How to Address Experience Dilemmas on Your Resume

By Laura DeCarlo

If you want to get an interview, you need to know how to address experience dilemmas on your resume. Most job listings you look at include a line that details how much experience the employer wants the ideal candidate to have.

If you’re like most job seekers, you may feel like Goldilocks whenever you read this line. It always seems like you have too much experience or too little experience — never just the right amount. So what’s a job seeker to do?

Too much experience in one job

A reader writes:

I’ve stayed in my current and only job too long. When my company cut thousands of workers, we received outplacement classes. I was told that job overstayers are perceived as lacking ambition, uninterested in learning new things, and too narrowly focused. What can I do about this?

Here are several strategies for meeting this issue head-on.

Divide your job into modules

Show that you successfully moved up and up, meeting new challenges and accepting ever more responsibility. Divide your job into realistic segments, which you label as Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and so on. Describe each level as a separate position, just as you would if the levels had been different positions within the same company or with different employers. If your job titles changed as you moved up, your writing task is a lot easier.

Deal honestly with job titles

If your job title never changed, should you just make up job titles? No. The only truthful way to inaugurate fictional job titles is to parenthetically introduce them as “equivalent to …” Suppose that you’re an accountant and have been in the same job for 25 years. Your segments might be titled like this:

  • Level 3 (equivalent to supervising accountant)

  • Level 2 (equivalent to senior accountant)

  • Level 1 (equivalent to accountant)

To mitigate the lack of being knighted with increasingly senior job titles, fill your resume with references to your contributions and accomplishments.

Tackle deadly perceptions head-on

Diminish a perception that you became fat and lazy while staying in the same job too long by specifically describing challenges faced, actions taken, and results attained.

Derail a perception that you don’t want to learn new things or that you are too narrowly focused by including learning initiatives in your training and education section and active affiliations in either your summary or affiliations section of your resume.

You will likely want to highlight the reason why you are now leaving this job and making a change — don’t. Your resume is for selling you, not excusing you. The closest you can come is to simply align yourself in the cover letter with a passion for what the prospective employer is doing. For example:

I’m excited to apply for the advertised position of Department Manager with your company. As an organization with contemporary viewpoints and green practices, you align exactly with my personal beliefs and professional goals.

Otherwise, save talk of why you left for the interview.

Too little experience holding you back

When a job posting calls for a specific number of years of experience — say, five years’ experience and you come up short with only three years’ experience — but you know you can do the job, the basic technique is to work with what you’ve got. Dissect your three years’ experience for all you’re worth.