Q+A: Should I leave things off the resume?

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: The current philosophy in applying for jobs is to tailor your resume to the specific job. This make total sense, however, leaving off positions that don’t directly relate can cause large gaps in dates and omit some of your most recent experience. How should this be handled?

A: First a presentation trick: if you list your jobs by year and are not specific as to months  then for instance a gap from February 2008 to November 2009 could well disappear.

But maybe you don’t have to leave things off. First you should try and identify an aspect of what you did or experienced at the apparently irrelevant job that can be presented to actually strengthen your case. For an extreme example: if you took a year out to work in your father’s shoe store  you probably gained invaluable experience in selling or in fashion changes or something that might make you that much more valuable to the job you are going after. So don’t throw anything out until you are sure it will hurt you. You should present everything you have done in a way that demonstrates that you are unique and special. The apparently unrelated job may look at first sight like a lemon  but do try and find the lemonade inside it!

But yes, you should avoid gaps – or plug them with something. Were you working on a personal project or volunteering at a nonprofit or traveling? These could all be completely laudable explanations for not having a formal job for a period of time and may even strengthen your case.