Smoothing Out a Bumpy Work History

Ten jobs in 10 years might look like a job hopper or a committed consultant, depending on how you present your work history in a resume.


It didn’t make sense.

Doneé had been searching for work in the digital media industry for nearly eight months by the time she hooked up with career coach Adriana Llames, author of ” Career Sudoku: 9 Ways to Win the Job Search Game.” Doneé had in-depth industry knowledge, plenty of contacts and is good at networking.

Then Llames saw her resume. Whoa.

Ten jobs in the past nine years? No wonder she wasn’t succeeding. Llames called a few executive recruiters in the digital media industry and asked if they knew, or had worked with, her client. They all said that they wouldn’t represent her because of what they called her “unstable work history.”

Llames, like all career coaches, doesn’t have the luxury of passing on such a problem child, so she rolled up her sleeves. Here’s what she did to help position Doneé’s unstable work history in a positive light and how she applied some of the techniques professional resume writers often employ for bumpy histories like Doneé’s.

List Contracting Positions as One “Consulting” Job

In the course of reviewing Doneé’s resume, Llames found that nearly 65 percent of her positions starting in 2001 were consulting roles. (Doneé is, in fact, currently consulting.) So Llames grouped the consulting gigs together and focused all of Page 1 on her client’s consulting expertise and clients.

Cheryl E. Palmer, a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), noted that many people use their names for the name of their consulting organization (i.e., James Smith Consulting Group). “It makes the resume much crisper and cleaner to summarize consulting jobs under one position and combine the dates for all of the consulting work rather than listing them all separately.”

Llames followed suit and listed the other positions, even though they each lasted about 12 months, on Page 2. But, Llames told her client, she was still concerned that what she called “her career ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder]” would come across even with the revised resume.

That makes networking all the more important. Llames suggested that, whenever possible, Doneé should try to “keep her resume to herself until she’s across the table from someone and they’re already in love with her and ready to go.”

When to Delete a Gig

It’s OK to omit those full-time positions with extremely short tenures. Palmer said the rule of thumb for full-time positions is to omit those that last less than three months.

Account for Your Time Away From Work

Shel Horowitz, “ethical marketing expert” and author of eight books, advised one client who’d been out of the workforce raising children for 10 years. As many resume experts advise in such cases, he highlighted her volunteer work as if it consisted of paying positions (without, of course, saying that they were actually paying positions, which would have been a lie). The client got a job as director of a local human services agency. (Click on the link that follows for our in-depth look at transitioning from full-time parenting to full-time work.)

For another client, he accounted for a two-year gap by talking about the travel he did in that period.

Many professionals also mask short employment gaps by using whole-year formats for dates instead of month/year, but many hiring managers report that this raises suspicions and few resume experts recommend trying to hide gaps in this manner. Stick to the month/year format and come up with something relevant to insert into the gap, whether it’s family illness, sabbatical, professionally relevant courses, volunteer work, working on a book, etc. — just make sure it’s accurate and truthful. If you’re unemployed now and lack such justifications, immediately start working on being relevant in one or more of these ways. (Click on the link that follows to learn more about handling negatives on your resume.)