Sunday, November 20, 2016

Resume Advice: Whether to List Interests

Should you list non-work-related interests in your resume?  Does it add flavor and make you stand out, or is it a distraction?

My stance is that you should add it if one of the following is true:
  1. it conveys a positive work trait such as self-discipline, perseverance, teamwork ... OR ...
  2. a job related to this interest would be your dream job
I once interviewed a finance person who listed on his resume that he had won an Olympic medal in track and field.  This immediately made me think that he has patience, and the ability to withstand mental pressure.

When interviewing applicants for my company Evertoon, I'd love to find people who have a passion for moviemaking.  If a job related to moviemaking would be their dream job, that's a great match.  If they enjoy movies but only to the same extent that they enjoy 20 other things, then it doesn't need to be listed.

Sometimes people list interests that many others share, and are passive activites.  e.g. 

Interests: traveling, reading, eating amazing food

 This is not going to make you stand out.  Can you imagine this conversation:
Interviewer A: "What did you think of Elizabeth?"
B: "Which one is she again?"
A: "The one that likes eating amazing food."
B: "Oh, her!"

No, that is not going to happen.  So don't put those interests on your resume.

I also think there's a lower relevance bar for interests that you put on your LinkedIn.  It's fine to list these passive activities there.  Recruiters might be sourcing LinkedIn and use this information to strike up a conversation with you.

The resume demonstrates your ability to be concise.  Don't squander it by writing interests that are cliche.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Resume Advice: How to Handle a Gap in Work History

Yesterday I gave advice to a former classmate about his resume.  Specifically: how to deal with a 5-year gap in work history.

It made me think about two years ago, when I was advising a friend Sally about her resume.  She kept mentioning a 6-month gap that happened because she was waiting for a work visa.  Should she proactively address the gap and explain it?  Should she not mention it, and hope the interviewer doesn't spot it?

I've never heard the word "gap" said so many times in one conversation.  The only type of gap that causes more obsessive worry is the stupid thigh gap.

The only type of gap that causes more worrying than a resume work gap.

Here's my advice.  First, understand why a work history gap is problematic.  A work gap can make the interviewer worry that:

1. You're not serious about working.
2. You might be rusty at the skills needed for the job.

A number of people in this world are flaky when it comes to working!  They'll do things like suddenly not show up to work for a day, without letting anyone know, and without making plans to cover their tasks.  Or they abruptly quit halfway through a critical two-month project, leaving their teammates stranded.  Or they make it known that they think work sucks and anyone who enjoys work is a fool, gradually poisoning the team attitude.  When I interview people, I'd estimate 3% of applicant are like this.  Out of people with big gaps in their work history, maybe 15% are like this.

When reading the above paragraph, if you felt horrified and thought, "People actually do that?!", then the situation is easy peasy.  I'll show you below how to reassure the hiring manager.

If you read it thinking, "I feel so understood!  Of course anyone who enjoys work is a fool.  Can you teach me how to get away with suddenly not showing up to work?", then please close this browser tab, and never apply for a job at a company I'm affiliated with.

Now, onto solutions.  If your work gap was for less than six months, don't worry about it.  It's unlikely anyone will mind, or even notice.

If it was longer, the most optimal solution (which addresses both concerns of the hiring manager) is to list any work-related projects you did.  Do this even if the project was unpaid, or if it only covered a fraction of the time period.  e.g.

2012-2014 Wrote python for open-source coding projects RecipeSearcher and DogPhotoAnalyzer. 
2012-2014 Read 20 books about improving my sales skills.

The hiring manager will think:

1. This person is so serious about working that they did unpaid work!  They had enough self-discipline to make progress on their own.
2. They were using their skills during this period, so their abilities will still be current.

If you didn't work on any projects directly related to work, but you did things that required being organized or teamwork or self-sacrifice for the greater good, put those.

2012-2014 Volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and built 4 homes.
2012-2014 Took care of an ill family member.
2012-2014 Competed professionally in ultimate frisbee.

While this does not solve concern #2, at least it somewhat addresses concern #1 because it shows you care, and are responsible.

If all you did during the gap was to passively consume entertainment, or sit around feeling sad, then just don't mention the gap.  The worst is to specifically call attention to it, while saying something that exacerbates the worries.

2012-2014 Traveled the world, sampled amazing cuisines, hiked Machu Picchu.

The hiring manager will think: If this is so important to you that you're listing in your resume, how do I know you're not going to complain every day that you're at work instead of traveling?  How do I know you won't suddenly drop an important project to go sample amazing cuisines again?

Hiking Machu Picchu doesn't signify that you can commit or be dependable.  It only signifies you can commit for a 4-day hike.

Just leave that gap off your resume.  When it comes up in the interview, say something like, "I thoroughly enjoyed traveling, and now I'm really eager to find a company that I can commit to for the next X years."  (assuming this is true)