The dates shown on a resume can hinder or help an applicant depending on how they are presented. There is a strategy or game to getting a resume’s dates just right. Your goal, as a job seeker and a resume writer, should be to use the dates to your advantage.
The job history section is generally the first place dates show up. The normal way to write a resume is to list your jobs in a reverse chronological format, presenting your most recent job title, company, location and employment dates followed by text that describes your role, tasks, and successes in any number of formats. For example:
Junior Cat Herder 4/2005 – 7/2011
Frisco Cat Farm, Inc. Fort Wayne, TX
This is the format I like the best, as it presents you and your role first, followed by the other standard job details. The date format is simple – it is the mm/yyyy format (shown above) and it is set flush against the right margin opposite of your title. Recruiters also like this format, since it is easy for them to locate the dates of each job and determine how long you were at the jobs and to identify any gaps that might need to be questioned. You can also use the mmm yyyy format if you like (Apr 2005 – Jul 2011), although it takes a bit more room.
I’ve seen several resumes over the last few years that had the date along the left margin with the text of the job description indented. This was more common years ago when you might have just 2 or 3 jobs and you wanted to focus the recruiters attention on the lack of gaps or the length of time you might have stayed in the job. Employment gaps today are more common and demonstrating lengthy durations of employment is no longer a prime consideration for those of us that have had five, six, or more jobs in our career.
Another format I have seen a lot is listing only the years and not the month-year combination. Personally I like this format. It allows the job seeker to disguise small gaps, but also provides a crisper, easier-to-read resume. While some recruiters may be wary of this format trying to hide some gaps, it is becoming much more common for them to recognize and accept a few small gaps.
A disturbing trend that some people are taking is they are eliminating all dates on their resumes! The thinking is that this will disguise larger unemployment gaps or possibly hide age-related issues. This is a rather bad strategy at this time of high unemployment. Since there are so many qualified people looking for jobs, the recruiter merely uses the “no dates” issue as a reason to eliminate the resume without even looking at the details or qualifications of the candidate. I mean, why shouldn’t they? If you have 100 qualified resumes on your desk, wouldn’t you prefer to work with the ones that gave you the info needed and didn’t make you work harder? If you are trying to disguise a job gap and you want to use the mm/yyyy format, try putting the dates in parentheses behind your title followed by all the other job data. It looks clunky, but it does provide the data needed, so it’s better than no dates at all. For example:
Junior Cat Herder (4/05-7/11) Frisco Cat Farm, Inc., Fort Wayne, TX
The education section is the next most challenging. You should always use the same format of dates in this section as you did in the prior section. For example, if you listed months in the job history section, then you probably will show the month for your degrees. Avoid using a date range for your degree, as most recruiters look at this as your way of saying you didn’t actually get your degree…that you just attended.
Many more people today are actually leaving off the dates when listing their degrees. In most cases, this is fine. Unless you are pursuing a job where the degree information is important (such as a job as a professor), leaving it off says you are relying on your work experience as the primary indicator of your skills and knowledge. In addition, when there is a gap between the year you were granted your degree and the oldest job you are listing on your diploma of 2 or more years, it’s probably good to drop the date from your degree information. This avoids the “calculate their age” exercise by the recruiter for those of us that are no longer young.
Certifications sometimes have dates associated with them. And yes, many certifications need to have the dates shown. Use the same format as the job history section try to align the certification dates with the other dates on the resume. If you do not need a date on a certification, then avoid it altogether.
Bottom Line: Recruiters and interviewers rely on the dates on your resume to get a sense of how long you held certain roles or jobs. Make the dates easy to read and aligned along the right margin. Pick a format you like and stick with it throughout your entire resume (jobs, education, certifications, etc.) so it looks professional. Don’t fall for the “no dates” trap, as that will get your resume eliminated – if you want to minimize the date issues, try moving the date to the middle of the job detail line. Unless you are a recent graduate or have a very current degree, drop the date on your degree.
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