How to Deal

Tailoring a resume for an un-disciplined young worker

Lily Garcia
Special to the Washington Post
Wednesday, June 16, 2010; 10:22 AM

I am writing on behalf of my 23-year old son, who has had 6 different jobs with short durations ¿ since 2006. Last week he submitted his resume at the suggestion of a family-friend, to a 24-hour animal hospital where the friend works. The hiring manager who works at the animal hospital stated that she did not wish to interview him. My son's last job was with Washington Humane Society --to help with adoption of domestic animals, and he worked there for over 8 months as an Animal Caretaker. Needless to say, he was crushed, because our family friend stated that the hospital "hires all the time." My son was a pretty decent worker, but had various problems holding onto his jobs. A couple of jobs he quit -- either because he didn't communicate effectively about work issues (such as working too many holidays), or getting laid-off due to budget issues. Also he was young and didn't have proper discipline in his early work periods. The shortest job he held was for 4 months, and the longest job held was for 8-1/2 months -- at the Humane Society working with the animals. Two questions: Should we tailor his resume to reflect fewer jobs? And second, what's the best way to explain during a telephone interview that one was-- "young and un-disciplined", --but needs work?

It is not unusual for younger workers to have brief periods of employment in assorted capacities, but this pattern usually coincides with the beginning and end of college semesters, summer break, and other understandable life circumstances. I assume that your son's patchwork resume cannot be so neatly explained.

If so, I do recommend that you tailor his resume, but not just with the objective of making it seem like he has had fewer jobs. Instead, focus on highlighting the jobs that are relevant to the type of employer he would most like to have. If his calling is animal care, then emphasize his job at the Washington Humane Society by detailing his responsibilities, major accomplishments, and any special on-the-job training he may have received. Place similar emphasis on any other jobs in which your son has cared for animals or otherwise been entrusted with the welfare of another living being. Past jobs at a medical facility, in child care, or at a plant nursery, for example, would each in their own way strengthen your son's case that he is able to manage the responsibilities of animal care. Group these jobs under a heading called "Relevant Professional Experience" and list other jobs under the heading "Other Professional Experience."

Unless a job that your son held for less than six months is directly relevant to animal care (or whatever the focus of your son's job search might be) and his departure was not due to a layoff or other circumstances beyond his control, you should probably omit it from your son's work history altogether. There is nothing inherently magical about the six month period, but it is safe to say that a pattern of briefer engagements would be of greater concern to prospective employers.

As well, encourage your son to make contact with past supervisors who may have liked him and believed in his potential despite his underdeveloped sense of discipline. He should ask any such people whether they would be willing to provide a letter of reference (your son can supply the language) and answer questions from hiring managers.

Meanwhile, if your son would like to get another job working with animals, then he should volunteer his time at the Washington Human Society or any one of the many animal shelters and pet adoption agencies in the Washington, DC area that are desperate for help. Assuming that he proves to be a dependable and trustworthy contributor, then this experience can also be added to his resume and serve as a good job reference.

I don't think it is necessary or advisable for your son to say during interviews that he owes his unstable work history to age and lack of discipline. Employers will reach this conclusion on their own. What your son does need to emphasize is that he is committed to following a particular career path that motivates and inspires him and that he is willing to swallow his pride and work as hard as it takes to establish a solid professional reputation. He should practice what he plans to say when the next hiring manager from an animal hospital or shelter or clinic asks him to explain why he wants the job. If he can manage to come across as someone who is passionate about helping animals and excited about the opportunity (even if it is as unglamorous as cleaning cages), then he might be able to win over his interviewer and get the big break he so needs.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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