I’ve noticed that more and more frequently I’m getting similar questions in regards to what hiring managers consider potential red flags when it comes to your resume. Many job seekers are in the dark when it comes to certain things like, “Does my [lack of] degree really matter?” or “Should I put that I’m freelancing, even though I don’t currently have clients?” It really comes down to telling your career story in an interesting and effective way, one that showcases your best skills and attributes, and what you can bring to the table relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Every organization and role to which you apply is going to have its own set of requirements and must-have’s in terms of experience, training, and skills. But for the most part, let me debunk some of the most common myths and recurrent questions that seem to be on the minds of you – the highly-talented and marketable job seekers who want to market themselves more effectively!
I don’t have a degree. Should I bother applying?
Unless your field has very specific (read: regulated) guidelines around educational training, like law, medicine, and some areas of finance, you shouldn’t let a lack of degree deter you from applying for the role IF your skills and experience are strong enough to speak for themselves. If you don’t have a degree, what kind of interesting experiences, accomplishments or complimentary skills can you bring to the table and offer in its place? “I don’t have a degree in English, but I recently published a well-received e-Book on effective blogging practices.” Worth a shot.
I have gaps on my resume. How can I still appear marketable?
Having a gap in your experience is not nearly as big a red flag as it once was, as hiring managers are no stranger to the volatile nature of the economy and the job market these last few years. What they really want to know is what you were doing during that downtime to keep your skills sharp and your experience fresh. Were you volunteering? Freelancing? Starting a side business? Helping a friend with their business? Blogging? Traveling? “I was looking for a job,” isn’t good enough. Give examples of how you the activities you took on in your down time contributed to your professional growth, or helped you acquire new, marketable skills.
All of my recent jobs are contract/freelance. Do I look like a job-hopper?
There is nothing wrong with having multiple recent freelance or contract positions on your resume – it’s all in how you organize and present the information. One way is to lump all of them under one “position” as a consultant, or “Freelance”, and then list out the projects or clients you worked with. You can also list each positions separately and denote “Freelance” or “Consulting” next to your job title. A third option is to create a separate section under the header “Freelance/Consulting Experience” above your “Professional Experience” section. Be wary of taking up an entire page just listing out short-term freelance project – it’s a lot of information and space to read through, with sometimes less impact.
My current job is unrelated to my ideal field. Should I put it on there just to show I’m working?
This is a judgment call, and highly dependent upon your situation, target field, and what your resume looks like. In most cases, I would say it’s better to show that you’re currently employed, even in an unrelated field. Again, it comes down to how you organize and present that information. Maybe you include your current position, but in a separate section under the header “Additional Experience”.
From red flags to no flags, lack of degree to advanced degree, everyone’s professional story is different and unique. The one commonality is that building a truly effective resume that markets you in the best way possible to stand out from the crowd, comes down to positioning the information you’re working with in the best possible manner. Presentation is key – how is the information being delivered, is there a bigger “story” being told here, and if there are areas of concern such as employment gaps, unrelated experience or something else, how can you present some of the “out of the box” skills and experiences in a way that draws more positive attention instead of deflecting it?