How should I show transitional employment on my resume?

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Gary from DeVry University asked:

I will  be graduating later this year, and I need some advice. I was working as a Project Manager for a telecommunications company until 2009, when I was laid off.  I could not find a Project Manager position in my home town after 9 months of looking , so I decided to get my Bachelor’s degree to become more marketable in the workforce.  Like most of people, I had to my pay bills, so I took a “transitional” job as a Technician at the local cable company.  It pays the bills and has allowed me to work toward my degree, but it certainly isn’t the level of work I was doing in my previous job, and it isn’t what I wanted to do long term.

My degree is nearly complete, and I need to start taking steps to get my career back on track. So my question is :

How do I put the last two years transitional employment on my resume but still get the reader to focus on my qualifications from my previous job a Project Manager and on my degree?” I don’t want my resume to make it look like I was doing great until 2009, when I took a major step back and never have recovered.

Hi Gary,

Not to worry!  I have a few suggestions for you.

First, when you are in transition and using your degree to achieve that transition . . .

Lead with your degree rather than your experience

Conventional wisdom says that working professionals should lead off their resumes with their experience or a summary of their qualifications and/or skills.  Why?  Because their current experience is a much greater indicator of their current qualifications than is their education.  This strategy makes great sense in most instances, but perhaps not for you right now.

Conventional wisdom also says that college students and recent graduates should lead off their resumes with their Education because their education is the best indicator of their current qualifications.

Essentially  – if you are in in school full-time, THAT is your current full-time job; your primary occupation and preoccupation!  If you are working full-time and focusing most of your effort there, THAT is your current full-time job and primary preoccupation.

If you are going to school full-time to achieve a career transition, your degree is a central and important part of your current qualifications.  Lead off your resume with your education and you tell employers that your education is more important than your current job.  Follow that with your Relevant Experience

Separate Relevant Experience from Additional Experience on your resume

There is no law that says you have to list all of your experience together in reverse chronological order in a single section on your resume.

Remember, your resume is a marketing document, not an application for employment. It should tell the story about your relevant qualifications you WANT to tell – emphasizing what is important and deemphasizing (or leaving out) that which is not as important.  Its contents must make sense and be relevant to the reader.

Check out the example below.  This person had a lot of experience, not all of it relevant to what he wanted to do professionally. By separating Relevant Experience from Additional Experience, he was able to draw the reader’s attention to the information he wanted them to see:

Resume Capture

Tell your story in your cover letters and networking

Gary, unfortunately yours is not a unique story.  These days many people have been impacted directly or indirectly by lay-offs and our slow-to-recover economy.  No one is going to assume that you aren’t a good candidate just because you got laid off. The story hits too close to home for too many people.

What is the difference between the following two statements:

I got laid off from a well-paying job and couldn’t find another similar job,  so I took a job well below my qualifications and went back to school.  Now I’m graduating, I need a job, and I’m worried employers will think I’ve settled into this new, lower-level career path.


Like many people, I lost my job a few years back during a wave of layoffs.  I saw this as an opportunity to do something I hadn’t done before – complete my college degree – so I took a transitional job with a cable company so I could pay my bills and focus most of my attention on my studies.  Now I am getting ready to graduate and return to the workforce in a role similar to the one I had before the layoff.  I can’t wait to get started!

The difference?  Approach and Perspective.

How you approach this job search will play a big role in the extent to which you will succeed in achieving your career transition goals.

Know your story. Believe your story.  Tell your story. Convince them you deserve the opportunity!

I hope these suggestions help as you plan for graduation and your job search.

Good luck,


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