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September 2, 2014 at 1:00 AM

How to tame an unruly resume

The classic resume style is linear, with the most recent position up top, followed by a series of jobs in reverse chronological order, preferably demonstrating ever-increasing responsibilities and accomplishments along the way.

But in an uncertain economy, it’s not easy to maintain such a pristine, orderly resume. When unexpected layoffs are thrown into the mix, your history can get muddled with work gaps, part-time gigs and contract work — sometimes concurrently. But with a few tweaks, job seekers can smooth over some of these rough spots.

Stay chronological. Hiring managers prefer a chronological work history list because it is easiest to follow. If you held two or more jobs that overlapped, start with any job you currently have, regardless of the date you were hired. Then list other jobs based on the date of hire in reverse order.

Divide into sections. If you currently hold two jobs, try dividing your work history into “current jobs” and “previous jobs.” That will give hiring managers a better idea of what you’re doing right now rather than forcing them to decipher your timeline.

Show progression. Hiring managers may look askance at concurrent job holders out of concern that they may lack career focus. This perception can be lessened if you explain how you gained new and relevant skills at each position you held. If you can draw a clear career path leading to the current position you seek, the skills, accomplishments and experience gained will carry more weight than the stops you made along the way.

Fill in gaps with activities. If you have work history gaps of several months, make sure you include some kind of activity during that period, such as volunteer work or involvement with industry groups.

Don’t explain everything … Remember that your resume is just an advertisement for your skills. You don’t have to go into detail about every part-time job, unless those jobs were directly relevant to the position for which you’re applying. If you had to be a barista to pay the bills, and you want to get back into accounting, there’s no harm in just leaving that out.

… but elaborate in an interview. An interview is a better place to untangle your work-history knots. Some employers see moonlighting as a red flag, so be prepared to explain how your multiple jobs were done on separate timelines, did not interfere with each other and were on a short-term basis.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: resumes, self-promotion, skills, volunteering

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Blog contributors

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.


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