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Tricky resume problems: working for a family member and activist involvements.

A recent alumna writes:

“Since March I’ve been doing clerical work for my [relative], who…owns their own company. I have learned new skills but was wary of adding it to my resume since it’ll take up space and it’s yet another job that I worked for a relative. What’s the protocol for listing jobs like that? Is there a stigma for recruiters if you have a lot of experience through family?

I’ve also been volunteering with the [activist organization] and planned a Covid-19 friendly event. Even though I’m proud of the work I’m doing there I’m worried having it on my resume will pigeon-hole me politically. Any advice on including political/social justice/activist work?”
Covid-19 closed down a lot of jobs, events, opportunities and internships — but the last six months have also given people new ways to be involved, help out their families, and get career-relevant experiences. How do you convey that on a resume?
First — relax. Employers are seeing (and will continue to see) a lot of resumes that have weird gaps and shifts taking place in the spring of 2020. These things would have required some explanation before Covid. They now speak to a common experience of rupture. Go ahead and convey pre- and post-March experience as it happened without apology or hesitation.
Second — work is work. Don’t lie about your employer, but there’s no need to advertise that it was a family member. If the business name makes it obvious, that’s okay. Focus on the experience you gained, the goals you accomplished, the skills you demonstrated — those things are real, no matter who was signing your paycheck.
Third — how to include volunteer experience on a resume is a judgment call. Questions like these are why it’s good to customize your resume for every position you apply for. A few points to keep in mind:
  • If you choose to put it on your resume, you will need to name the organization and give details about what you accomplished. Employers may not share your political leanings, but they aren’t impressed by vagueness.
  • Volunteer experience may not be relevant to all positions. If the things you’ve done in that capacity don’t speak to the specific needs of an employer, there’s no requirement that you include them.
  • Some employers who share your commitments will be glad to see activist experience and regard it as a mark in your favor. (And if you enjoyed it and were good at it, it’s worthwhile to seek out like-minded organizations that might be hiring.)
  • A question to ask yourself is how much you want to work for employers who will be put off by your experience. Another question is how central to your life these involvements are. If you prefer to separate your personal commitments from your work life, then it make sense to leave it off.  If you are more comfortable working in a setting where those boundaries can blur without repercussions, leaving it on will help to filter out employers who don’t share your values.
Do you have a question for the HPRC? Email it to humanitiesprc@illinois.edu.