Those who have been out of work for several months - or are working outside of their area of expertise in order to make ends meet - tend to want to hide that on their resume, worried it will reflect poorly on them and adversely affect their chances of getting an interview.
Actually, the opposite is true. Unexplained resume blanks cause question marks. These career aberrations need to be accounted for. Human nature defaults to the negative. We look for problems in order to avoid them. Holes in the resume cause questions; questions can equal problems.
Will your situation compromise your interview possibilities? That depends on:
- What you were doing
- Why you were doing it, and
- How you spin it - both in the cover letter and in the interview
Being out of step with your career is not necessarily negative. Why should you be faulted for "doing what it takes" to feed yourself and your family?
Stepping outside of your career track shows the positive attitude and the fortitude that you could bring to a company, as opposed to a person who does nothing, worrying and whining all the while. Additionally, the life experiences that you've gained are now part of who you are.
A strange, but brief, change of direction in a career is frequently a result of someone internally examining their direction in life. Be open about that. Say something like: "I wasn't sure that I wanted to continue the path I was pursuing, so I went in a direction that seemed viable. I learned that I didn't like it as much as I thought and, for these reasons, I really do like what I'm doing." Be prepared to know those reasons that will assure a potential employer you won't be slacking or leaving the company to take off in some new direction.
One of my clients was out of work for two years with a serious illness and wasn't sure he should list that. But he absolutely should - because this is life. Stuff happens. It doesn't need to be listed as anything other than "Illness preventing employment," and presented on the resume just as a company heading would be.
Get Specific in Your Cover Letter
Don't be generic. Unfortunately almost everyone misses the opportunity to use their cover letter to both inform and introduce these experiences. This is one reason generic cover letters are a mistake.
Give the company what they want. Resumes that fail to address specific company wants are the easy way out. These types of resumes - spotted at a glance - are seldom read. Yet, they are somehow still perpetuated - even by professional resume writers.
Customize for your audience. Use the exact words from the ad, lead into examples from your career, and use the last paragraph to put a brief, but positive, spin on the section you feel is questionable. Now, you're quelling objections before they arise, eliminating questions, and solving problems.
It's not just about whether you're honest; it's also about how you present the honesty. Be comfortable and straight-forward about who you are. If the hiring authority is going to judge you and consider you "damaged goods" rather than appreciate your honesty and proactive reasoning, you wouldn't want to work there, anyway.