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A Strong Yet Ethical Résumé, Fast, Part II

Marty Nemko

Part I covered everything from résumé length to format to ethical temptations. But what if you have a Grand-Canyon-sized gap in your employment?

Let's say you've been a stay-at-home parent, had a serious disease, were addicted to video games and pot for a decade, or spent said decade in Sing Sing for armed robbery. You'll usually do more harm than good trying to hide a gap with a so-called skills résumé on which you first or only list your skills and accomplishments and bury your job history. Even if your obfuscation nets you an interview, the interview questions and/or reference checks will likely make your résumé appear deceptive, and no employer wants a deceptive candidate.

It's wiser to state things you've done during your break that would impress your target employer. For example, the stay-at-home parent wanting to re-enter the workplace might write:

2011-2013 Stay-at-Home Parent (Concealments such as "domestic engineer" are laughably transparent.)

--Near-constant multitasking while remaining calm (usually) 16 hours a day, seven days a week and 52 weeks a year.

--Careful spending, enabling family to live a middle-class lifestyle despite a tight budget.

--Successful fundraising chair for preschool, raising $16,000 in the inaugural auction last year and $27,000 this year.

--I have great kids!

The aforementioned video game-addict might try something like:

2011-2013 Video Game Addict

After 16 straight years of school and relentless delay of gratification, I decided to allow myself a period of hedonism-centricity. Examples:

--Reached expert level in all expansion sets of "World of Warcraft" while developing a network of loyal collaborators.

--Created custom Spotify playlists on mobile and desktop media for self and then, for pay, for friends and referred strangers.

--Key member of a team that built a boat that sailed 53 miles without leaking ... until it did.

--I've gotten the hedonism bug out of my system and am ready, actually eager, to get to work.

You might ask, "Doesn't such narrative belong in the cover letter?" Yes, but it also belongs in a résumé if only because cover letters and résumés often get separated.

The jailbird might give this a go:

2011-2013 Inmate, Sing Sing Correctional Facility

--Selected as prison library assistant, a sought-after assignment. Given increasing responsibility, including training inmates on use of the Internet. Also tutored inmates in reading and math.

--Wrote "Surviving in Prison Without Joining a Gang," the only inmate-written article published in 2012 in the Sing Sing newsletter.

--Released early for good behavior. I certainly plan to continue that good behavior if you choose to take the risk of hiring an ex-offender. Perhaps someone gave you a chance. I'm looking for someone to give me one. I will work hard and honestly.

Mightn't you consider that person, at least for an entry-level job?

Skills section. Include all skills that would impress your target employer, especially words likely to be searched for by automated tracking systems, those soulless screeners.

Education. If it's been three years or less since you finished school and the designer label on your diploma and/or your school accomplishments would more impress your target employers than would your work history, place the education section before the work experience section.

As in the work experience section, list three or four accomplishments at school or in extracurricular activities. And as grade inflation is the norm, only include your GPA if it's 3.5 or higher.

Do include relevant education you've obtained outside of school: certifications, workshops, etc.

Personal interests. List three or four. Often, a shared personal interest can be the tipper that lands you an interview and even the job.

Cross-check. Misspelling and grammatical errors are signs of sloppiness if not ignorence. (Did you catch the spelling error? It's "ignorance." Just checking.)

Double-check to be sure you've excised all sneakiness from your résumé, if not for an ethical reason, then for the pragmatic one that it reduces your chances of getting hired. For example, some people with employment gaps leave out the dates of their employment or call themselves a consultant. Most employers line their cat box with such résumés. And if, perchance, you make it to the interview or reference check, the truth will likely come out which will eliminate any chance of your landing the job. Similarly, deceptive older applicants try to hide their age, for example, by not including the date they got their college degree. Hint, Bucko: Before hiring you, they'll see your wrinkled puss and feel deceived and thus play wastebasket basketball with your résumé or even put you on the employer's permanent blacklist.

Get candid feedback. Now put aside your résumé for a day, then reread it with fresh eyes and, as necessary, revise. Finally, show or email the draft to colleagues, friends and/or headhunters who are in a position to assess if it will likely impress your target employer. Ask them, "Is it clear, concise, and most important, would it make you want to interview me for my target job?" Urge them to be honest. Better to get their criticism than for employers to use your résumé as scratch paper or fish wrap.

And now you have a strong, ethical resume, no Sturm und Drang required.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.

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