How can I sort out this confusing work/education history?
February 22, 2011 11:51 AM   Subscribe

I've got a slightly confusing work history as a defense contractor, and a 4 year gap in my career when I went to school full time. I'm not sure how to best list this information on my resume.

Over the past 9 years I've worked on one military base two different times, and the second time I switched contracting companies and worked on multiple contracts. And in between, I went to school full time. Here is a timeline:
  • 2002-2005 - Worked on military base A, contract A, for contractor A.
  • 2005-2009 - Went to school full time overseas.
  • 2009-2010 - Worked on military base A, contract B, for contractor A.
  • 2010-2010 - Worked on military base A, contract B and C, for contractor B.
  • 2010-present - Worked on military base A, contract C, for contractor B.
  • future-future - Worked on military base A, contract B and C, for contractor B. (this will almost certainly happen at some point)
I've mostly been ignoring the contract situation since it just confuses people and doesn't add much, but then neither does the company that writes my paycheck, however that seems to be a required element. Here is how I have it laid out on my resume now.

The amount of confusion this causes during interviews is incredible, everything from thinking I typoed my years in school ("You mean 1995 to 1999 here right?") to thinking I am active military and was deployed overseas. I can only imagine what people think when they just read it cold out of a resume stack. I also don't like how much of my resume is taken up explaining what is essentially the same job - while on this military base I've worked in the same offices, with the same people, using the same software, and with the same overall mission, despite my funding and paychecks coming from different sources. It's a lot like moving between departments and projects at a normal company, but to most people it looks like a shady work history full of job hopping.

Any ideas on how to lay all of this out in a better way? Should I focus on more detail to clearly explain things or less detail to avoid confusion? Given my recent college attendance, should my education be before or after my experience? Should I add a note between jobs pointing to the education section? Should I scrap the whole traditional resume and go for a straight up timeline of events? I would welcome any insight.
posted by skintension to Work & Money (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd suggest describing it as a set of job responsibilities, rather than by employer

US Army Goat Wrangler (2002-2005, 2009-present)
Contractor A 2002-2005, Contractor B 2009-present)
Wrangled Goats, fed goats, taught goats to operate A-10 Warthog aircraft

Contractors - eg, employers - matter. Contracts - funding vehicles - generally don't.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:59 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is why you should have a one page cover letter. Your cover letter can offer a brief explanation of the benefits your employers will derive from your recent school detour. You should also consider not specifying the particular military bases if it's ok to do so since it really seems to detract from what your interviewer needs to know. You should simply state more generally that you were cleared or whatever, as though it's another qualification.

Also, recall that the purpose of your resume is not to get you a job, but to get you an interview. It looks like your resume is successful, unless you feel there's something wrong and that you're not getting as many interviews as you might otherwise.
posted by Hylas at 12:04 PM on February 22, 2011

I'd suggest describing it as a set of job responsibilities, rather than by employer

Yeah, this. My resume gets me a lot of callbacks, simply because I list my skills and abilities together in groups (I generally find three works best), and then just put my work history in smaller print at the bottom or off to the side. Its called a Functional Resume Format and there are a lot of good examples ou there on Google.
posted by anastasiav at 12:08 PM on February 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

As per Tomorrowful, what you're missing is are job titles that ties it together.

I'd structure it like this:


Head of Caprical Engineering (2009 to present)
Integrated Caprionics Corporation
- Wrangeld goats and sheep at locations B & C

Goat wrangler (2002-2005)
General Goats Inc.
- Wrangled goats at locations A & B


B. Eng., Combined Agricultural Resources Program.

That would be a comprehensible resume to me.
posted by bonehead at 12:10 PM on February 22, 2011

I was a recruiter for a government contractor.

- Emphasize your experience. List responsibilities but also skills, e.g. developed goat wrangling techniques to improve rumination process and accomplishments, e.g. reduced total goat losses by 35% in 2006.

- Your wording makes it entirely clear that you were a contractor and not in the military. I don't think you need to change it.

- Your educational history is unusual and apparently somewhat confusing. I would totally leave out* the 2004 blip, unless it was an industry-specific certificate. Just list degrees, e.g. BA, Goat Wrangling, State University. BS, Goat Science, European University. There's no need to list years. Consider not listing your education first. I like that format, and it doesn't take up too much room, but many suggest putting it last. Your call.

- I'm sure you already do this, but it bears repeating: make sure that your name and contact information is clearly listed at the top.

- If they request no cover letters, include a short objective section that is tailored to the company and position you're applying for. If you do send a cover letter, I'd leave this out.

- List any relevant skills not covered in your experience.

- List any honors or rewards.

- As a recruiter, I preferred chronological CVs because it was clear where and with whom the skills were developed. Competing contractors often have different philosophies on various things, and it's helpful to see what the progression is. Our closest competitors produced similar caliber work, so it was nice to see that applicants had experience with them. Similarly, someone who only had experience with 2nd or 3rd tier contractors might have developed bad habits and might not do well in our environment.

So, like this:

Contact Information

Objective (maybe)

Foreign University
BS, Goat Science

State University
BA, Goat Wrangling

Experience A

- Responsibilities
- Skills
- Achievements

Experience B

- Responsibilities
- Skills
- Achievements

Experience C

- Responsibilities
- Skills
- Achievements


Honors and Awards

*Of course, if you get to the biodata stage or if they request transcripts, you'll list it if required. But your CV is what you're choosing to present as your strength.

You can thank Tommorowful for all the goat references.
posted by charmcityblues at 12:17 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've never heard of a functional resume before, but it looks like that is exactly what I need. Thanks anastasiav! I'm going to give it a try.

Thanks everyone.
posted by skintension at 1:36 PM on February 22, 2011

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