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Advice / Job Search / Resumes

Ask a Career Coach: How Do I Highlight My Experience When It's All Over the Place?

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Hi Emily,

I’ve worked for the same small nonprofit for the last four years—my first “real job” after graduating with my masters degree. I feel like I’ve grown as much as I can with my current organization, and I’m ready to start looking for new opportunities. My problem is I’ve done a huge variety of things with my current employer and organizing my resume feels impossible!

I’m really proud of all the different things I’ve accomplished, and I think the variety gives me an edge in an industry where employees are expected to wear many different hats, but when I put it down on paper I’m afraid I look too flaky and unfocused. I started at the bottom of my organization and have worked my way up, but that’s often involved having two or more job titles.

I’ve had my current position for a year and a half but even that involves managing four different programs that all seem unrelated. How can I highlight my experiences and variety of roles without overwhelming potential employers and looking like I’m uncommitted and all over the place?

Too Many Hats

Dear Too Many Hats,

Your seemingly disorganized background sounds like a good thing to me! It demonstrates that you don’t accept the status quo, that you’re looking to continuously learn and improve, and that your quality of work has been positively recognized, resulting in multiple promotions in just a handful of years. Many companies are looking for pro-active achievers just like you, people who are willing to go above and beyond their job title.

At the top of your chronological resume, you may want to consider adding a “Professional Summary” section. This three to five line section should describe who you are before you get into outlining your experience. Things to note: your ability to take initiative and your agility to tackle any new business needs. Here’s where you can include other strengths and any specific skills you’ve been recognized for. Think about the other jobs you’re applying to; what traits are critical to their success?

Following this, be sure to also include “Highlighted Skills.” Given that you have completed a multitude of different tasks, can you put these accomplishments into categories? For example, perhaps you’ve written marketing materials and created presentations. You can place these under a larger umbrella called “Communication.” On your resume, it may look like this:

This section should be relevant to the next job you’re applying to. Does the description require you to be collaborative, a problem-solver, or good with numbers? Think back toward your last four years and come up with examples of where you’ve demonstrated these skills and be sure to include them here.

Finally, you’ll definitely want to include all of your job titles. The bullets under each one should provide quantifiable accomplishments you were proud of during this time. It’s fine to repeat the highlighted skills, just be sure to include more details. For example, if presentation skills are important, you might want to note it: Presented to 50 executive level and external partners at a national conference.

What’s important is that you extract the transferable skills the new company is seeking. Highlighting these will make it clear how your versatile background is relevant to the role. This is why the more you understand what kind of candidate the job description calls for, the better able you’ll be to think back on your experiences and customize the relevant skill sets from your background.

Bottom line, use your diversified experience, combined with your roll-up-your-sleeves startup mentality and turn it into a strength! Companies that are looking for effectiveness, organization, and flexibility in a candidate should be considered lucky to snag you. Once you convince yourself that your seemingly “flaky” and “unfocused” background is actually “adaptable” and you’re great at making “order out of chaos,” your confidence will shine through and be contagious to your interview panel.

Want to work with Muse Career Coach Emily Liou? Make an appointment with her today!

This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Credible Career Coach in the subject line.

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