Resume Drafting for the Urban Survival Specialist (aka The Homeless) — Part One

I just wanted to post a few tips that I have learned over the years and some that I picked up from reading Career Cowards Guide to Resumes by Katy Piotrowski.

First of all, the Urban Survival Specialist (hey, why not a fancy title for being homeless?) will have a hard time explaining their homeless living situation to Mr. or Ms. Hiring Manager. Let’s face it, having no physical address to put on an employment application can be a problem. You looked sharp at the interview and breezed through those tough questions, but now you are worried that the old physical address that you put on the application just won’t cut it. Nothing like having your grumpy ex-landlord’s scrawl over a piece of mail announcing “NO LONGER AT THIS ADDRESS.”

You can handle this situation two ways: A) Use a friend’s or relative’s street address on your applications, until you get settled. Or B) Look below the street address line, there sometimes is a mailing address line. Use this for your P.O. Box address. Tell them that your mail delivery person is near retirement and keeps miss-throwing your mail, or that the mail thieves in the neighborhood are making off with your important mail (use this if you don’t care that they know you live in a high-crime area, or hell, you might drum up sympathy).

Granted some lazy or mean administrative assistant may “out” you by using the first address on the application (Been there!). But since you already warned them that your mail situation is dodgy, just breezily state the tiresome reasons for using the second address and leave it at that. To find out more, they would have to go to the street address themselves and check if you really live there. Most people don’t want to go to that trouble.

When you are writing a resume, a little chutzpa goes a long way. View yourself as a “big ticket item” and sell yourself. Think about all your glorious working moments and all those unsung praises and proudly include them on your resume. Being shy and modest here will make your resume appear as if it was written in invisible ink. Think about all your greatest qualities, accomplishments, and moments of glory and sing your own praises.

How do you do this. Step-by-step:

1) Write out an experiences inventory. Remember every job, no matter how small or when you worked for no pay, just to help a friend out. What were you good at? What got you attention?

2) Figure out your career target. That’s the job you want, and bump it up one level. Worked in sales and did most of the managers job as well? Aim for that job.

3) Pin point your key skills areas. It might help to find a job description of the job you want and copy those skills that apply to you. Use these skills in powerful sentences using active verbs. Experienced in… Skilled at… Increased sales volume… you get it.

How to group short term jobs. That is another sticky area. Here is one way to tackle the problem: List job titles and then list places worked in a group. Example:

Furniture Refinisher/ Detailer                                          2001-2007

Samson Corp./ State Builders/ Allied Corp

Of course, you will be asked about the three different employers in the interview, but if you have a reasonable explanation of why you moved jobs, at least you get to tell them about it.

How to explain gaps in Employment. Okay, the Monster Recession got you, but you still have to explain why you were out of work on your resume. One of the goodies that I learned from the book was: You can list self-study and even volunteer work to fill the gaps in your employment time line. What is self-study? If you checked out library material and learned e-publishing, HTML, flower arranging, negotiation skills, etc. write it down as self-study. It would help if the area you studied pertained to a job skill and you know enough about it to wow Mr./Ms. HR should they ask you about it in the interview.

You have the experience, but didn’t hold the job title. Another good idea. List job as a function (ie: “Worked in engineering” instead of “worked as engineer”).

Here are some more tiny tips:  Get a good email address. It can be free (like gmail), HR people look down on Yahoo email, esp. those with funky handles ( is not professional). Go for an address with your given name and maybe your city separated by a period (, so you don’t get a lot of numbers after your name.

Think about every question that someone could ask using information on your resume and have a stellar explanation ready for them. Be prepared.

Now that you have your professional looking resume in hand, the next step is to customize your resume to every employer that you send it to. Yes, they do expect that. We will review some quick and easy tips for this in Part Two.

Read a post about Career Counseling for the Homeless here.

About tjmcfee

Freelance writer. Activist on homeless issues. 48 years old. I write about subjects that need to be examined closely and thoughtfully. The idea for Brain Sections came from reading a book about abandoned asylums. I wanted to set a suspense story in that setting. The inclusion of crazed scientists turning homeless people into zombies is what makes the story unique. View all posts by tjmcfee

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