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Sick of Day Jobs and want to settle down
February 24, 2010 7:35 AM   Subscribe

How do I rewrite my resume so as to reassure potential employers about the fact that I was a temp for ten years?

For ten years, I was pursuing a career in stage management, and was a temp for my "day job" for all those ten years. I was very active the whole ten years, but preferred to be a temp -- because I was doing something else on a freelance basis and needed the flexibility.

Well, now I'm not. I've given that up. So I want the full-time job now. But a lot of employers are spooked by that ten-year stint of temping, even though I've explained that this was by MY choice rather than potential EMPLOYERS' choices. The problem is, I only get to explain that when I'm there in their office -- I don't get a chance if they just look at my resume, say "ooh, ten years as a temp," and then pass me by.

How do I lessen that effect on my resume?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Work & Money (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Were you temping for one company, or several, or just on your own?
posted by JoanArkham at 7:39 AM on February 24, 2010


So I want the full-time job now. But a lot of employers are spooked by that ten-year stint of temping, even though I've explained that this was by MY choice rather than potential EMPLOYERS' choices.

I think you need a new approach, because the idea that it was YOUR choice is probably a big part of what spooks them. I'm sure they can't relate to that at all, and it certainly might make them question how well you will fit in with a stable of people who have been on a relatively consistent career trajectory for the last ten years. Why should they think you will take their position seriously, when you've revealed your last decade of "professional experience" as being completely secondary to other things you were more interested in?

I suggest a new narrative is in order.
posted by hermitosis at 7:47 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


If your freelance work was more important to you at the time, prioritize that on your resume. Hell, you don't even need to include the temp work on your resume if you're not applying for a job in field where it would benefit you. I don't really see an issue with

1999-2009 Freelance Stage Management Work

as a heading in your resume. If they then ask in the interview whether or not you made enough to support yourself from that, you can say you temped during the day and can provide a reference for that if needed.
posted by reptile at 7:48 AM on February 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I was temping only for one agency, and almost exclusively AT one company. I do have my stage management work listed on my resume, and one guy who I showed it to actually suggested I take it off because "I'm a finance guy, I don't relate to this; I'm more interested in the experience you had here with your temp work". (I didn't listen to him.)

I actually still have some freelance work I want to do, but it's a lot easier to fit around a day job, and I've been saying this (I'm writing instead of stage managing, but I do that at night and on the weekends, and I say this). The temp work I've done has all been administrative work in finance, and I'm very good at it -- and that's what I'm looking for.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:52 AM on February 24, 2010


As for your resume, were you at any of these temp gigs for long enough that they would look good as freestanding jobs? Because I think it would be best to leave out the temp part until the actual interview. The long-suffering temp-to-hire position is familiar enough to people that you'd probably be okay to show up at an interview and say, "Yes, I was an administrative index manager for this period -- this position came to me courtesy of a Temp agency I was working for at the time, you are welcome to check my references at both places."

At that point they've at least already met you.
posted by hermitosis at 7:55 AM on February 24, 2010


Oh, you answered my question. So yeah, I say state the position as if it was at the company you were posted at; they won't call and check your references until after they've met you, and by then you'll have had an opportunity to inform them about it in person.
posted by hermitosis at 7:56 AM on February 24, 2010


I would highlight the diversity of experience that temping afforded you by having a line for each position/project you worked in.

I was a consultant for three years and instead of writing "consultant" in that job entry and letting that be it, I listed the diversity of clients and functions I performed -- process design, software requirements, organizational development, IT governance, etc. I did the same with my freelance Foresight work over a ten year period.

Then your standard defense for temping is that you wanted to learn to be flexible, get a variety of experience, and acquire a broad base of skills which you would now like to bring to one company. Make them feel like they're getting a bargain in hiring you.
posted by cross_impact at 8:00 AM on February 24, 2010


As for your resume, were you at any of these temp gigs for long enough that they would look good as freestanding jobs?

Oh, hell yeah. One lasted four years.

So you're saying to list them as independant jobs and not as part of the temp gig?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:02 AM on February 24, 2010


Upon preview:

I would highlight the diversity of experience that temping afforded you by having a line for each position/project you worked in.

I was a consultant for three years and instead of writing "consultant" in that job entry and letting that be it, I listed the diversity of clients and functions I performed -- process design, software requirements, organizational development, IT governance, etc. I did the same with my freelance Foresight work over a ten year period.


I already do this. I list the temp work as one heading, and then there's an entire pages' worth of sub-headings under that where I list all the assignments I had and what I did.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:04 AM on February 24, 2010


Have you considered doing a skills resume rather than a chronological resume? With either format, it's important to emphasize the skills utilized and learned at the jobs you've held, rather than just the job titles. Phrase your duties as a stage manager in ways that even a finance guy can understand--that you organized rehearsal schedules, kept actors to deadlines, kept records of stage blocking, and so on and so forth.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:05 AM on February 24, 2010


So you're saying to list them as independant jobs and not as part of the temp gig?

Yep, that's what I'm saying. Maybe someone here will come in and explain why this is a terrible idea, but like I said, employers are familiar with this situation and if you are forthcoming about the temping details at your interview no one is going to think you are trying to pull a fast one. Hell, you could maybe even mention the temp thing on the bottom of the page somewhere as a special reference -- just don't make it the primary lens through which they view your experience.
posted by hermitosis at 8:10 AM on February 24, 2010


I already do this. I list the temp work as one heading, and then there's an entire pages' worth of sub-headings under that where I list all the assignments I had and what I did.

I wonder if this could be part of the problem--this much detail might be unnecessary depending on the length of the assignments. Is there any way you can link us to a copy of your resume (with identifying information removed, if it makes you any more comfortable) so we can take a look at how you're phrasing and describing these assignments?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:14 AM on February 24, 2010


Be sure you're focusing your resume for the job you want and not the job(s) you had. When I switched up my resume solely to focus solely on the experience that would qualify me for the jobs I wanted (and not just the stuff I was particularly proud of), I went from no interviews to a ton of interviews immediately.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:18 AM on February 24, 2010


So you're saying to list them as independant jobs and not as part of the temp gig?

Definitely. I mean, you worked there for 4 years. That's longer than some people have regular "permanent" jobs. The fact you were employed via a temp agency is irrelevant - it's the work you did there (the skills learnt and enhanced, experience gained) that's important. It's only worth noting the temp agency if you'd worked at like 6 places in 3 months (because if you were getting permanent jobs and getting fired that often then, uh, something's wrong).

Be sure you're focusing your resume for the job you want and not the job(s) you had. When I switched up my resume solely to focus solely on the experience that would qualify me for the jobs I wanted (and not just the stuff I was particularly proud of), I went from no interviews to a ton of interviews immediately.

That's a really good tip too.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:41 AM on February 24, 2010


Seconding hermitosis, and PhoBWan. I'm not in HR per se, but I see a whole lot of resumes. For me, a single heading along the lines of "XYZ Temp Agency, Various Assignments, 2000 - 2010," followed by a pagelong list of assignments would be a turn-off.

I would select the most long-term and substantive of your temp gigs (seriously, four years is not what I would call "temp"!) and list them as stand-alone jobs. That's what they are. The fact that you found the positions through a temp agency is bordering on irrelevant, in my eyes.

One other point: this is where cover letters are your friend. A well-written cover letter is where you can define your professional narrative and subtly address any questions or red flags that your resume might raise. Perhaps not all employers scrutinize cover letters, but I sure as heck do - more so than the resume, in fact.
posted by messica at 8:43 AM on February 24, 2010


To build on TPS's very useful advice, and with attention to theater specifically: when I switched to book publishing from theater, my resume was very theater heavy. I was going on many informational interviews, and one of the first ones was very honest with me and told me that my theater-heavy resume, even though it more accurately reflected my experience, was going to be a turn off to prospective employers. He advised me to use my resume to highlight experience that was somehow related to publishing or skills necessary to publishing, even if those positions had taken up far less of my time and focus, and to leave in just enough theater to show that I'd done it. "Don't overshare" he said. Focus on what they're looking for, not on what you most enjoyed.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:20 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also: how long is your resume? If it's longer than two pages, you should take a really critical look at it and make sure you're not including more than is necessary.

Do you have any friends who are HR professionals who might be willing to help you with your resume and cover letter? This is the kind of revamp that would benefit from some professional help.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:26 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I temped out of one agency for several years. I listed the agency as my employer, put "assorted temporary placements" as the job title, and then listed the skillsets used. At the end of my CV I have a brief, 2-paragraph "about me" section where I mention the Good Things about having temped - adaptability to a variety of people and environments, ability to pick up new skillsets and tasks quickly, etc. Spin for the positive, but keep it brief.
I never had a problem with my temp history, as I always kept the focus on what a great positive it was.
posted by Billegible at 9:44 AM on February 24, 2010


I'd do it by stressing the positive, and with formatting, showing with the outline level that specific jobs were part of the temp gig:
- Successfully balanced freelance stage management and temporary administrative office work OfficeDrones, Inc. (201)555-1212 (1999-2009)
. Marketing Assistant, Heywood Jablome & Howe, 2007-2009 Responsible for tracking something and something else
. Sales Assistant, ConsumerCrap USA, etc...
posted by theora55 at 9:58 AM on February 24, 2010


I temped out of one agency for several years. I listed the agency as my employer, put "assorted temporary placements" as the job title, and then listed the skillsets used.

This is actually exactly what I've done. Here's my resume.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:15 PM on February 24, 2010


That requires a sign in. Can you put it up on Google Docs as a pdf?
posted by ocherdraco at 1:05 PM on February 24, 2010


Can you put it up on Google Docs as a pdf?

....How do I do that?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:35 PM on February 24, 2010


You could also upload it to Scribd.
posted by kylej at 4:01 PM on February 24, 2010


....How do I do that? (EmpressCallipygos)

Email it to me and I'll do it for you and post the link. (I can delete identifying information if you want.) I think you've got my address, but it should be in my profile if not.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:20 PM on February 24, 2010


For folks who want to give more concrete help, here is EmpressCallipygos's resume as a web page.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:52 PM on February 24, 2010


I would agree with PhoBWanKenobi's suggestion of a skills resume. The meatiest part skills format is (no kidding) a list of your skills -- but you never break down where or when you acquired them (you do list job titles and dates down below, but they're not really emphasized). This is great for people switching fields, or who want to de-emphasize short stints or whatever else.

Basically, instead of saying, "well, here's everything I've ever done, in order, now YOU decide whether I'm qualified," this format says, "here is how I'm qualified to do this job," right up front; you start with everything (pertinent) that you know and do. It's a much more succinct way of showing your prospective employer exactly how they'll be able to use you -- you won't ever have to list anything twice because you did it at two different jobs. This is where you should do what ThePinkSuperhero and ocherdraco suggest and list the exact skills that the jobs you want will require.

The link has a decent example of a skills resume, although I personally always omit the "Objective" section, and I put my education at the bottom (if a degree were very important to the job, I'd probably leave it up high, if not, not).

When I was looking for jobs, I would even tweak my resume to specifically list (in similar terms, if possible) the skills mentioned in the job listing (and I did a similar thing with my cover letters). If you have time to do that, my experience was that that method gets a lot of calls back.
posted by emumimic at 5:44 PM on February 24, 2010


Thanks and cheers, ochredraco!

Am open to any and all advice at this point. I realize a lot of my luck could be mainly due to the economy sucking, and my main employment agency does know how to frame me, but any way I can increase my odds, I'm all for it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:21 PM on February 24, 2010


Ok, were I going to edit this for you, this is what I would do:

1) Add a section up top called Skills and Qualifications. In that section, highlight your top skills , by category. E.g. Research: XYZ type; Writing: Correspondence, plays, etc. Definitely move your other skills stuff here. Put the WPM as a separate bullet. It's not entirely clear from the anonymized version which other ones you'd want to highlight, but highlight those. Also summarize the most relevant qualifications: 7 years as an executive assistant. etc.

2) Next: Group your experience by CATEGORY, not by date. So: Executive Assistant Experience, Writing Experience, or whatever. Tailor to the job, but you want to emphasize your strongest areas this way. Anything that doesn't fit in the 2-3 main categories, stick in 'Other Relevant Experience'

3) Nthing definitely just remove the temp agency as a header. You have too much experience for too long with one company for it to be worth it. If you must, you can deemphasize it by adding it to the header

4) Hard to tell with the anonymizing and the putting it on the web, but there is some formatting you can do to make it cleaner.

5) Again, this may be the anonymizing, but go through and change your verb tenses so they're all past tense. It just looks more consistent that way.

6) Everyone knows references are available upon request. Remove that line.

7) Under education, put the type of degree and major before the school. It matters more.

Basically, the general principle should be that the most important stuff, both in the resume as a whole and under each job should come first. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to find the stuff that makes them want to hire the amazingly wonderful Empress Callipygos.

Anyway, offer to take a look at the actual thing and show you what I mean, if you want, still stands.
posted by eleanna at 6:49 PM on February 26, 2010


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