resume gap vs retail?
August 20, 2012 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Which would look better: a four year post-grad gap on my resume, or having worked those four years in a supermarket? Also, ideas for picking up relevant experience?

Due to social phobia and depression, I spent the last four years working the same supermarket job I had through college. After therapy and treatment, I feel capable of taking on something more challenging and rewarding, but feel as if most employers will naturally choose someone with more recent experience or education.

- I have written my resume to play up my education and pre-college office experience
- My ideal job would be something in cultural resources as my degree is in Anthropology, but I have also been looking for administrative assistant, receptionist, college library, entry HR and leasing agent positions.
-I'm in Raleigh, NC.

I have been sending out resumes for months with 0 responses. I am starting to wonder if I should just leave the supermarket off my resume all together? In this economy perhaps a period of employment is more forgivable than 7yrs (including college years) retail? I spent one of those years consistently volunteering and volunteered on and off as mental health allowed throughout the others.

For the second part of my question: any ideas for ways I can demonstrate that I'm capable of more than menial labor? Specific suggestions especially appreciated. I have already looked into Americorps but they don't have any local projects right now.

Thank you!
posted by seraph9 to Work & Money (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
At a minimum, four years at the same job shows you can commit to something and you probably have a good enough work ethic not to get fired. This is a positive in relation to a void of nothing.

The reality is that it is a tough job market for even relevantly experienced folks. If there is an opportunity for you to supplement your resume with volunteer experience that may provide relevant skills, you should do that as soon as you can. Think about the jobs you want, read up on the skills they're looking for and try to find ways to develop those skills around your retail job.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 8:47 AM on August 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

My advice is to keep off the supermarket/retail work when applying for jobs in which you think your anthro degree is relevant. Noble as it may have been, prospective academic employers won't look too kindly on retail experience.

Instead of a blank space, perhaps you can consider putting something like "self employed" – it may be stretching the truth a bit, but it leaves you some room to define yourself as you think best. Highlight also your volunteering in that period as well (depending on what kind of volunteering, of course).

As for ways to show off other abilities, think creatively and tailor this to the job skills you are looking to demonstrate in a given position (in this sense, you should tailor your CV to the job you're applying for).

I hope this helps. Good luck.
posted by mateuslee at 8:51 AM on August 20, 2012

YDid you have to work on a team? Be reliable and detail-oriented? Multitask? Provide excellent service to a diverse customer base in hectic conditions? Work with a wide variety of team members? Quickly learn new procedures and processes? Train or mentor new employees? Complete work accurately under time pressure? These are all important, marketable skills, and you can write your resume to highlight them.

When I am hiring for entry-level positions, I know I'm going to have to train the new hire no matter what. I'm looking for someone who will be quick-to-learn, hardworking, committed, and team/customer focused. Don't undersell what's inherent in the honest work you've been doing for the last seven years.
posted by Ausamor at 9:03 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Instead of a blank space, perhaps you can consider putting something like "self employed" – it may be stretching the truth a bit

Whichever you choose, don't do this -- omitting some past experience is allowed, but straight up lying about your employment history (I'm not sure how you see this as "stretching the truth" as opposed to "completely making something up") is a very, very bad idea -- most companies will do a background check and this will be easily proven false, or if it's not and it comes back later you would be (rightfully) terminated.

Is your volunteer experience all on the resume, above the retail experience? Are you describing the retail experience in ways (like Ausamor suggests) that demonstrate broader, transferable skills? Are you networking like crazy with everyone you know? A huge percentage of jobs are gotten through referrals. People are likely not dumping your resume just because you worked in a supermarket -- more likely you are just less directly qualified than a handful of the other 800 resumes they're seeing for each job.
posted by brainmouse at 9:10 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have also been looking for administrative assistant, receptionist, college library, entry HR and leasing agent positions.

I have written my resume to play up my education and pre-college office experience

You know, I actually don't think the way you have written your resume is the best approach for getting an entry level job like the ones you've listed. Also, I think there is absolutely no question that you should keep your work history on there.

Look. In all those jobs you list, you are most likely going to be spending big chunks of your day doing menial tasks. The employers are going to want someone who will do those menial tasks efficiently, reliably, competently, and without complaining. I think you can demonstrate very well that you are that person with your supermarket experience.

If you really have had no bites in 4 months, then I think you should take a few minutes to adapt your resume specifically for every job that you apply to. What you need to do is look at the job description/duties and desired qualifications in the ad and do your best to match what is on your resume to those.

So for example, say in the receptionist ad, the duties are greeting clients, answering multi-line phone and directing a high volume of calls to the appropriate offices, and misc. errands including making bank deposits at the end of the day.

Then in your resume, if you were a cashier at the supermarket and helped customers in various ways around the store, you start by writing that you served an average of X customers per day by ringing up purchases, answering questions, helping resolve complaints and problems. To match the bank deposits task, you can write that you tallied/recorded your receipts at the end of each day. (If that's something you did, for example).

I think if you really took the time to write down EVERYTHING you did in the supermarket, you can find ways to match your experience to many of the duties of the jobs that you're applying for.
posted by cairdeas at 9:11 AM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Being able to show up everyday to a "menial" job is a huge asset. I used to work at a law firm where one college grad hired for a paralegal job just stopped showing up one day. He was a good student from a prestigious college, but guess he just got bored with it not being exciting.
posted by discopolo at 9:16 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

+1 for leaving it on there. It may not be exciting, or glamorous but it shows dedication and that you're not afraid to get your hands dirty and get an unpleasant job done.

Your alternative is lying about something you didn't do which will bite you in the ass, or saying that you spent the last four years sitting on your mom and dads couch doing nothing.

I can't imagine a prospective employer holding a supermarket job against you in this economy. Plus, many of the people who will be doing the hiring will be from a (slightly) older generation that spends a lot of time scratching its collective head and wondering why "kids think they're too good for some of the jobs available". Four years at a crappy job proves you're not one of those kids!

Good luck and don't get discouraged. Things suck right now but your persistance will pay off eventually.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 9:24 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cairdeas has it: match your supermarket responsibilities with those in the job descriptions.

Further: make sure you have a few different versions of your CV and cover letters to reflect the distinctions between jobs. Cookie-cutter materials are obvious

-Follow up by email 3-5 days after submitting your application and CV. Just a polite reiteration of your interest and a one sentence summary of your relevant qualifications. Every interview I've gotten in the past happened after I followed up. When I don't follow up, I'm guaranteed no response.

-Use your social network and your alma mater's career office. The latter may not find you a job, but the advice you get could help you organise your search, and express your talents and skills more clearly.

Good luck!
posted by sundaydriver at 9:29 AM on August 20, 2012

There was just an article on Slate, I think, where he put up an ad on Craigslist for that sort of entry-level job and got something like 600 resumes in the course of a day. That's what you're up against. It may not be you.

I'd have a resume targeted for academic jobs that maybe soft-touches the supermarket work, but for the rest of those, it's actually a perfect gig. You're handling money, you're dealing with customers, you're showing up on time every day (and that is a more valuable skill than you can imagine), you're doing something that is a "job" and isn't a lot of fun without complaint, you've been there long enough to be reliable. I'd work on selecting specific phrases and keywords based on your retail gig to the job you're applying for (i.e. if you're going for a leasing agent gig, focus on customer service and phone skills, etc.).

I'm old enough now where I can leave my retail gig off my resume, but for a time there, showing you could grind away at it every day for a while and hold some kind of responsibility was very useful as a foot in the door.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:45 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

There was just an article on Slate, I think, where he put up an ad on Craigslist for that sort of entry-level job and got something like 600 resumes in the course of a day.

And while this is totally true, don't let this get you down either, because most of those replies will be shitty. You're not going to actually be up against 600 other people that they would seriously consider hiring.

One thing you should really do is stalk the job sites and have a variety of resumes/cover letter templates (I mean ones that you've written yourself, as in this is my cover letter to write to receptionist jobs, this is my cover letter to write to leasing agent jobs) to make sure that you reply FIRST before the onslaught.
posted by cairdeas at 9:52 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

People who are afraid to get their hands dirty or who believe certain tasks are "beneath them" by virtue of their education are horrible employees. Your supermarket experience is not a shining star on your resume, but it shows that at least you are not one of those people - you have the virtue of being industrious.

By contrast, if an employer looks at a resume with a four-year gap, they're going to undoubtedly think "Really, four years? They couldn't find ANY job in four years? I bet they must have had a couple of job offers in that time but didn't take the jobs because they felt entitled to more. And is that really the kind of employee I want - somebody with a sense of entitlement?"
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:04 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yet another vote for leaving it on your CV but completely rewriting it to emphasise your voluntary work. You are not a quitter and not afraid to do the hard yards - that counts for a very great deal and you should be proud of yourself. I'd look seriously at you for an entry level job but four years of sitting on your arse puts you straight in the 'discard' pile.

If you lie, you will get caught, I guarantee it. Play to your strengths - you have more than you think and other posters have drawn that out.

Also, it is brutal out there. Consider widening the entry level jobs you'd consider. While you may want an anthro focused job you may not have a realistic chance. Consider some of the trainee managment track retail job routes. The grad training programmes of the big retail companies are some of the best in the world and you're a strong candidate. Got to be better than stacking shelves and perpetual rejection, right?
posted by dmt at 2:14 PM on August 20, 2012

Thank you everyone. I will keep it one my resume and have been working on various rewrites. I'm not sure whether its better to list my skills at the beginning and hide retail down in employment history, or to list it first with the skills I have been using there. I am leaning to the latter, because it demonstrates that I have been using employable skills there as you pointed out, but on the other hand it puts retail at the very top of my resume....
posted by seraph9 at 2:48 PM on September 13, 2012

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