handling gaps in your employment history

Smooth out a bumpy employment history with these tried-and-true resume tips.

Not everyone is blessed with a picture-perfect employment history that matches their career goals. With a less-than-stellar economy over the past decade, many professionals find themselves with substantial employment gaps or a string of short-term or unrelated gigs dominating their resumes. Still, others are battling the same gaps because they took time off to raise their families, care for an ailing relative, or overcome a health condition of their own.

If any of these situations apply to you, keep reading. Below are some ways you can pump up your professional resume and supplement your work experience to make a better case for your candidacy.

Highlight unpaid employment history

If you volunteered for a role or took on an unpaid internship that allowed you to build relevant skills or gain industry experience, then these positions deserve a place on your resume employment history. Treat each opportunity as you would a paid job by describing your role and highlighting your major contributions and accomplishments on your resume.

If you stayed at home to raise your children, don't discount the valuable experience you gained while managing the household and caring for your family. Take a look at this piece I wrote for Ladders that explains how you can highlight the core competencies you developed as a stay-at-home parent.

If you're looking for opportunities to help fill your current employment gap, check out resources like Catchafire and Hands On Network for volunteer work and FlexJobs for flexible and telecommuting internships.

Group freelance work together

If you freelanced for a number of different clients over a period of time, consider grouping these experiences together under one position and then combining the dates. When breaking down the position, use the role description section to describe your expertise (i.e. the services you offered). Then, focus each bullet to highlight the work you did for a particular client and the results you achieved. This will give your resume a cleaner look and make you appear less like a job hopper and more like a committed consultant.

If you held a series of temp jobs that were similar in nature, you can apply this same technique to make your resume look less cluttered.

Remove a position

In some instances, it may be best to omit full-time gigs with incredibly short tenures from your resume altogether. The general rule of thumb is to remove full-time jobs from your resume employment history if they lasted less than three months. If you're concerned about deleting the work experience entirely, you have the option to briefly mention this position in a CAREER NOTE at the end of your work history section. Click on the following link to learn more about using career notes on your professional resume.

Invest in professional development

If your recent work experience has little to do with your current job goals, look for opportunities to bolster the skill sets your target employers care about. If you're unsure which of your skills need an extra boost, search your network for individuals who work in the field you're pursuing and ask them. It's amazing how many insights and resume tips you can gain over a lunch or coffee date.

There are many free and low-cost training opportunities available online and in person. Take a look at SkillShare, edX, Coursera, Lynda.com, and CourseHorse, to name a few. Also, use sites like 10times.com to find conferences related to your target field. In addition to being networking goldmines, these types of events often offer certification programs onsite. If you're considering a major career change, you may need to go back to school for more extensive training.

Consider using a different resume format

If it's impossible for you to make your skills and experience shine with the standard resume format, you do have the option to use a functional resume. A functional resume is a different approach to a resume that focuses more on skills than professional experience, which can be helpful for someone who has gaps in their career history.

Proceed with caution though: This type of resume should only be used as a last resort. Recruiters and hiring managers generally dislike the functional resume because of the way it strays from the traditional layout. It can also give the impression that you are attempting to hide something. Perhaps most importantly, applicant tracking systems (ATS) cannot read this type of resume properly, taking you out of the running for many jobs before you've even had your chance. Though a functional resume may seem like a good option, you should only use a one when you've already circumvented the initial gatekeepers at a company.

Keep your employment history consistent

A word to the wise: However you decide to modify your resume, don't forget to edit your LinkedIn profile to match. 93 percent of employers will review your social media profiles before contacting you for a job interview. Make sure the person they see online matches the one they read about on your resume