How to Describe A “Dead End” Job on Your Resume

Working in higher education means I meet with a lot of students whose work histories are filled with jobs that aren’t at all related to what they want to do post-grad. These jobs are more the ‘pay the bills’ kind than the ‘bridge to future’ kind, and often they’re very ashamed. Now, I’ve been working since I was 16 and have done plenty of things that are completely unrelated to my goal job. I’m of the mind that you do what you need to do so that you can do what you want to do, but I still understand where these students are coming from. How can you make the jump to something more professional when all you’ve done is blue collar service work? Easy – focus on skills! In this post, we’ll go over how to describe such so-called “dead end” jobs on your resume.

The term “dead end job” describes a position that offers little growth, typically doesn’t pay well, and requires minimal education. They’re often stereotyped as the thing that no one wants to end up doing – the thing you only do when you’ve failed. When I was in high school, the default dead end job was flipping burgers. Teachers would constantly tell us that if we didn’t do well in school, the only skill we’d need is the ability to say “You want fries with that?” Considering the socioeconomic status and demographic makeup of the community that I grew up in it’s pretty messed up that that was the message, but it was. Flipping burgers = life failure.

I get the sense that a lot of my students have received similar messaging about the hierarchy of jobs, and have internalized the notion that certain ones are better than others. I can tell this because when we talk about previous work history, they get very dismissive.

“I was just a cashier.”
“I only work at a call center.”
“I was a delivery guy; I delivered stuff.”

This is the wrong attitude to have when it comes to jobs, “dead end” or otherwise. If you dismiss your experiences as unimportant, what do you think a potential employer will do? In order to be able to describe such positions in a way that they are taken seriously, you need to ignore the job title and focus on the skill set. Think: What did you actually do, and what skills did you actually use?

Let’s use delivery guy as an example. But we’ll change it to delivery person because, inclusivity.

What does a delivery person do? Delivers stuff.

Duh. Now let’s take it a step further. What does it take to deliver stuff?

  • Physically ability.
  • Knowing how to drive.
  • Knowing how to read a map/follow directions.
  • Understanding different vehicles.
  • Following protocol on what to do when making the delivery.

What else does a delivery person do outside of just delivering stuff?

  • Interacts with customers.
  • Works with logistics coordinators.
  • Makes sure the vehicle is running well.
  • Maintains records related to both the vehicle and the delivery.

So what other skills does it takes to be a delivery person?

  • Customer service.
  • Teamwork.
  • Communication.
  • Organization.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Record-keeping.

See what I mean? A delivery person does wayyyy more than “deliver stuff.” When you break a job down into the skills that go into it, you can build bridges to almost anything else you want to do!

The trick: Use the job description to figure out what the employer is actually looking for, and focus on highlighting those things. The job description for what you’re applying to (and positions related to it, if yours is thin) are gold mines of information. Look at a bunch of them for research purposes, and use the information you gain to ensure that you’re discussing your skills the right way. Think about what it takes to do the job, and describe it based on that skill set.

(Ever hear the phrase “transferrable skills”? That is this. Those are these.)

In my mind, there is truly no such thing as a “dead end” job because anything you do can get you to somewhere else if you’re strategic. Things are only “dead end” if you become complacent and don’t try to figure out how what you’re currently doing can get you to where you’re trying to be. By looking past the job title and describing what you’re actually doing, you can give future employers the confidence that you can do what they want you to do because you’ve done it before.

But you need to believe it. Like I said before, if you don’t value your experiences, no one else will. If you treat positions as ‘unvaluable’ rather than invaluable and don’t try to get everything you can out of them, then they definitely won’t help you out down the road.


Need help with wording your resume? Check out the 500+ action verbs resource sheet! It has almost every word you could possibly use on a resume, so I know it’ll help you out.

About

Dr. Lindsay is career development & academic success coach who loves helping people figure out and proceed to the next levels of their lives.