Q: In most small companies, people do things that aren’t their “real” job. I like that work best, and I’d actually like to look for new jobs specifically in that field, but none of my official titles show that I can do that work and have experience with it. Can I use the “unofficial” titles on my application and resume to get past online resume tracking systems? How do I highlight that work without stretching the truth about my experience?
A: Getting new experience on the job often leads people to discover work they are interested in exploring and that leads to career satisfaction. You are lucky to have had that experience. Changing titles on a resume or application is not the best approach as it can create issues when your references are checked, and having someone question your integrity or the validity of your experience quickly ends all conversation. But there are ways to help you explain your experience and get to the interview and offer stage.
Titles are most often used as guidelines within an organization and might not be at all meaningful outside the organization. For example, something like “Service Coordinator II” does not convey the specific functions and responsibilities the job entails to someone unfamiliar with that company’s internal organizational structure. Or the differences — if any are even recognized — between an “Administrator” and an “Administrative Assistant” will be lost without further industry context. This is why describing your duties and accomplishments in the body of your resume is so important. Doing this well not only helps you get through applicant tracking system, or ATS, software, it also helps actual readers get a better understanding of what you were responsible for, the scope and requirements of your job, and the level of expertise you bring to the table.
Your past official position titles might not be the only things that vary from other organizations — some of the language you use to describe the work you do might be different than what companies or industries use. Find job postings of interest, even the ones you might be under- or over-qualified for, because they are great resources to mine for the type of language you should be using. Figure out what your job responsibilities would be called at other organizations and mirror that terminology when communicating with people in your network or crafting your resume’s accomplishment statements. Focus on the language of the organization or industry you are going to, rather than the one you are coming from. You can also optimize your resume with online software, such as JobScan (www.jobscan.co), that simulates an ATS, analyzing your resume against a specific job posting and then revealing a qualification score based on matching terms.
One place where you do have much more leeway to elaborate is on LinkedIn. LinkedIn doesn’t have to be a straight resume — you have the opportunity here to list your official title and then convey if it’s also known as something else in another industry or organization. Be more expansive on the responsibilities you had or show examples of the work you did (as long as it is not confidential or proprietary) — many employers actively use LinkedIn to learn about prospective employees, so take the opportunity to cast a wider net with the flexibility it offers.
When your past titles don’t line up perfectly with your desired position, focus on resume content and language and your LinkedIn presence — there will be no need to “stretch the truth!”
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston, and serves on the board of Career Partners International.