Remedial Resume Resources.
November 30, 2012 5:24 AM   Subscribe

Resume 101, now with Extra Snowflakes! Spotty work-history, useless degrees, and no idea whatsoever how to actually *write* one of the things.

I'm a 33-year-old college graduate with a terrible work history consisting mainly of food service jobs and large interruptions. I left my last job, a low-level admin assistant thing at a university, at the end of 2007, when I moved to a new city for my husband's new job. He has a career, you see, and makes actual money. I had depressive breakdowns and poked halfheartedly at creative endeavors for a while, and did not get a job because we just kept moving. The most recent move was international, but we're going back at the end of this year. And I am done with it, and we are staying put for a while, and I want a damned job.

Thing is, I do not want a depressing customer service job. I am not cut out for customer service, and it's time for something better. But since that's all I've ever really had, I have never learned how to write a resume rather than just filling out an application. And the internet has way too much information for me to have any idea how to cut through it all to what is actually useful.

In the past three years I have amassed some decent volunteer experience which I think I can spin so it looks like it applies to a larger niche than it really does. In the little world in which I have been working, I have some good references. Unfortunately, it's a little world which runs almost entirely on volunteers, so it doesn't translate directly into jobs. But it's what I have, and all I have which points toward the sort of thing I would like to do at this point. However, I have no idea how to maximize the volunteer experience and minimize the regrettable early-twenties jobs (I am trying not to describe them with swear words, but it's difficult). And my educational history, while pretty good, is also both totally unrelated and a decade past. I can use it for I Are Smart, but not much more.

So... oh god, how do I DO this? I have found a couple of jobs to apply to, and am looking for more. But I have not found any online resources which are germane to my resume situation. I'm in England right now and will be working in Seattle, in case that makes a difference.

Can anyone help me out? Online resources would probably be the easiest thing, but I am genuinely incapable of sorting the good from the bad. I am looking for vast generalities as well as specific tips. This thing needs to be *good* to make me marketable, for decent jobs, with my history, In This Economy (TM). I have a couple of friends who have volunteered to read over it and give feedback when I am done, but I have to have something other than a blank page for their kind offer to work.

Thank you in advance...
posted by Because to Work & Money (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It would help to know what field(s) you *do* want to go into. A resume for a software job looks very different from a resume for a (pulling something out of my butt...) children's librarian.

I think in general, I'd try these kinds of strategies:

* Focus on accomplishments. at your various workplaces, volunteer gigs, hobbies, etc; what have you done that's awesome? After your name and contact details, consider leading off with a "key accomplishments" section, with some nice bullet points.

* Then focus on skills, but don't make this too long. Obviously, tailor this (and other) section(s) for each position you're applying for

*Then* after you've sold them what you've done and what you can do, hit them with the work history. practice practice practice, with your SO, friends, in front of a mirror, cat, whatever, a standard spiel for how you explain the gaps in your work history. If you've wowed them with your skills and what you can do, they'll *want* to look past gaps.Mmake it easy for them.

Good luck!
posted by colin_l at 5:38 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For general resources, Ask A Manager is a great resource - I'd start with her resume and volunteering tags and branch out from there. (She also takes reader questions, and this is one she's addressed in the past, but with some elements that make me think it might also be worth asking her.)

Her book is also excellent (and made such a huge difference during my own job hunt), but you can find a lot of the material scattered through her website. She also has excellent commenters with useful advice.
posted by modernhypatia at 5:59 AM on November 30, 2012

Best answer: I can help you, I write resumes and I've done a couple for some other mefites.

First of all, what kind of job are you targeting?

Secondly, are you on LinkedIn? If not, get an awesome profile going there.

Here's an example of what a resume can look like:


X Years of administrative and office management experience in the non-profit sector.

-BA Underwater Basket Weaving
-Project Management (EVERYONE does this in their job)
-Calendar maintenance
-Expense reporting
-Event planning
-Financial analysis and Reporting
-Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint
-Typing WPM 100


Name of Agency, City State
Title-(Office Admistrator is a good catch-all that will describe general office duties)

Managed administrative duties in a non-profit agency with the mission to bring art to underserved, urban areas (you can usually get a one line blurb directly from the agency website mission statement)
-Quarterly financial reporting
-In conjunction with the Director of Fundraising, planned and executed the annual Artists Ball, an event attended by 300 community leaders and artists, raising over $1m.
-Redesigned archival system (Filing, everyone who files, does a better job of it than his or her predecessor)

ABC Company, City, State
Title-Customer Service Representative

Built relationships with 100 customers daily in a call-center environment, resolving issues with products and answering service inquiries, for a Fortune 500 High Technology company.
-Consistantly exceeded standard satisfaction ratings with an average 98.8%.
-Employee of the month-June 2008
-Served on the process improvement committee.

You get the idea. You don't have to do every single thing you've ever done, 3 or 4 jobs should suffice. Also, don't list stuff that's completely obvious in the title. Everyone knows you answer phones in a customer service job, what did you do above and beyond? THAT'S what you list in the bullet points.


BA, Underwater Basketweaving, Slippery Rock State Teachers College, Anytown, State.


List any awards or recognition you may have received from agencies here.
Employee of the month-ABC Company, June 2008
(You can safely get away with putting this on a resume, who keeps a record of such things?)

Then do a cover letter that encapsulates your amazing qualifications and glosses over any gaps.

I am applying for the X position posted on the X website. I have worked as an Administrative and Customer Service professional for X years. I believe that my experience coupled with my knowledge makes me credible; my friendly and helpful nature makes me approachable. In the end it is this combination that makes me successful.

Most recently my experience has been working with non-profit organizations in an administrative capacity. Although circumstances have dictated movement, I have been able to forge excellent working relationships with managers and co-workers alike.

I am seeking a position that will utilize my administrative skills in an environment that allows for growth. I believe that my skills and experience would be a good match for the XXX position. I’d love an opportunity to discuss how I can fit into your organization. I can be reached via email at or at 555-555-5555

Memail me if you'd like more, specific help.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:08 AM on November 30, 2012 [9 favorites]

General tip regarding framing this whole thing:

I was a homemaker and full time mom for many years, during which time I also did volunteer work and went to college intermittently. I didn't even complete my bachelor's in underwater basketweaving, though I did complete a more advanced certificate in knitting in zero gees. I got my first full time paid job at age forty with a Fortune 500 company, which impressed a lot of people.

The truth is, my previously undiagnosed medical condition meant I had been unemployable for most of my adult life. I didn't get a job until I stopped saying stupid stuff like that in interviews. Repeat after me: "I had the privilege of being a homemaker for a few years, during which time I got to do some interesting volunteer work." Do not mention the depressive breakdowns or halfhearted creative endeavors (unless you can characterize them more positively). Do emphasize you are staying in place for the foreseeable future.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 6:32 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, no worries, Ms. In California, I have no intention of saying any of that to Actual Job-Interview People. I plan to emphasize the fact that we were moving so much for my husband's career, which makes it seem a lot more reasonable. That was only for explanation here. And, I will admit, light self-mocking. But I agree that nobody needs to know about the depression stuff, especially not in an interview!

Ruthless Bunny: I am probably going to take you up on that. Thank you immensely.

colin_l: Hmmmm. It's a little nebulous, because my interest is more in the purpose the job will serve than the specific type of job. I am already aware that I am going to have to write multiple resumes, or at least tweak significantly, for different possibilities. Which I guess I also should have mentioned, eh? But so far there's some education and outreach possibilities, and some admin stuff possibilities, and the general thrust is in the direction of animal welfare (NOT animal rights, those people are definitely Part Of The Problem). I'm still gathering ideas as to the specifics, but after the past couple of years, I am quite certain that what I am working toward is more important sometimes than the specific kind of work I am doing. Because I've done some pretty boring stuff in the course of this volunteering, and I have done it gladly.

Thank you all so much, and more advice is so very, VERY welcome!
posted by Because at 7:31 AM on November 30, 2012

Having a customer service background is good for many kinds of job. I talked about my experience as a grocery clerk when I interviewed for my first IT job. No matter what kind of job you have, there is almost always a customer, even if it's someone else in the same company. Also, no matter how much you hate customer service (I hated it) talk the talk at least. They should think you like nothing better than solving people's problems.
posted by empath at 8:41 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sign up with some temp agencies. You will be tested on MS Office applications - the ones you really need to know are Word and Excel. They are mostly looking for basic skills like ability to type a letter and set up a spreadsheet.

If you are pleasant and professional in your demeanor and can do basic Word and Excel tasks you will be a good temp-agency applicant. Apply to several agencies, not just one. Temp jobs will help build up your experience, give you a chance to check out various companies and career fields, and often are a foot in the door to a more permanent job.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:53 AM on November 30, 2012

Best answer: One thing that I found really successful when I was applying for lots of different kinds of jobs was to make a sort of ur-resume that included all my accomplishments (remember, focus on accomplishments, not job duties) from all the jobs I had had in recent memory. That way, when I applied to, say, a job at an animal shelter or whatever, I could just delete the irrelevant entries and leave the ones that best spoke to the qualifications of what I was applying for.

Ask A Manager is so, so helpful. She's super sassy and straight-talking, and has actually done tons of hiring, so she's got know-how that a lot of internet sources might be lacking.

The best way I found to apply for lots of jobs was to make a spreadsheet, and put down every single job I found I wanted to apply for. Where it was, anything special I needed for it (like an essay or a work sample), what industry it was from, and the closing date. I could easily sort the list to see what jobs were closing soon, or which ones only required a cover letter and resume and would be faster to apply for.

When I applied for something, I made sure to save the job description/listing either on the sheet or separately, if it was long. A lot of times they take down the job listing when they move to interviewing, and it really, really helps to have a copy to look at before your interviews and think about what kinds of questions might be asked.

Good luck!
posted by itsamermaid at 11:02 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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