Resume Tips for Special Situations

Julie Shenkman
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A strong, professional resume will help you on your way to the next level in your job search and career path. But what if you are not one of the typical job hunters who has maintained positions within the same industry and increased positions of responsibility within one particular field?

There are many individuals whose background does not easily fit into the standard reverse chronological or modified functional types of resumes most often used in today’s job search. For those individuals who may be returning to the workforce after staying home for a number of years to raise a family, military personnel who now find themselves looking for work in the civilian sector, re-trained middle managers who faced downsizing and have decided to pursue new careers, or those with physical disabilities, there are additional suggestions when putting together a solid resume.

Let’s start out by saying that for almost all of the special cases that we will be discussing, the best resume format to use is the functional format. A functional resume presents your areas of skill and highlights your accomplishments to broaden the scope of positions you may be eligible to apply for and not focus on the gaps of years, changes of fields, and lack of experience in various industries.

The college student who does not have any industry work experience would be considered a special situation. How can you write a professional resume when there is not much background or experience to draw upon? The college student or recent college grad, can start off with an Objective, have a brief Profile section (similar to Summary of Qualifications), then list Education right up front. The name of the college or university (or technical school), the major concentration area, GPA (only list it if the GPA is higher than 3.0), and anticipated year of graduation should all be listed here. Next comes the Coursework section -- here the student can list six to ten titles of relevant courses in his or her major concentration area. The next section should be Selected Accomplishments. Since college students and recent college grads may not have much work experience, it is a good idea to include volunteer experience, sororities and fraternities, campus activities, and scholarship or sports awards in this section.

After Selected Accomplishments, the student can have a small Work Experience section listing various summer and part-time employment experiences. Any relevant internships should be listed here. Don’t make a big deal about the camp counselor and waitress jobs held during high school and college -- just list the names of the companies, your title, and the dates worked to show that you have some experience in the working world.

Now, let’s take the individual who has been out of the workforce for a number of years. Whether the reason for a ten or fifteen year hiatus from the workforce was because this person was raising young children, caring for elderly parents, or recovering from an illness, these factors are not addressed in the resume. The resume would start out with a brief Summary of Qualifications, the 3-8 sentence overview of skills and areas of experience, and then proceed with an Areas of Strength section which could be broken down further into several distinct areas. Maybe your areas of strength include Sales, Public Relations, Teaching, and Office Administration. You can make each one a separate category and bullet 3 or 4 items under each heading to indicate your experience and skills.

If the returning professional had a career path 10 or 15 years earlier, and would like to re-enter that same field of interest, then the next section of Professional Experience can list those related jobs, titles, and responsibilities. Do not omit the dates! By leaving off the dates of employment, you will raise more questions than if you list dates from the 1970’s or 1980’s. However, if you have gained additional experience while you were out of the workforce, through volunteer positions or charitable organizations, please include this information. Were you the Treasurer of the Garden Club for the past five years? Serve as Scout Master for the local Boy Scout Troop? Chair the committee for environmental preservation in your community? List this experience, dates, and responsibilities under a section entitled Additional Experience. Then end the resume with an Education section.

For job seekers with disabilities, again, the advice is not to include any mention of your particular handicap or disability in the resume, it is against the law regarding equal opportunity employment rules. In the same way that we discussed the returning worker above, the disabled job seeker can use a functional resume format if there are gaps in the years of employment or changes in fields of interest. If a disabled job seeker has been employed consistently but is seeking to change jobs, you may want to include any specialized computers or other equipment that you have experience in using as part of your job descriptions. If you have completed any specialized training courses, list these under the Education section, as well.

For the military person seeking to enter the civilian workforce, the functional resume format is also appropriate. In the military world, titles and job descriptions often do not have the same meaning to corporate human resource personnel. Even the names of the specialized training courses completed in the military do not translate well into today’s job market lingo. The best way for a military background to be presented on a resume is to start out with the Summary of Qualifications section, then the Areas of Strength sections. You can list three or four mainheadings and then bullet 3 or 4 examples of experience or expertise under each one. Try to read through the Help Wanted sections on-line or in the daily newspapers to familiarize yourself with the terms and job responsibilities most sought after by civilian employers.

Your next section can be entitled, Military Experience, and list the ranks, responsibilities, and dates for each position held. If you have any previous work experience outside of the military, include this information in a section entitled, Additional Experience. If you have a degree from a college or university, list that under Education and then put Military Training/Courses under a separate category.

For the re-trained middle manager, we also recommend the functional format resume. Let’s say that you spent close to twenty years at a Fortune 500 company in middle management and then were caught in the downsizing of the past decade or opted for an early retirement package. You’ve since gone on to a completely new field, whether real estate sales, computer technology, retail management, or academia. You would start out with a Summary of Qualifications, and then go on to an Areas of Strength section. Here you can list all of your areas of strengths and skills. Under Work Experience, you can separate this into Sales Experience and Management Experience or you can list current employment under Related Experience and Previous Experience sections. The important thing is not to downplay or ignore your former career and job responsibilities, just put it into proper perspective.

In all of the special cases we’ve touched upon, the common thread is to highlight your skills and accomplishments so that your overall experience and knowledge can be presented to broaden your chances of being called in for an interview. If you feel that your particular circumstances should be expressed to the prospective employer or job screener, then you can briefly mention this in your cover letter -- not in the resume.

My best advice to those of you in special situations -- study the job market and put your best foot forward in your job search!

For a free critique/price quote, email Career Resumes at

Peter Newfield is President of, one of the premier resume writing services in the United States. He is The Resume Expert for,,,, and the former Resume Expert for and the Career Center on AOL. View samples at:


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