Does your resume contain a speed bump or two? Have you made moves you now regret? Feeling tempted to omit or spin the move(s) to take the heat off? If the answer is “yes,” you’re not alone. I see plenty of resumes from professionals who have done all the right things most of the time but who, for any number of reasons, have fumbled the professional ball along the way and can’t quite figure out how to recover. It’s tough out there and companies still able to hire are looking very closely at the details of a person’s professional choices. How you present your choices on paper and in an interview will make all the difference in landing your next job.
Include, Don’t Omit
Nothing says “you can’t trust me” like omitting important gaps in your employment history. For senior professionals, there are no excuses for failing to include a description of how you’ve spent your working life over the course of a career. If you made a fortune on your options (the lucky few) and decided to take some well deserved time traveling the world, say so. If you lost your job due to layoffs or termination (the unlucky many) and had a tough time finding the next job, you’ll still need to explain how the time was spent between gigs. Maybe you’ve taken some time off to do a little soul searching. That’s fine, but be sure to include an explanation of that time off on your resume. Then, prepare to answer questions about those choices.
Spell It Out: Honestly
Don’t embellish, candy-coat or omit the unsavory details of your work history. Be honest about the moves you’ve made and articulate the rationale for each move. If you’ve been fired from a job, you don’t need to put that critical detail in your resume, but when you’re asked why you left, be honest. Tell the interviewer or screener that the employment relationship soured and that you were let go. No need for excuses or stories. Everyone assumes there’s a story and you’re probably not the most objective person to tell it. So , instead of the spin, tell the interviewer what you’ve learned from the experience and how that lesson has led to improvements in your professional life. Be positive. If you come right to the point and you’re sincere, the interviewer will be ready to move on to the next question and the squirming can end for both of you.
You know what your resume says. So, before you send it off to a prospective employer, think about how you’ll discuss the details. You can imagine, based on a job description, what an employer is looking for. Prepare to answer questions that are specific to the job, highlighting the matches between the company’s needs and your experience. This advice seems so obvious, but I’m often surprised by how poorly people prepare for interviews. If you walk into an interview with a plan to simply sell your expertise, you’re going to miss the point of the meeting. Maybe you’re an expert deal closer, but if the person you’re meeting is looking for X and X doesn’t have anything to do with closing deals, you’ve wasted everyone’s time by not being prepared to talk about X.
I’ve sat across from far too many sour faces in interviews and I don’t like it. My clients like it even less. I understand the temptation to brood. Times are tough and plenty of folks out there find themselves in unfamiliar territory. But honestly, if you aren’t prepared to walk into an interview with your head held up and a smile on your face, cancel the interview. People want to hire people who make them comfortable. They want to hire winners and they’re looking for signals that you see yourself as a winner, no matter the circumstances that brought you to the interview. Sad, grumpy, aloof candidates rarely make it through the hiring process. Why should they? Confident, friendly candidates set themselves apart. And hey, you’re going to feel better about the interview too, regardless of the outcome.
Few people have perfect records. Most of us have stumbled at some point in our careers. Owning up to those stumbles often says more about our judgment than the mistakes we’ve made. It sets us apart from those who hide behind excuses and prepares us to move forward, confident in the lessons we’ve learned. When you find yourself in the market for a new job, be honest about where you’ve been and be prepared to move on with your dignity in tact and a smile on your face.