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Presenting gaps in a work history

Q: For the past few years, I have had, by necessity (layoffs, family illness, economy, etc.), held a series of short-tenured jobs. Before then, I was a very successful top salesperson. Now, just everybody who reviews my resume comments on my short stays and despite my explanations, they toss my resume aside. What can I do?


A: This is a very good question and one that I am commonly asked. The days of spending 10, 15 or even 20 years at a single company are over for many.

Fortunately, there are a number of solutions on how to best present your work history in your resume. First, remember… always, lead with your strengths (just as you would when you were a successful salesperson).

Some solutions that may work for your resume:

- After your contact information, include a summary of your skills and work experience that is persuasive. Make sure that you have included certain key words that would trigger a key word search. For example, if you have a strong background in software sales, make sure that you include software sales in your summary. Larger companies often scan resumes and then hiring managers will do a key word search to find the best candidates from the internal database of scanned resumes.

- Include metrics in your resume. How much did you sell against your quota or your goal? Did you land any challenging or name brand accounts? What were your greatest achievements? A sales resume without metrics is a yellow (if not red) flag for most hiring professionals.

- Consider a traditional chronological format but eliminate the months and use only the years. Instead of 06/2002-7/2003, consider 2002-2003. It reads a bit more smoothly, is still truthful but minimizes any gaps along the way.

- If a traditional chronological format does not work, consider a functional resume. A functional resume is a resume where like skills and work experiences are grouped together. It can be effective when well-written.

Beyond your resume, make sure that you are actively engaging in the most successful job hunting tactics. Social media tools and job boards are important but are not a substitute for in-person networking.

Ensure that you have perfected your elevator speech. What is that? An elevator speech is a two minute summary of you who are as a candidate, a quick summary of your work history and what your next career steps might be. Your elevator speech should be authentic, truthful and highlight your strengths. This elevator speech should be your “opener” for almost every conversation that you have that is career-related.

A sample is below:

Hi. My name is Jane Smith. I am a salesperson through and through. I have about 12 years of sales experience working primarily in software sales. I began my career as an inside sales rep and enjoyed tremendous success – winning the President’s Sales Cup three years in row while I was with TUV Company. I was then promoted into a field sales role where I landed quite a few big clients like ABC, DEF and JKL. Most recently I sold online advertising space for QRS and exceeded my quota by 10% or more every year. I went back to school in 2005 and earned an MBA from State U. I am now looking for my next sales role. I love selling and am eager to return to a fast-paced, quota-driven role where I am measured on landing new business.

There is tremendous competition for each and every opportunity right now. And the selection process seems to lengthen a bit during the summer months because of vacations and other scheduling conflicts.

Let me share one tactic that some successful candidates have offered to my clients recently. Final candidates are often sharing a 90-day plan with a prospective employer. The 30-60-90 plan includes goals and milestones that the candidate expects to accomplish in the first 90 days. These plans serve to differentiate a candidate – in a good way. Such a plan can illustrate a candidate’s ability to think critically about success factors if offered the job. The plan demonstrates interest and showcases the candidate’s ability to organize and present information in a logical format.

Lastly, in your situation, you will need to perfect your responses to questions regarding gaps in your work history. Some gaps are explainable and some are not. You will likely get asked about gaps in your work history, so let me offer a suggestion. One sample approach for you to consider:

As we discussed, I was at QRS for over seven years. I left QRS to take care of my elderly mother. Thankfully, my mother’s health has improved dramatically. When I was ready to return to the job market, the economy was not working in my favor. I landed a job at DEF. It was a venture-backed company and it ran out of funding, so I was laid off along with 50 other employees. I am now looking for a new sales position and would love to land a role similar to the role at QRS. I loved that role and was very successful in exceeding my quota month after month there.

Notice I led with a strength (providing a real-life example where you have showed commitment to a company). Then, I provided an honest explanation of a gap in your work history. Further, I explained another gap in a direct and non-defensive manner. Finally, I closed with a positive, forward-looking statement.

It is also worth visiting the jobs section of www.boston.com. There is alot of information about resume writing, interviewing skills and job search tactics.

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