Which Are Worse for Your Resume: Irrelevant Jobs or Employment Gaps?

August 6th, 2014 | Articles, Resume | No Comments »

Irrelevant Jobs

Some job search decisions aren’t so straightforward. All generations of job seekers are trying to figure out which is the lesser of two evils on your resume: irrelevant jobs or employment gaps. It’s becoming a more common conundrum in the workforce.

Baby Boomers are retiring from long-term jobs and are looking to remake themselves in new fields. When making the transition, it’s hard for them to step out of the shadow of their previous career into a different discipline.

Millennials, many still struggling in the job market, have had to make compromises with temporary or part-time work to pay the bills. In fact, labor economist John Schmitt said to Bloomberg that “among 22-year-old degree holders who found jobs in the past three years, more than half were in roles not requiring a college degree.”

That means, plenty of young graduates have a chunk of experience on their resume that won’t get hiring managers salivating. However, a long employment gap, especially after college, can leave a pretty sharp stigma.

Really, neither choice is an ideal one.

Irrelevant Jobs Make You Seem Flighty

Some would say it’s better to exclude irrelevant jobs. A resume isn’t your autobiography. It’s a marketing tool. By that logic, an employment gap helps you to only highlight information that is relevant to the position; all the rest is white noise.

Moreover, an employer expects to see their ideal employee reflected back in your resume. Though an employment gap on a resume isn’t amazing, it strikes fewer demerits against your image as an experienced professional in your field.

Ming Lee Young, a researcher at the University of California Berkley, found in a survey of nearly 100 million resumes for 100,000 positions that employers are anxious about employees with a litany of irrelevant jobs on their resumes. In Lee Young’s words, it makes you appear to be a “dilettante”: someone who drifts through positions without any true level of commitment.

Employment Gaps Make You Appear Outdated or Deceptive

Others warn that you never resort to employment gaps. An irrelevant job on a resume isn’t optimal, but an employment gap carries its own stigma.

For starters, 5.6 million Americans have been out of work for longer than 6 months. Depending on the industry, employers are going to be very reluctant to hire anyone out for that long.

One of the recruiters from our Ashley Ellis division says that especially in IT, “there’s a presumption that any gap means technology has evolved beyond you.” Other industries may carry that belief to varying degrees.

Even if you make it to an interview, it doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods yet. Inevitably, you’ll be asked about the employment gap on your resume. Then, you have to walk a tightrope as you try to explain why you hid a previous job. Some employers won’t return your calls after an omission like that.

Lessening the Blow

So, there’s no clear answer, but that doesn’t mean you’re without hope. While there’s no magic wand capable of making your problems disappear, you can attenuate the effect of either choice.

Are you choosing to leave irrelevant jobs on your resume? You need to connect the dots between each position. In Ming Lee Young’s study, he found employers long for a narrative. If you have varied work experience and can make it seem like a logical progression, you’ll appear like a Renaissance Man or Woman who can overcome obstacle. That makes you a commodity that must employers won’t pass up.

Are you choosing to include an employment gap? You need to show you were sharpening your skills in the meantime. While working at an irrelevant job, were you pursuing career relevant projects on the side? Emphasize their importance. Whether volunteering, freelancing, or using those projects to further your education, you can include that on a resume and keep that employment gap from appearing so imposing.

by James Walsh

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