’s business.

A freelancing-centric resume can show that you have a strong network of professional contacts, a public profile and a good reputation within the industry. It’s worthwhile including an ‘Industry Engagement’ section that sets out conferences and events you’ve spoken at, trade publications to which you’ve contributed, memberships of key industry groups, awards you’ve won, and advocacy or mentoring roles you’ve taken on.

Problem #3: there are gaps in your work history

Maybe you were made redundant and struggled to find another job. Maybe you were injured or ill and couldn’t work – which includes mental health problems. Maybe you had to drop everything to care for a new baby or a family member. A standard resume can’t distinguish between these kinds of gaps, but you can.

Frame the gaps as opportunities you took to build your skills, research new opportunities or strengthen your community ties. Rather than being ‘unemployed’, perhaps you moved into consulting, took a sabbatical, pursued an independent project, furthered your education or decided to give back by volunteering. Don’t apologise or shy from your absence, but emphasise that what you did away from paid employment was still proactively progressing your career.

It’s important to show how you’ve been keeping up with changes in your industry during your time away. Have you contributed to any industry blogs, podcasts or publications? Have you mastered a new industry tool or technology? Have you attended relevant conferences, seminars and events?

Problem #4: your career doesn’t have a steady trajectory

Maybe you returned to study to re-train for a new career. Maybe your job title hasn’t changed in years, but the work you do has. Maybe you’ve had lots of short-term jobs, or pursued several different occupations that don’t have an intuitive connection. Or maybe you’ve spent your time doing essentially the same job, but in several very different industries. How do you convert what looks like either job-hopping or stagnation into the kind of upward trajectory that reassures employers that you’re steady and reliable?

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Consider a functional CV: one in which you organise your work experience strategically by your key skills, rather than by role and employer. Traditional resumes tend to relegate skills to a separate section at the bottom, but in this format, you create a narrative of how you acquired your key skills over time, and used them flexibly and adaptively.

For instance, if you were a childcare worker who moved into IT, and worked both in government and the private sector, you could present your work history around ideas like ‘Software Development’ and ‘Community Development’. If you were a music journalist and part-time bartender who went back to uni to study physics and now want to become an air traffic controller, you might emphasise ‘Communication Skills’, ‘Analytical Skills’ and ‘Conflict Management Skills’.

Problem #5: you’ve done lots of projects that look like hobbies

‘Hobbies and Interests’ is another minor section on a traditional resume – often seen as a way to make you look well rounded. But if you’re in a creative field or have an interest in entrepreneurship, these independent projects are a serious component of your professional identity. They also show you have initiative, responsibility, dedication and tenacity.

Create an Independent Projects section on your resume. (Or replace ‘Independent’ with an industry-friendly term, such as ‘Research Projects’, ‘Software Projects’, ‘Outreach Projects’ or ‘Editorial Projects’). Get rid of any language that suggests frivolity or fun, and instead show how each project built your industry expertise and leadership skills in ways that complement your paid employment.

For example, if you work in marketing, your weekend project of making jams to sell at markets shows that you can anticipate and fill market needs, you understand how small businesses operate, and you successfully communicate with customers. If you’re an audio producer, that podcast you run with your friends shows your technical skills and your close industry connections. And that after-school homework club you help run for disadvantaged kids gives you valuable experience in teaching and community leadership.

Looking beyond a traditional resume framework will provide you with new ways to present your skills and abilities, helping you tell the story of your professional development as opposed to listing out a chronological timeline.


Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She founded online pop culture magazine The Enthusiast, and is author of Out of Shape: Debunking Myths about Fashion and Fit. She blogs on style, history and culture at Footpath Zeitgeist and tweets at @incrediblemelk.