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Four tips for job seekers with less-than-stellar resumes

By Greg Barnett, PhD

Continued economic growth has created a new level of competition for talent, and job seekers need to stand out more than ever to their prospective employers. But what if you have an unimpressive work and experience history with gaps in employment? Is there any hope for you to knock your next interview out of the park?

Gaps due to extenuating circumstances can seem like a pretty huge hurdle to overcome when trying to secure a new position. And although they are less stigmatized than they once were, don’t be surprised if employers ask you about them. Instead, expect that they will, and plan accordingly by considering these four tips:

  1. Focus on where you fit. Work experience and skills are not the only pieces of the employment puzzle. Do the legwork to demonstrate all of the other areas in which you’re a direct hit for what they need. Company size, industry, personality factors, commute time, collaboration and team composition, and many other factors can be make or break for even those candidates who otherwise have highly desirable backgrounds. Even the playing field by matching up where you can, and making sure that your prospective employer knows what value you can bring.
  2. Plan ahead. It’s important to be honest with yourself when you’re not operating from a position of strength. Focus on what you can control now – the amount of effort that you put into the pre-hire process. Your research should be more thorough and your preparation should be more complete in order to get the gig. Because of this, it’s crucial to focus on a manageable number of opportunities where you can truly invest in the process. If you have a weak work history and you spread yourself too thin across multiple applications, prepare for a longer stint as a candidate instead of what you really want to be – an employee.
  3. Demonstrate your love of learning. If you won’t be walking in the door with skills and experience in hand, don’t worry – this doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. Savvy employers are beginning to realize that skills and proficiencies can be learned faster than ever, thanks in part to the abundance of information and tech-friendly learning tools that are available. Demonstrate how you’ve quickly come up to speed in prior experiences and what you see as your list of learning to-dos. Ask your prospective employer about any internal or external resources you may have missed to show that your head is in the right place.
  4. Reduce your risk. It’s easy to understand how the hiring manager will wonder if you’re capable of doing the job if you don’t have a directly relevant or impressive work history. One way to address this is to focus on the first 90 days. Dig into key details about the onboarding plan to demonstrate your sincere interest in making things work all around. If you can collaborate on an initial success plan, you may be able to provide a bit of peace of mind to your future boss.

Not having a stellar resume doesn’t have to mean the end of the world in terms of your job prospects. It does, however, mean that you’ll have to ensure you know yourself and what you have to offer so that when you do score an interview, you’re able to confidently and articulately communicate why they’d be foolish to pass you over!

Greg is the SVP of science at PI.

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