Is your employment history the kind we used to call "checkered"? Well, you're not alone, or even in the minority. People bounce around between jobs, industries and locations like crazy these days -- but the result can be that your resume makes you look confused, finicky or otherwise undesirable. Here are five ways to smooth out your career storyline and help employers understand the genius behind your meanderings:
1. Tell a Story in Your Resume Summary
Most of our resume summaries (or resume objectives) trot out the same say-nothing language: "Results-oriented professional seeking challenging assignment in yada, yada -- whatever." No one cares about that. You should instead use your resume summary to get across the power behind your story:
"I started out in accounting before discovering my love for customer problem-solving and making the move to sales. I grew a natural-foods vendor from launch to $20M and then started an online boat-sales Web site with a childhood friend. We sold that business last year, and I've been consulting with sales VPs and writing a sales-training book since then. I thrive in small- and medium-sized sales organizations where the products or services justify a 10X larger audience."
Put your personality into the paragraph, along with your story.
2. Use Your Resume Bullets as Segues
Most of us use dusty resume bullets like "Supervised a staff of six" and "Prepared reports for our controller." For each job you've held, use your last bullet to tell why you left, so the reader can stop wondering. "I was recruited to join a startup software firm" is a lot more appealing to employers ("they went after this guy!") than an abrupt jump from one job to the next.
3. Tell Your Story in Your ‘Frames’
When you describe each job you've held in the body of your resume, don't begin with the company name -- for instance, Acme Explosives -- and then simply list the dates and your title. That's too vague. Lots of people won't know what Acme Explosives is. You want to share more of your story than that, and your employer's business description and a quick summary of your role are part of that story.
Just under the name of the employer, add something like this:
"Acme Explosives is a $100M supplier of dynamite sticks to the coyote market. As Channels Manager, I was brought in to create an ecommerce capability and to double our sales through local dynamite resellers."
This sort of "framing statement" tells the reader what the job was about -- not just the day-to-day duties in it. It'll help employers follow your storyline, no matter how many chapters it has.
4. Use Your Cover Letter to Explain Your Jumps
A strong cover letter (I call it a pain letter, because it should address the employer's pain) can make a huge, positive difference for you. If you've got a story to tell -- and you do -- your pain letter is a great vehicle for putting it across. Here’s an example:
"When I left the military, I first gained business skills working for a family friend in his auto dealership; then, through military buddies, I found a terrific opportunity managing the purchasing department for a commercial fishing organization."
Employers want to know how you roll, and your own description of your story helps them understand that you've got a direction -- and good reasons for every career decision you make.
5. Don't Apologize
When you think through and understand the reasons for each of your career moves, you gain a huge amount of power. You don't have anything to apologize for. Rather than choosing a "Sorry, my bad" message like "I took a job, but it lasted only six months," you can say something like "XYZ Graphics wasn't a great long-term fit, but my six months there taught me a ton about commercial printing."
Look at what you've gained in each of your jobs, rather than what went wrong. It's all valuable learning, right? Trumpeting your value begins with understanding what you've picked up at each career stop along the way. You bring a lot of power to your next employer -- but only if you see the power in your history yourself.