The Challenging Resume: A Resume Makeover Case Study

An abundance of resume advice and templates exist online, but it can be unhelpful if your work and life experience doesn’t fit neatly into a template. Today we’ll examine a real-life job seeker with non-traditional work experience and the resume makeover results.

Challenge #1: “I’m planning a move, but I’m not living in the area of my job search yet.”

Let’s start with the easiest challenge to tackle. Our candidate has specific plans to move to a new city and is actively house hunting there. Often employers are unenthusiastic about candidates with out-of-town addresses, because they don’t want to pay for employee relocation expenses or wait for a move that may never actually happen.

However, if you are actively in the process of moving (meaning you are in your new hometown often enough that commuting in for an interview isn’t a problem), put your future city and state on your resume and make sure to address any timing challenges later in the process. Treat it like you’re negotiating your start date for any other reason, such as current employment, or a preplanned vacation.

If your move is not yet in progress, you can indicate “relocating in [month] to [city, state]” on your resume to give employers a timeframe of when you will be available.

Challenge #2: “I’ve been a stay-at-home parent since college.”

The key for anyone who has been unemployed for a significant amount of time is to focus on transferable skills. Whether you took time off to travel, stay home with kids or elderly parents, volunteer, or have been looking for work for an extended time, you can still develop skills and be productive with your time off. Start by listing out tasks that you have tackled and then think about the impact your activities have had on your “work.” List your “work experience” in the body of your resume.

In this example, our candidate has been running a craft business out of her home for the past five years. What she thinks of as “doing a few favors for friends of friends” encompasses many of the activities that professionals do at work: responding to customers, advertising services, creating a website, testing promotions, public relations, and word-of-mouth campaigns.

Challenge #3: “I don’t know what field to look in, and I don’t have any previous experience in an office environment.”

This challenge can seem daunting at first. After all, it’s difficult to search for a job if you don’t know what kind of job to look for. Based on our strategy of tackling the work experience portion of the resume first, you should now be able to list your skills and create a high-level statement about what key talents you can bring to a company.

After our candidate documented the steps she took to create a small home-based business, we discovered that she has skills in marketing, financial management, and customer service.

Armed with this knowledge, her next steps will be to search for jobs in these fields. After reading the job descriptions for jobs in the marketing, finance, and customer service industries, our candidate will then identify common job requirements for each, and select the field that most interests her.

Challenge #4: “My experience doesn’t line up perfectly for any specific job.”

This is where a cover letter comes in. Debate exists on the value of a cover letter because many recruiters and hiring managers don’t read them. But if something needs to be clarified about your experience or why you’re applying for a job that isn’t immediately clear in your resume, a cover letter is a must.

If you decide to write a cover letter, use it to highlight relevant professional details about you that wouldn’t necessarily be found on a resume. You might decide to cite informal recognition from previous jobs, or identify transferable skills that are common across your past work experience. Just remember, a cover letter is not meant to duplicate your resume. It should have unique content that adds new information about your professional experience and skills.

Bonus Tip: Quantify your Accomplishments.

Whether you are well into your chosen career or still searching for that perfect industry, a resume with quantified accomplishments, rather than a laundry list of tasks you’ve performed, is essential. Here are some examples of how we transformed our candidate’s activity into measurable results:

Activity Performed Resume Statement
Posted announcements on social media to advertise products Used social media (Facebook, Pinterest) and word-of-mouth campaigns to increase company awareness and revenue by 40% in Year 1.
Created Etsy account to sell products online Created Etsy web presence to expand nationally and increase revenue by 35%.
Manned the cash register at a local restaurant As a cashier, was responsible for thousands of dollars daily.
Organized events for marketing company Acted as event manager for 78 events per year. Responsible for event set up and operations, supply budget, and promotional photos.

Creating a compelling resume is a challenge for most job seekers, but with some strategic thinking and dedicated focus, you can produce a powerful tool to open the doors to a satisfying new job. Search for the perfect new position today on