Resume blemishes happen. Sometimes we go a short while without employment, other times we have a bad experience with an employer and would rather not list that work experience on our resume. These unfavorable blemishes can be pesky. They don’t shine a very flattering light on your professional history, and applying to a vacancy with noticeable gaps in employment can raise questions about you as a candidate or professional. The hiring manager may think, “The person is so qualified, but why didn’t they have a job for six months?” or “I’d like to sign this person on, but it looks like they’ll probably leave shortly after training.”
These are valid concerns. Companies and schools often dedicate a hefty amount of resources to training new employees. When an employee up and leaves before completing their end of the work agreement, the company loses out on those resources entirely, and is forced to reinvest in another hire.
As a current or prospective foreign professional in China, you’re probably aware that there are a lot of amazing opportunities out there. Before we talk about how to remedy a piecemeal work history, let’s first establish this: take your time before you commit to a job offer. There are a lot of job offers out there, and you should take as much time as you can to find the best one for you. Signing work contracts and and failing to finish them, especially in China, can put you in a tough spot. In the teaching profession, you’re expected to work in one-year increments. When there is evidence that you have trouble doing that, your resume becomes less and less attractive to potential employers.
Now that we’ve covered that, let’s see what we can do about those holes in your resume.
IF YOU HAVE A FEW GAPS
Try your best to think of things you’ve done to fill that time period. Were you volunteering? Were you involved in community projects? Did you have a part time position at that time? Were you attending school? Any of these options will sufficiently fill that resume gap. As more of a preemptive measure, if you’re currently only working only one job and are worried about it falling through, pick up a part time position such as tutoring, recruiting, or content writing. That way, if you do come to a time where you need to reupdate your resume and you would like to omit a certain span of work experience, you can at least say that you were doing something with your time.
If you have some short gaps in your resume, you can make them less visible by adjusting your resume’s format. If possible, remove the dates from your traditional format resume and shine a spotlight on your qualifications and achievements using a career summary. By doing this, you will accentuate your level of professionalism and take some attention away from those unfortunate little gaps.
If you were out of work because of something that is not work related, such as a health issue, a sick family member, or pregnancy, be sure that you do not write or speak in an apologetic tone. There is nothing wrong with being unemployed for these reasons, and employers will generally understand your situation.
IF YOU’VE BEEN JOB-HOPPING
Some careers are prone to short-term employment. Teaching is unfortunately not. Although you may need to answer some tough questions regarding your work history at some point in your application, the best thing you can do to get your foot in the door (and thusly BE ABLE to answer those tough questions) is reconfigure your resume to outline the positive parts of your professional past. The best place to start with addressing your overly frequent job changes is not attracting attention to them in the first place. Write your resume in a way that focuses on qualifications, achievements, and abilities rather than time.
One option is to write a skills assessment into your resume that matches the requirements in job descriptions similar to that of the vacancy you’re applying for. You could take these job descriptions, collect key phrases regarding their duties, and rewrite them in bullet points or short sentences using action verbs and achieving words. Carve that long list down to five or six bullet points that you believe are the most important, and make that the centerpiece of your resume!
Another strategy that I have seen candidates use successfully is “lumping” like jobs together. This can be done by taking two positions that were relatively the same, which happened at adjacent periods in your work history’s timeline, and splicing them into a single line of your work experience. Let’s say you served as a vice principal at two different schools in two years. Rather than writing:
“Vice Principal - ABC High School - 2008-2009
Vice Principal - XYZ High School - 2009-2010”
You can write:
“Vice Principal - ABC High School/XYZ High School - 2008-2010”
This is not a perfect, fail-proof method, and it may still cost you a few job interviews. It does, however, trim off some of the unsightly blemishes that would otherwise be very obvious on your resume.
Using these tips may get your foot in the door, and hiding resume blemishes is not necessarily lying. But if a hiring manager asks you about your work experience (i.e. resume gaps or frequent job changes) be honest with them! Chances are, if your explanation as to why you have these resume blemishes is within reason, they’ll be understanding and still consider you for their vacancy. If you’re asked, “Why did you leave your last job?” Be transparent. If you were the catalyst in your departure from that position, inform the interviewer that “My skills were not utilized there, and I felt the position was not an excellent fit for me.”
A hiring administrator who reads your resume and sees that you’re a serial job-hopper will be wary of hiring you, unfortunately. They may feel that you’re incapable of committing to a work agreement, and rightfully so. In truth, they will automatically believe that there’s a chance you won’t stay with them. It’s your job to prove them otherwise. It’s a smart move to use phrases like “I am seeking long term employment and I believe your school is a perfect fit for me because…” Don’t desperately kiss the feet of the people who are interviewing you in an effort to improve your chances, it’s very easy for them to detect and it will make them think less of you as a candidate.
If the hiring managers are still raising an eyebrow about your work history or are unsure about your motives, share a list of positive professional references who can verify your worth as a professional. You could also bring a few letters of recommendation to your interview. In some cases, schools and companies may be able to offer you a probationary trial assessment at the start of your contract. Although it may seem like the best way to get started at your new job, this alternative should be your last possible choice.
TOUCH UP THAT RESUME
Rejection letters can hurt. You may be in a situation where your resume is continuously rejected due to employment gaps or evidence of job-hopping. Take a close look at that resume and see if some of these tips could help spark up a dialogue with those hiring managers. If you’re currently applying for jobs and would like some help revising your resume, please reach out to me at email@example.com.
（By: Ted Salonek）