Tech & Work

Protect your resume from previous employers going belly up

If your employment history is filled with defunct companies and long-gone references, your resume could be hurting your job-search efforts. Career expert Molly Joss explains how to present this type of work history on paper and to hiring managers.


Question
In the mid 1990s, I worked several years for a Big 6 consulting firm, which now—through various mergers—has been reduced to one of the Big 4. I feel that listing the Big 6 experience both dates and dilutes my resume, plus most people today only relate to the current set of major consulting firms.

Should I continue to list on my resume that I worked for a Big 6, or should I update my resume to state that I worked for a Big 4 consulting firm?

Answer
I traded e-mails with this TechRepublic member, who requested anonymity, and, after checking on a few items, I suggested that this IT manager change the resume to say Big 4 because the Big 6 firm no longer exists even though part of the name has survived. Also, more people will be familiar with the term Big 4 than the now outdated term Big 6.

Even though this specific question was easy to answer, it got me to thinking about issues that come up in the resumes of IT managers who have been employed for more than a few years. Sometimes it’s difficult to sort through those issues to come up with answers that make sense.

One of the biggest quandaries is how to talk about or describe a company or a division or a job that no longer exists. So many IT professionals work for companies that no longer exist in their original form or in the form they had during those years in the person’s career. In some cases, the original company name is lost entirely, but not always. In this particular member’s situation, he had worked for Coopers & Lybrand Consulting, which is now PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Resume red flags
There are a couple of problems that crop up when a company considers hiring someone whose career history contains even one defunct company. First, it’s difficult for a hiring manager to verify dates of employment and titles because there is no one left to check with or records have been scattered to the wind. Second, for job hunters, it’s difficult to track down senior managers to ask them to serve as personal references.

If the company you worked for was a start-up company that went bust, as many did during the dot-com gold rush days, hiring managers might wonder if you had anything to do with the company’s demise. This is especially true if you were in senior management and are looking for a similar or more senior position. Unless a job hunter can provide some work documents or a reference letter dated and signed during the employment period, some hiring managers may even question if the job seeker worked at the firm.

Given these problems, some job hunters opt to leave work history off their resume. But that’s not a good idea because managers and HR staff do look for unexplained gaps in employment when scanning resumes and consider gaps to be red flags. The gaps can be worse than telling the complete truth.

Preparation is the key
If there are any companies on your resume that don’t exist anymore, or the company has been decimated by lay-offs (making fact checking difficult), be prepared to offer documentation to offset these concerns. It’s a good idea to get letters of recommendation as soon as you can after you leave a position before those references disappear into other jobs, careers, or companies. Employment contracts or even pay stubs can also help you substantiate your work record.

Be prepared, too, to answer questions about what happened to the company and why it was sold or bought—or why it shut its doors. Rarely will anyone ask point-blank what happened, but they may have more subtle ways of asking.

If you were truly at fault, don’t downplay your role. Tell the story briefly, outline what you learned from the experience, and let the subject drop.

Another issue relating to senior manager resumes is how much information and detail to include. It can be difficult to boil decades of experience down into a page or two; yet, that’s what senior IT managers must do. The TechRepublic member who wrote in had already hit on one solution to pare down his resume: He had decided to leave the name of the company off the resume and refer to it briefly using a term that most business executives and other consultants would understand readily. Since he worked there almost a decade ago, the firm name shouldn’t be prominently listed.

Another way to shorten a resume is to give details only on the last two or three jobs and provide only the title, company name, and a line or two for previous positions. If that won’t work for your situation, consider dropping all but the last few positions from your resume altogether. For positions prior to that time, you can add a statement that summarizes the kind of work you did then. Leave the professional training and education information intact, starting with your undergraduate degree, and then list any advanced degrees and training, including current certifications.

Remember that your resume is a capsule summary of the IT professional you are today. It should be as complete and informative as you can make it—within the limits of one or two nicely formatted pages. It’s a resume—not an autobiography.

 

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