Employers and recruiters generally have neither the time nor the skill set to sift through your resume in order to pick out the stuff that’s relevant to them. It’s your job as the job seeker to hand them—on a silver platter, no less—precisely what they need to see (and nothing more!) in order to weigh your candidacy for the position they’re currently looking to fill.
Sure, if you have an “in” with the hiring manager you may find an opportunity to talk them through your wide array of positions held and present them the rationale behind your non-linear career progression, but in 95% of cases, you’re going to need to carefully pick and choose what to share and what to withhold on your resume in order to come off as focused.
The same advice goes for interviewing and delivering your personal (elevator) pitch: Your job when selling yourself to a potential employer is to determine the fit between your background and the needs of your target employer, then do all you can to demonstrate that fit.
A resume is not a tell-all biography. It’s a marketing document that should be designed to sell you (the job seeker) to a specific buyer (the employer). Some job seekers feel false if they don’t share everything they’ve ever done, relevant or not. Others are afraid of being caught: Can’t they find out that I worked as a bartender for the first seven years of my work life? Yes, but so what? A smart employer should recognize and appreciate your efforts to curate your resume for their particular requirements. In fact, if you’re applying for a job as an accountant, for example, and your resume includes “bartender” and other unrelated positions and skills, your target employer would be right to question your understanding of what it means to work in accounting. At the very least, s/he will question your commitment to and focus on accounting.
This is not to say that having a varied professional background or work history is wrong or problematic. On the contrary, having multiple sets of skills and professional tracts can be extremely advantageous in a soft job market, assuming you’re flexible regarding the job you’ll accept. However, you can’t have one resume that covers all bases. There is no such thing as a generic resume—no one-size-fits-all (that doesn’t even exist in the clothing universe). If you have multiple ways to spin your background…if you are well-suited for work as a high-school teacher, a banker and a business analyst, you’re going to need three different resumes, three elevator pitches, three cover letters and three interview strategies.
These are interesting times. Employers are showing less and less loyalty to employees and employee development. Due partially to this, but also to the advent of mobile tech, the global economic slow-down and high rates of unemployment, more and more workers are coming into “flexible” work situations, defined by Flex Jobs (a leading jobs website) as opportunities to telecommute and/or take on part-time or temporary positions. However, flexible does not mean unfocused. And with so many scattered resumes floating about, a focused resume stands out more than ever.