Several decades ago, it was common for people to work at one company for twenty or thirty years. In today’s gig economy, such long-term stability is rare. Yet most employers still see an unstable work history as a major red flag. It indicates to them that the applicant may be unfocused, uncommitted, or a problem employee of some sort.
If you have an unstable work history, how do you handle it on your resume, so that it doesn’t look like a red flag? The answer depends on your specific circumstances. Here are some ideas:
Problem: One large gap. There is a period of several years when you were not working.
Solution: Fill it in with something. Were you going back to school during that time? Doing volunteer work? Operating a small business or working freelance? Serving as a caretaker for your children or parents? All of these are activities that you can (and should!) put on a resume to explain away the gap. You want to show them that you were using your time productively, even if it was in a way that’s not directly relevant to your career field.
Tutor, Self-employed, Baton Rouge, LA August 2013 – May 2015
Tutored several middle- and high-school students in English grammar and literature.
Caretaker, Johnson Family, Lafayette, LA July 2008 – July 2013
Managed insurance relations and payments.
Coordinated medical care, including medications, therapy, and doctor appointments.
Problem: Several small gaps. There are a few gaps of six months or less in your work history.
Solution: Use only years of employment, not months. This strategy will cover any gaps which are less than a year in duration.
Sales Associate, Home Depot, Baton Rouge, LA December 2014 – February 2015
Rang up purchases and processed payments.
Assisted customers on sales floor.
Flooring Manager, Ace Hardware, Baton Rouge, LA November 2012 – January 2013
Supervised 3 sales associates.
Provided customers with expert knowledge of flooring products.
Problem: Multiple jobs at once. You have frequently held two or three jobs at a time, which means that there are a lot of jobs in your work history.
Solution: Delete some of the jobs. For each time period you need to cover, choose one job from your list – ideally, the most impressive job with the most relevant skills. Remove the others, and add the phrase “Additional work history available upon request” to the bottom of your work history.
Crew Leader, Burger King, Baton Rouge, LA October 2015 – present
Supervise staff of 5; open store daily.
Cashier, Dollar Tree, Baton Rouge, LA September 2014 – July 2016
Assisted customers and ran cash register.
Prep Cook, Chili’s, Baton Rouge, LA April 2012 – October 2015
Cooked meals to order in a fast-paced kitchen.
Additional work history available on request.
Problem: Staffing agency jobs. You’ve had several short-term jobs, with gaps between them, which you found though a staffing agency.
Solution: List the staffing agency as your employer. You can list more detailed information about the types of work you did and the companies you worked for in the bullet points of your job description. But by grouping it all together under the staffing agency, it looks much more stable.
Office Temp, Lofton Staffing, Baton Rouge, LA June 2008 – March 2012
Worked a variety of short-term clerical jobs.
Locations included Neighbors Credit Union, Brown Dentistry, AllState Insurance, and GMP.
Performed data entry, filing, scanning, faxing, copying, and database management.
Problem: Short-term jobs. There are jobs in your work history which lasted less than a year.
Solution: Delete some of the jobs, and use only years of employment, not months. Ask yourself whether it’s helping you to include these short-term jobs. If you can delete them without removing crucial experience, and without leaving large/numerous gaps, then do so. If not, see if you can group them together (see next Solution).
LPN, Our Lady of the Lake, Baton Rouge, LA October 2016 – present
Manage ward of 12 cardiac care patients.
Home Health Nurse, Senior Care Inc., Baton Rouge, LA January 2016 – April 2016
Provided sole medical care for elderly invalid.
LPN, Baton Rouge General, Baton Rouge, LA August 2013 – July 2015
Performed triage and assisted doctors in busy ER.
Problem: Short-Term Contracts/Projects. This is especially common in such fields as construction, where you move from job to job whenever projects are completed. If you only have one or two positions like this on your resume, simply add “Contract” or “Seasonal” to your job title. But if you have several such positions, you’ll need a new approach.
Solution: Group similar jobs together under one title. Give this entry a title which covers the general type of work you did, then get into the specifics in the job description below that.
Carpenter/Painter, Baton Rouge, LA 2013 – present
Performed industrial carpentry painting work for several local construction projects.
Worked with Turner Industries, CB&I, Brock Construction, and Broh Brothers.
Problem: None of the previous solutions worked. If you tried the tricks above, but are still not able to put together a resume that will impress hiring managers and hide your unstable work history, you may need to completely re-think the structure of your resume.
Solution: Use a functional resume. This strategy emphasizes your skills and qualifications while downplaying your chronological work history. The largest downside of the functional resume is that it can be very difficult to write. The good news is, the Career Center can help!
Example: We have two templates for functional resumes, as well as a previous blogpost about how to use a functional resume to cover an unstable work history.
If you would like some help with your resume, please visit the Career Center of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library at any time during our opening hours for free expert assistance.
Written by Lynnette Lee