When it comes to building a professional portfolio and strong résumé, conventional wisdom dictates to stick to one career. But what happens to all those people who, during the recent recession, were forced to take jobs in differing fields just to get by? We’ve read dozens of stories (and, in fact, logged several in our Staffing News of the Day posts) that attest to this trend, and several others that allege these same people are now actively looking to find new positions and get back on their career paths. But have they strayed too far already or, even worse, is any amount of stray a kiss of death for job seekers’ résumés? When we put this dilemma to recruitment professionals and job-seekers (and we’d love to hear your take, too), we were surprised by what we heard.

The More Skills, The Better
One way to look at it – and likely the way most recruiters look at it – is that the more versatile the job-seeker, the easier it is to find them a job opportunity. Not only does it mean they’d have tangible experience in multiple fields, but it also “shows that you’re flexible and willing to learn,” one respondent commented. “This should be embraced!”

If your field is tumultuous (say, like writing), another way to look at is that this would give you a fallback. “So many industries are either saturated, unstable, or too technical,” says Brian Jones, field service technician at Summit Staffing. “Many shift career paths almost as frequently as they change channels. It’s essential to have more than one skill set, just in case the wind blows east tomorrow.”

Or, even better, this could make you look like a steal to a potential employer – like a two-in-one employee. “I believe it only adds to your resume and, if you are in the range an employer is looking for, it makes you better because you can offer the employer a ‘double-threat’ in that you can do one job or switch to your second specialty with no problem,” says freelance programmer and writer Marc Stern, who has done that very thing for decades.

Change Nay-Sayers’ Minds
The mindset of the employer is obviously the main deciding factor. Several people commented that, if the résumé in question is in front of the closed-minded, it’s not going to get very far. However, there’s a lot that a job-seeker or good recruiter can do to spin this.

“Learning a new skill could be a benefit to your original career path,” said Alysha Campbell, recruiting specialist with Quantum Management Services.

Another respondent (with hiring experience in engineering) took this even further, saying that when most companies look for management material they like to see experience in multiple departments and/or disciplines.

“Those kinds of jobs are often referred to as ‘bridge jobs,’ something some of us have to do to pay the bills while we are looking for a job in our field of expertise,” began freelance journalist Kris Antonelli. “I have done it many times and don't include it on my media/journalism resume unless I can spin it to make whatever skills I used at the bridge job apply to a position in my field.”

“If possible, I think one can explain (either in writing or verbally) the advantages of this job and how the current job is or can be interrelated to the current position,” says Laurinda Williams of LWilliams Consulting. “I think it's up to employers, given the current economic situation, to be open-minded.”

It’s About Immediacy, Not Consistency
Brittany Baugh, a staffing associate with Apple One, warns that trying to spin this as a positive might be harder than previously thought.

“Transitioning back into the field they want is harder. The job market is extremely competitive and employers are asking for two years RECENT experience in the field. So an employer may go with an applicant who has spent the last two years in accounting instead of the applicant who has 10 years’ experience in accounting, but spent the last two years in customer service. With technology driving the business world, employers want hot skill sets from talent that drives the business to where they want to be vs. where they have been.”

So What’s the Verdict?
Of all the responses I received to this query, I surprisingly only had one that says a résumé that lists an unrelated job is a cut-and-dry kiss of death. A few others, like Brittany above, say it can be bad, but not always. And even a couple basically said, “Well it’s better than the alternative: listing ‘unemployed’ on your résumé.”

We’ve obviously pared down the responses we received to be a representative sample (and also the best written ones), and anything I take away from them is skewed and might be read by someone else completely differently. That said, the vast majority seem to land somewhere close to the following:

If you can present an unrelated job as a strength, valuable experience, or something that adds to your versatility, a worthwhile employer that thinks you fit the description will at least give you a chance to defend that stance in the interview.

Tags: Business, Resume, Brian Jones, Summit Staffing, Marc Stern, Alysha Campbell, Quantum Management Services, Kris Antonelli, Laurinda Williams, LWilliams Consulting, Brittany Baugh, Apple One