4 Common Job Hunt Dilemmas Solved

Overcoming unemployment during a job market drought can present quite the dilemma, all on its own. It can be particularly problematic, however, for job seekers without a college degree or with a questionable work history, for instance. Barriers such as these are all it takes in today's highly competitive job market to screen job seekers out of consideration for a job before they've ever scored an interview.

That's why it's imperative that job seekers be aware of their job hunt barriers and know how to downplay them on their résumé.

"Remember, your résumé is a marketing document in which you select the mix of information that will sell you to your next employer. You're not required to reveal every wrinkle in your background or bend over backwards to make sure a potential employer knows about your areas of weakness. Don't lie, but approach these challenges with creativity and a focus on the employer's needs and interests rather than on any problems you perceive in your own background," says Louise Kursmark, author of "Sales & Marketing Résumés for $100,000 Careers, Third Edition."

To handle common job hunt dilemmas, Kursmark offers the following résumé tips:

Dilemma No. 1: I'm afraid the employer will think you're too old.

Economic woes have prompted many older workers to defer retirement or seek lower-level jobs than the ones they previously held. Job seekers in such situations often worry they'll be screened out immediately because employers will think they're too old for the job. Job seekers who want to avoid broadcasting their age on their résumé should consider Kursmark's following tips:

  • Eliminate dates of college graduation.
  • Avoid any dates in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s.
  • Truncate your experience by leaving off early jobs (disguising perhaps 5 to 15 years).
  • Provide 10 to 20 years of experience, with dates, and then summarize prior experience under a subheading such as "Experience before 1990" or "Prior Professional Experience."

Dilemma No. 2: I don't have a college degree.

Certainly, a college degree gives job seekers an advantage. It's important to remember, though, that it's not the be-all end-all. The key to overcoming this dilemma is for candidates to emphasize their work history, skills and confidence and downplay their lack of a degree. According to Kursmark, job seekers without a degree may want to

  • Eliminate the Education section of their résumé altogether.
  • Head up the section with "Professional Development" or another title that doesn't call attention to an education credential.

Remember that some college is usually viewed more positively than no college. If you've taken some college courses, here are a few options for addressing your education on your résumé*:

  • UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT SANTA BARBARA - Studies in Business and Economics (full-time 3 years)
  • COLORADO COLLEGE OF MINES - Completed 50% of requirements toward Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
  • Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, Connecticut, Quinnipiac College, Hamden, Connecticut - Coursework in Business, Marketing and Economics, 1997 - 2000

Dilemma No. 3: I'm worried employers will suspect I'm a job hopper.

The term "job hopper" describes an individual who has been employed in a series of short-term stints with a handful of employers. Instances of job hopping tend to make employers doubt everything from the candidate's behavior on the job to their ability to make a long-haul commitment to an employer. In today's highly competitive job market, these doubts are all it takes to prompt an employer to reject a job seeker before he or she has ever scored an interview.
Kursmark suggests the following tips for presenting a more positive appearance:

  • Consider eliminating one or more of your jobs, provided that doing so does not leave a gap that will provoke immediate questioning, thereby spotlighting the very thing you want to downplay.
  • If circumstances beyond your control contributed to your short tenure, consider adding a brief explanation along the lines of "Merger with Megacorp eliminated all regional sales offices in spring 2009" or "Sales unit dissolved when software was discovered to be unready for market." Generally, Kursmark advises against explaining or excusing in a résumé, but says that sometimes brief statements such as these can immediately overcome a negative reaction.
  • Concentrate on finding job opportunities through networking, where a personal referral can get you in the door and you can then wow the interviewer with your capabilities and provide a rationale for the short tenure of your recent jobs.

Dilemma No. 4: I performed poorly in my last job.

For job seekers who made a complete mess of their last job, or simply weren't in it long enough to make an impact, creating a powerful résumé may seem impossible. To sidestep this dilemma, Kursmark encourages job seekers to skip their excuses and

  • Try to find one or two success stories, and include them without a great deal of elaboration. For instance: "Only sales representative to secure multiple agreements for the company's primary sales strategy, a 3-month in-store trial" or "Successfully maintained sales volume in a flat industry and market."
  • Point out what you did accomplish and learn. For instance: "Laid the groundwork for a successful career in real-estate sales through intensive prospecting and community relationship-building." Don't mention that you didn't sell a single piece of property.

Another example: "Developed regional marketing strategy to improve brand recognition and increase market share by 10 percentage points." Kursmark asks, "Why broadcast that your plan was rejected by the senior VP? The accomplishment you're claiming is the development of the plan, a valuable management skill."

Kursmark reminds job seekers that problematic issues may come back to haunt them after the initial résumé screening. "You must be prepared to answer questions about such situations on the first phone screen. Be sure to practice your explanations so that they are concise, nondefensive and as positive as possible," she says.

*Excerpted from "Sales and Marketing Résumés for $100,000 Careers, Third Edition" by Louise Kursmark.

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Selena Dehne is a career writer for JIST Publishing who shares the latest occupational, career and job search information available with job seekers and career changers. She is also the author of JIST's Job Search and Career Blog (http://jistjobsearchandcareer.blogspot.com/).

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