when your resume is a hodgepodge

A reader writes:

I’ve never been the type of kid who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up, and I still don’t know. The truth is that I’ve enjoyed and excelled at a bunch of jobs: English teacher in Japan, receptionist, IT/data entry temp, short-order cook. I’m only 25, I’ve had 20 different jobs (I’ve temped a fair amount), and honestly I am selective about the company culture far more than the type of job.

Personally, I feel like this has made me extremely qualified and laden with several skill sets (computers, languages, etc). I feel like I’m at the point where I could settle down in a job for a couple years but now my resume is a hodge-podge of wholesale food sales, foreign english teaching, and a dozen random temp jobs. I also am as likely to apply for a program manager job at a non-profit as I am for an IT position at Fortune 500 company. I’ve tried tailoring my cover letters and resumes for jobs and I end up feeling let down when I spend 4 hours and usually don’t get a reply.

Any advice? I’ve attached my resume not for critique (I’ve had it critiqued by everyone from my mom to the career advisor at my old college), but to give you a better sense of where I’m coming from in my letter.

As if I could prevent myself from giving advice, wanted or otherwise.

I think the standard advice here is to narrow down your options, decide what you want to do, and focus on that. But I’ve been where you’re at, and I don’t see anything wrong with seeing multiple worthy paths before you and being willing to explore several of them.

Your instinct that the solution is in customizing the cover letter is exactly right. Use the cover letter to explain why you want this particular job and how your experience comes together to make yourself well-suited for it. The cover letter is going to be key for you. But you’ll have to really mean it when you explain why this job is the right match for you; if you come across as if you’re applying for a dozen different sorts of jobs, it’ll turn employers off. Rightly or wrong, they want to feel like this is what you want, period.

But four hours is way too much! 15, 20 minutes tops. And you’ve got to go into it knowing that it won’t pay off in some cases — but that’s okay, you can’t expect to be invited to interview for every job you apply for. But you’ll eventually hear back from some, so keep putting in the effort (again, not four hours of effort) and it will pay off in time.

Interestingly, your resume actually doesn’t come across as that much of a hodgepodge, because you’ve only included five of your 20 jobs. However, I’d suggest doing two things differently with your resume (things that I want to flog your college career advisor for not pointing out):

1. For each job, you’ve only listed the years you were employed there, without indicating any months. This drives me crazy, because if you just list “2006,” I can’t tell if you were there for one month or 12 months — and it makes a difference, especially if you’re fighting the perception that you’re a job-hopper. (Of course, maybe this is intentional. If showing months would reveal a series of short stints, it’s wise not to — although smart interviewers will ask, so be prepared.)

2. Below each job, you have bulleted highlights, which is good. But your bulleted highlights aren’t adding much. For instance, for your job teaching English, you wrote, “Wrote lesson plans in Microsoft Word.” Word is practically ubiquitous, so you’re not adding anything there that will make you more enticing. How about something like, “Designed lesson plans that resulted in 85% of students passing basic fluency exam” or whatever? That shows me that you got results. I want to see what kind of English teacher you were, not just that you were one.

Good luck!

{ 4 comments… read them below }

  1. HR Wench*

    Send me your resume. I will rip it apart and leave you in tears. This service is FREE!!!

    Just kidding. I charge $250 an hour.

    I’m the grinch today.

  2. The Happy Employee*

    Mentioning months for each job is indeed a tricky question in your case. Being conservative with revealing information on your CV could potentially land you more or less interviews, depending on who is screening your application.
    Just make sure that you can explain everything during the interview. Make it sound like you were in control, e.g. job A was a great opportunity to work abroad, job B was a temp job to avoid being unemployed, etc.
    And since you’re young, it’s okay to try out different things to help you find out what you really want. Explain what you learned in the different situations and try to link it back to the job you’re interviewing for.

    There’s so much more to say on this topic, but I’ll stop for now and hope that some of my thoughts were helpful.

  3. Rose*

    Thank you so much for your answer!
    I added months this morning and it makes a world of difference. I was afraid of having gaps, but since I have been working more or less steadily, I can explain in a cover letter and interview that I’ve chosen not to list some of my work. But it does show that I have worked up to 2 years in certain jobs and makes it seem less “flighty”.
    My temp agency agent urged me to add as many references to basic programs like Word, Excel, since that’s the requirements of most of the jobs she sends me to. Of course, as I’m trying to get out of temping, your advice is genius and invaluable.
    I think the answer with cover letters for me will be to keep them short. I found your post on the 11th to be very helpful with that.
    I can’t tell you how good it is to get advice from someone actually hiring. I’ve floated my resume past everyone but nobody really _knows_ what hr people really want to see. Thank you so much and I’ll be reading your blog faithfully and will tell all my friends!

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