Resume Tactics for Job-History Puzzles

Smooth the bumps and curves in your career path.

Life is unpredictable: As much as you would love to have consistent, progressive work experience, events that sidetrack your career may need to be addressed on your executive resume. These unusual employment situations can include:

  • Taking time to volunteer or do community work
  • Extended experience as an entrepreneur or in a family business
  • A change in career
  • A gap in your career history
  • Early career experience that is marginal to your current career
  • Early career experience that is more relevant now that you’re returning to an earlier career

There are ways to handle these situations without diluting your expertise or deviating from your personal brand representation on your executive resume.

Highlighting relevant volunteer or community work experience.

Paid or unpaid, industry experience is still valuable — especially for career changers. If you have been involved in substantial volunteer or community work, use these resources to demonstrate leadership skills and experience relevant to your new goals. Take a look at this example of unpaid marketing experience that will boost your executive resume.


Volunteer, International Dance Group Inc.


“Marketing and PR Experience” section: Marketing Department, International Dance Group Inc. (2002-2007)
Planned and executed advertising production, marketing materials, public relations programs and other special projects for start-up dance school. Generated creative marketing tactics targeting potential customers and event sponsors. Contributed talents and expertise on unpaid basis.

Maximizing experience in an entrepreneurial or family-owned business

Whether you have gained your leadership or industry experience through large corporations, working side by side with your parents or running your own enterprise, your level of expertise is what matters at the end of the day. Avoid using lofty titles like “President and CEO” unless you have steady career progression and significant executive management experience that spans more than 15 years. Instead, compare your career track with executives who have had similar career paths to get an idea of what your title would be in the corporate world.

For example, would it be more appropriate to give yourself the title of Vice President of Sales and Marketing, or Director of Sales and Marketing versus President and Founder, Walter Creative Services?

Revising existing career experience for a different industry

If possible, keep your executive experience in chronological order, but only emphasize the job responsibilities, achievements and experience that are directly relevant to the job you want. It is quite acceptable to leave out unrelated tasks or responsibilities. For example, a senior federal employee looking to move into a human-resource management position will only highlight his experience in that area:


2005-present: Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the Washington Division responsible for leading drug-enforcement activities in northern Virginia. Manage all Division administration, budget allocations and various high profile programs (i.e. recruitment, training and demand reduction).


Assistant Special Agent-In-Charge, Washington, DC (2005 to present)
Direct budget allocations and oversee high-profile programs including recruitment, personnel training, demand reduction and division special projects for the Washington Division. Created first-ever executive mentoring and insight leadership program as outlined below:

  • Human Resource Management: Pioneered complete turnaround in office morale and division productivity by instituting year-long training in financial management and general administration.
  • Program Management: Revitalized recruitment program by assessing program effectiveness and creating increased momentum for achieving annual goals.
  • Program Development: Conceived and coordinated new leadership program to advance leadership opportunities for senior-level employees.

Minimizing the effect of an employment gap

If you were laid off or the company you worked for went out of business and it took you some time to get a new position, simply insert a one-line sentence that summarizes your activities. Address the employment gap briefly but directly – you do not want to leave employers and executive recruiters guessing about what you were doing.


Director of Sales, Rockville, MD (2008-Present)
Sr. Sales Manager, Chicago, IL (2002-2006)


Director of Sales, Rockville, MD (2008-Present)
Actively pursued full-time employment following unexpected company restructuring/downsizing. (2007)
Sr. Sales Manager, Chicago, IL (2002-2006)

If you were involved in consulting projects or highly relevant volunteer work during your “gap,” handle it as you would any paid work experience.

Summarize early career experience that is marginally relevant.

Sometimes there are interesting or novel jobs or titles from early in your career that you don’t want to remove. Including these pieces needn’t mean weighing down the document with extraneous details. Here are two ways to handle early career experience on your resume without having to list every position you had since high school:

Option A:

Early Company Experience’ section: Delivered significant contributions to company’s revenue growth and production output through Manager of Engineering & Maintenance and Project Engineer positions.

Option B:

Early Career’ section: Held series of executive management and leadership roles including VP, Finance/Controller for several national restaurant chains.

Returning to an earlier career field or industry.

It’s a common phenomenon: You spent many years in one career, got tired of it and boldly made a career move – only to hate it after a few years. Now your dilemma is that your recent experience in unrelated to the career path you want to rejoin. Of course, you don’t want to create a lengthy, dated resume to cover your relevant career history. Here are two options to remedy the situation:

Option A:

‘Career Highlights’ section: Developed a healthcare consulting services company from startup to fully operational in just nine months; grew annual revenues from zero to $5 million in first year.

Option B:

‘Relevant Career Achievements’ section: Introduced innovative process improvement initiatives that automated 45 processes; shrank operating costs by $500,000; and eliminated 100 percent of manual, time-consuming tasks.