should you include retail work on your professional resume?

A reader writes:

I just moved to a different state. My husband got a job, so I had to leave mine and move with him. I have had a heck of a time finding work here. I took a retail position to help with bills until I could find an accounting position. It’s been three months, and I have yet to find an accounting job. I’m afraid that my three month lapse on my resume looks bad. Should I list my retail job, so that employers can at least see that I have been working? Should I keep it off my resume? I’ve been given advice both ways: put it on–it shows you’re working and humble to take a position lower than your career tier, leave it off–it has nothing to do with your accounting profession and it shows you’re desperate for a job. What do you suggest?

This is one of those questions where reasonable people will reach different conclusions. I don’t know that there’s one right answer, because it depends so much on the person reviewing your resume.

I’m one who thinks that you should leave it off, because it isn’t part of bolstering your value in the industry you’re seeking work in. A resume isn’t meant to be an exhaustive accounting of every job you’ve ever held; it’s a marketing document. If the interviewer asks what you did for that three-month period, by all means, explain — but I don’t think it adds value to your resume.

Also, three months out of work is nothing these days. Any sensible hiring manager won’t blink an eye.

Anyone want to disagree?

{ 12 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I spent a couple of years as a bank teller many years ago, and while it's fallen off because of its age, I did include it for a long time. It usually sparked some conversation, and I was always careful to point out some valuable people skills I learned (mainly how to smile when someone was getting my goat).

  2. Anonymous*

    What about job applications? Some of them ask for employment going back ten years. I'm only 25, so that would mean many, many entries for jobs in restaurants, retail stores etc.

    Should I list EVERYTHING on those? Keep in mind this isn't for a job requiring a clearance or anything like that.

  3. Anonymous*

    A job application is a legal document, so I think you should always include your jobs there–but they usually only ask you for your last three jobs or so, so even a younger professional won't have to list everything going back to their paper route.

    I agree with Askamanager–most hiring managers want to only see relevant work history, and won't think a three month hiatus in this economy is a matter for concern. There will always be hiring managers, though, that disregard an applicant for any number of unfair reasons, and the best thing to do is just move on; you don't want to work for them anyway.

  4. Steph*

    This is actually my question that I submitted! I'm happy to report that I was offered an accounting position today! You're right, they didn't think anything of my three month gap in my resume.

    1. Anonymous*

      “You’re right, they didn’t think anything of my three month gap in my resume.”

      Uh, they never do. It’s a heck of a lot better then having 3 year long gaps throughout your resume and have only worked temp or contract jobs for 11 years! I need a miracle now that I actually need a full-time permanent job!

  5. Anonymous*

    That's great news. I don't think it really would matter either way. There are more important things that a hiring decision hinges on besides whether you worked in retail the past 3 months or were unemployeed.

  6. Anonymous*

    Congrats on your job offer!

    I was recently out of full time work, and I had had a part-time retail job as a 2nd job that ended up helping to carry me through my unemployment. I put it at the end of my relevant experience and listed it as "Additional Experience" so they could easily see I kept busy between my "real" jobs.

  7. Anonymous*

    I wouldn't put an irrelevant job in the resume, but I might look for an opportunity to mention it in the interview as a way of demonstrating that you like to be busy– you don't just sit around watching TV when you're out of work, and you're not too proud to do something outside of your main area. I think that speaks well of your character. But I wouldn't emphasize it, or it'll sound like you're focusing on irrelevancies.

  8. TheLabRat*

    As a person who's resume reads oddly because I have worked in many different industries, I'd like to add that keeping stuff like retail on when you're applying for admin jobs looks fine if you can note an accomplishment while in the retail gig. For example I completely revamped the training program at my last retail job and wrote corresponding documentation. So even though it's a ways back on my timeline, I usually find a way to include it (love the additional experience idea) since that's something that's marketable in any company. Not to mention I end up doing it in darned near any job I ever have.

  9. Ross*

    I think it's definitely better to put it on than leave it off. Ultimately, having a job is better than looking like you haven't had one in that period of time.

    Also, it shows you have experience in other sectors, making you a more rounded, experienced person.

    And like the commenter said above, it's always good for conversation in the interview! Just make sure you're articulate in any questions relating to it!

  10. Beth*

    I'm having the opposite dilemma. I was laid off from a field I've been working in for the past eight years. Before that I worked in retail for nearly seven years.

    It's been almost 11 months and I still have not found a job, so I am going to go back to retail. I want them to see that I have retail experience (including a stint as a manager), but my most recent jobs have not been retail. Most retail job apps don't leave much room for experience. How should I handle this?

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