How to Solve Resume Problems

Almost all of us face at least one resume problem when it comes to putting our work histories and job objectives on paper. Some these problems are tricky to solve, others are quite simple.

If you’re stuck on a resume writing problem, take a look at the following questions and answers. Maybe you’ll find the answer you need to have a good resume.

<< Index of All Resume Questions and Answers

Resume Problem: Short-term Jobs

Dear Yana,
I have been a resume writer for just over a year. I am visiting a friend in Australia (his name is Neil) and I am trying to update his resume. On his current resume he shows 22 jobs for the last 33 years, all over the world and not all freelance. I think it shows too much job-hopping. Do you have any suggestions for how I can word or format Neil’s resume to make it look better?
Thank you,

Dear Sheila,
Well, it’s true: listing 22 jobs may NOT look great on Neil’s resume. There are several ways to present his experience without making him look like a job-hopper. See if one or more of the following work.

  • Omit. Omit some of the small entries that are not really needed and wouldn’t be missed if they were left out.
  • Combine. combine under ONE job-heading, several things that happened near each other in time AND were similar in nature. For example:

19xx-xx, Features Editor; ABC Newspaper; XYZ Newspaper; JKL Newspaper
19xx-xx, Freelance Reporter, working in Belgium, France, Germany, Austria.

  • Abbreviate. You don’t need to go back to the “Beginning of Time”! It probably doesn’t matter what he did in the first 10 or 15 years of his 33-year career. Certainly 15 or 20 years of his recent experience is more than enough, and limiting the resume to 20 years (calling it “Recent Professional Experience” or “Journalistic Experience” if you want) would reduce the job-hopping problem and avoid age-discrimination.
  • Append. If one or two job-entries account for a large measure of the clutter, you could briefly list that job-entry in the Work History area with a note “details attached” and have a separate one-page attachment that details the clutter (say, a whole list of publications, a whole list of feature stories, a whole list of freelance assignments, or whatever).


Good luck with your friend’s resume update!

Resume Problem: Unemployment

Dear Yana,
I recently decided to go back to work after a two-year absence. I left my last job because of excessive job hours (75 to 80 a week). I was in retail management and was also responsible for the recruiting, hiring, and training of the store managers for the company. That job lasted almost 11 years. I might not have left this company had it not been for what I considered “abuse of my abilities.” Because I was a salaried manager, I was required to be pretty much on call 24 hours a day.

Since quitting two years ago, I have stayed home and spent the greater part of my time with my children. Now I need to get back in the workforce to supplement our family income. What is the best way to approach this? I know what is considered a “red flag” and I’m concerned that my sudden decision to quit might be seen as a red flag and might make it hard to get that first interview. My reason to leave was that the job was not allowing me to spend time with my family. Please give what help you can.
Thank you,

Dear Lisa,
There’s no reason to mention the reason you left in your resume or cover letter. After 11 years at one job, you earned the right to make a change and there’s no need to explain why.

The big question is how to handle the two-year gap in your work history. I suggest you put down something like this on your resume:
Full-time parent, 20xx-20xx

Wishing you the best on your next job!

Resume Problem: What’s Wrong with My Resume?

Dear Yana,
I have sent out hundreds of resumes for security type jobs that I was very well qualified for, but I have had very few interviews. Can you help me fix my resume so it works?
Thank you,

Hello Ruben,
I suspect the problem is your strategy, not your resume. I looked at your resume and it’s pretty good. But you are depending WAY too much on your resume to get your foot in the door. What you REALLY need to be concentrating on is making some direct CONTACTS in your field. Sure you’ll need a very good resume to present to somebody who could hire you, but FIRST you’ve got to FIND the right people to apply to. Just mailing out resumes is not going to cut it.

Start building your NETWORK of contacts right away. Begin any place, with your past co-workers, your family, your friends. What you should be aiming for are introductions (casual, no big deal) to ANYBODY who works at any level in the kinds of companies where you want to apply.

Once you have an inside contact, you DON’T ask them directly for help getting a job, but you ask them for INFORMATION, LEADS — like the names of people in other departments who do the hiring. Gradually you can work your way in/up until you find the person with the authority to hire you. And by then you’ll be able to honestly say something like, “Jim Greene in your Engineering Department suggested I talk directly with you about a possible position in your Security Unit. Could I send you my resume and come in to discuss your security needs?”

Most employers will be a lot more receptive to a specific person-to-person referral (even if it’s pretty casual) than to an unsolicited resume from a complete stranger.
Good luck to you!

Resume Problem: Left Job for Drug Rehab

Dear Yana,
I’m working with a man in drug rehab; he previously worked as a driver for a large company and left voluntarily to go into a 3-month drug rehab program (at his family’s insistence). The job application asks for “reason left,” and he wants to say “family reasons.” Will that work?”
Kathie, Roving Resume Writers (for homeless job seekers)

Hello Kathie,
I think it may be too vague and might trigger suspicion or direct questioning for more details. Maybe he would do better to try one of these responses:

  • Write (in small letters) “Will discuss at interview” in the box provided for the reason. Writing SOMETHING in the box is better than writing NOTHING, if only to preclude some clerk noticing the blank space and returning the job application “to be completed.”
  • Enter “Health problem (now resolved)” or “Health problem (now okay)” and most likely he would not be called upon to explain until AFTER he has arrived for an interview. At least then he will have made it past the application-blank hurdle.

Thanks for the good work you’re doing with the homeless in our community!

Resume Problem: Got Fired and Have No References

Dear Yana,
How can I give a reference if my past employer fired me?

Hello Evelyn,
Try to find someone other than your manager in that company who you got along with. Ask that person to be your reference. And try to at least talk with the person who fired you. Tell him you really need a job and ask if he would cooperate by at least being neutral and not giving you a bad reference. (Maybe he’d be willing to refer the new employer to that other person in the company — the one you got along with).

Resume Problem: Over-Qualified

Dear Yana,
I’ve been in Human Resources Management for 12 years in the San Diego area. I want to stay here, so I’m willing to take a lower-level job in my field, since that’s all that’s available right now. But people tell me that I look overqualified when I apply for a lower-level job and list my most recent position of “Consultant” on my resume. What should I do?
Many thanks!

Dear Sherwin,
You could keep your resume honest yet toned-down by changing the “Employment History” section to “Relevant Experience.” Then list the job titles a little differently.

Let’s say the job you’re applying for is Recruiter, and that’s ONE of the areas of work that was included in your “Consultant” job. List THAT position (under your “Relevant Experience” heading) as: Recruiter/Consultant.

Look at each of your earlier jobs in the same way, pulling out whatever function of each job was most relevant to your new job target, and modify the way you list each job as you modified “consultant.” Then the whole impact will be toned-down a bit.

You can defend this tactic by pointing out that you were focusing on what was RELEVANT to the current job objective.
Hope this is helpful,

Resume Problem: Career Change

Dear Yana,
I am trying very hard to find a job in the secretarial field. I feel like I am going no where. I have 5 years of secretarial experience. But unfortunately I changed jobs and went to work for a factory for 5 years. Now I really want to get back into secretarial again, but I do not know how to put this down on my resume. I just completed 6 months of college training on computers, i.e.. MS Office ’95 and Bookkeeping. This is on my resume right now but I am still getting no were. I need you advise, what am I doing wrong!?

Thank you,

Dear Vicky,
The first thing I noticed that’s holding you back in job hunting — especially considering that you are applying for secretarial jobs — is your SPELLING. Probably somebody has already told you that spelling is not your strong point. And it is VERY important in office work because misspellings make the company look bad, and can even cost them big bucks. You just HAVE TO TAKE SPELLING SERIOUSLY.

Remember, there are spell-checkers, but spell-checkers are NOT ENOUGH. They did not catch the three misspellings in your note to me, because the words were correct words (if used in another way) but NOT the correct words for THAT purpose. I’m not going to tell you which words are wrong. You should take a course JUST for spelling and get it down pat. Get REALLY GOOD at it because it will make a difference in your job search.

Another thing that might be causing you problems is your resume, especially if the 5 years of factory work show up FIRST on your resume and distract the reader from your secretarial experience. Try using a FUNCTIONAL format (see my 1996 editions of Damn Good Resume Guide and/or Resume Catalog for examples showing how to do it).

The functional resume format will allow you to fill your resume up with SECRETARIAL EXPERIENCE and play down the factory work, which doesn’t have to be described at all (for this purpose) but of course has to be listed in your work history. In the functional format, however, the info about the factory work will appear BELOW your description of all your secretarial experience.

Your just-completed TRAINING should also appear ABOVE the list of jobs, since it is so recent and since it very strongly supports your goal.

So, you should have a functional resume structured something like this:

12345 My Street
City, State 98765
(123) 456-7890

OBJECTIVE: Position as Office Secretary

SUMMARY OF QUALIFICATIONS (here are some ideas)

  • Five years professional experience as a Secretary.
  • Strong motivation to return to secretarial work, as shown by recent computer training.
  • Recent state-of-the-art training in computer applications for the office
  • (Something else the employer should know about your skills or work traits)
  • (Something else the employer should know about your ability to work with others)

Timbuktu University – Certificate in Computer Applications for the Office, 1997
Coursework included: (here, list EVERY SINGLE course you took.

Under that heading, list 3 or 4 general skills that cover most office functions you’ve handled, and under each skill-heading spell out exactly what you’ve done that demonstrates your knowledge and experience. (See my books for examples of office type resumes. Below are some ideas.)

Word Processing / Database

  • An achievement statement that shows you have used this skill.
  • Another achievement statement that shows you have used this skill.


  • An achievement statement that shows you have used this skill.
  • Another achievement statement that shows you have used this skill.

Project Coordination

  • An achievement statement that shows you have used this skill.
  • Another achievement statement that shows you have used this skill.

Here just list your jobs, one line for each job. For example (with NO other details):
1993-present Assembler/Inspector Johnson Manufacturing, Timbuktu, KY
1989-1992 Secretary Hillegass & Woolsey Attorneys, Ashville, KY
1987-89 Secretary Carlton Water Works, Carlton, KY

Notice what you accomplish with THIS format; you have …

  • Dealt with your switch back to secretarial (explaining it in your Summary).
  • Played up your recent computer training (spelling it out in detail and placing it near the top, ahead of your work experience).
  • Played up your secretarial experience (providing the details).
  • Played down your factory work (omitting the details).

Finally, get SOMEONE ELSE who is really great at spelling and punctuation to double check it for you VERY carefully!

Good luck with your career change back to secretarial work!

Resume Problem: No Relevant Experience

Dear Yana,
I am in desperate need of a full-time job. I worked in a family business owned by my parents for over nine years. I have no idea how to write a resume, or what to put in a resume now that I am married and out on my own.

Working for my parents I did a number of things such as sales, baking, deliveries, phone. When my parents were not available, I opened and closed the store along with running the day-to-day events.

I am looking for a job having to do with some type of sales in retail. Any help that you can give me would be very much appreciated.

Dear Tammy,
A lot is going to depend on the way you present yourself, and your self-management skills. You have a LOT of valuable experience to offer an employer. It’s crucial that you appreciate that and present yourself as an ASSET to your potential new employer — not as a desperate job-beggar, EVEN if you feel that way!

A good resume will help a lot, in two ways:

  1. You’ll have some documentation of your experience, to help get a foot in the door for an interview
  2. You’ll have proof of your value, that YOU can look at when your legs are feeling a little shaky.

The book you should get would be my basic “Damn Good Resume Guide,” which will lead you step-by-step through the resume writing process. But, since you’ve given me enough information to work with, I’ll get you started with some ideas of how I’d structure my resume if I were you. You could take these ideas and put them in your own words, so the resume feels right to you.

Tammy Jobseeker
2100 Kings Drive
Sixteen Palms, Florida
(123) 555-7890

Job Objective: Position in Retail Sales


  • Nine years experience in family-owned retail business operation.
  • Direct experience with Sales, Delivery, Order-taking, Production.
  • Able to open and close a store, as backup to owners.
  • Good customer relations; at-ease and friendly with the public.
  • Ambitious, honest, and eager to learn.

1990-97 Sales/Production Asst., AVERY BAKERY, Sixteen Palms, FL

  • Developed experience in every aspect of running a retail business, from monitoring and ordering stock to developing and maintaining excellent customer relations.
  • Received and processed incoming telephone orders.
  • Sold bakery products over-the-counter to hundreds of customers.
  • Produced a variety of baked goods, accurately following recipes.
  • Worked with owners on special store promotions to attract new business and keep existing customer-base happy.

Graduate, Sixteen Palms High School

Okay, Tammy, you take it from there! Replace what I’ve written with similar kinds of stuff that reflects your actual experience and what you think you do best. Then PROUDLY go job hunting!

Start out by trying to get some referrals from friends and relatives who know somebody in the retail business, so you have a NAME to “drop” when you go for an interview. You can send your resume, along with a brief cover letter, to places where you’d LIKE to work, even if they haven’t yet advertised an opening. Just tell them you’d like them to keep you in mind for when an opening DOES come up. Meanwhile, you’d be happy to come in for an interview.

Wishing you a great job hunt!

Resume Problem: No Professional Experience

Dear Yana,
How do I go about writing a resume to inquire about a position as a freelance copy editor/proofreader. I’ve had no previous professional work experience as an editor, but have had experience working on my school’s lit mag.
Thanks in advance,

Dear Soojee,
When you don’t have any paid experience, you have to just make the most of what you DO have, which is your experience working on the school literary magazine. Here are some tips.

  1. Use the chronological resume format.
  2. Name a goal, something like “Objective: Entry level position as proofreader or copy editor;”
  3. Find out exactly what the tasks are for these positions.
  4. In the body of your resume, state what you did for the school magazine that is similar to the tasks of a proofreader or copy editor.

For example:

OBJECTIVE: Entry level position as proofreader or copy editor


Volunteer production assistant, The Monitor (literary magazine)
Mammoth High School, Mammoth, Utah

  • Proof-read and spell-checked stories and articles.
  • Made phone calls to verify the accuracy of interview quotes.
  • Looked up historical and literary references in the school library.
  • Researched correct spelling of names and places appearing in articles.
  • Entered hand-written notes into correct format using Microsoft Word.
  • Did preliminary rough layout of pages to help in editorial planning.

(Don’t use the above examples. I’m just guessing!)

The point is, you DID develop some useful experience, but you have to spell it out in detail so the employer can access its usefulness. Look at some of the resume examples in The Damn Good Resume Guide for a complete layout for a student resume.

Good luck with your new job at the magazine!

More Resume Questions and Answers

Want to see how Yana Parker advised job seekers and professional resume writers on other resume problems? Check out our index page for Resume Questions and Answers.

Topics include:

  • Resume Formatting: Where to Put Things on Your Resume
  • How to Write “This and That” on a Resume
  • How to Solve Resume Problems
  • How to Solve Tricky Resume Work History Problems
  • How to Write a Resume for Career Change
  • Filing Out a Job Application Form
  • A Little Job Interviewing Advice