Perhaps, generations ago, students graduated from college and found jobs related to their majors. They stayed at these jobs for several years before moving on to the next job, which was still in the same industry but hopefully a step up.
For today's workers, the path is less clear. Whether or not you go to college, your work history probably has quite a bit of variety in it. The workplace is constantly changing and, thanks to technology, jobs are disappearing and being created all the time. Ten years ago no one was a social media manager, but today people who spent years as public relations, marketing and journalism are spending their days on Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Once you factor in the recent recession and the dot-com bubble burst, workers are laid off and scramble to find new jobs, even if they're in new fields.
A varied work history is today's norm, but it doesn't always make for easy job hunting. Employers are skittish about hiring workers who jump from job to job or whose career appears to lack focus. Employers want a worker who is looking to establish a career, not chase a paycheck.
We asked career experts to weigh in with their best advice for job seekers looking to turn their unique combination of experience into an asset, not a hindrance:
"The best way to showcase your skills, especially if they are diverse and range quite a bit is to try to lump them together. Try to find the common ground -- are you helping people, for example? You can likely lump those skills in your profile under a bullet or in one sentence by stating you are adept at helping others and then list some of those skills.
Today's hiring managers know people have a wide range of experience and that they have jumped around -- so long as you show that those experiences meet the needs of the job, it helps. This is also why many people have multiple résumés; you can tweak the wording to separate your skills over a few resumes and then apply to a specific job that fits that skillset." - Kristen Fischer, a freelance copywriter and editor
"As a former career adviser and now image consultant where I still help people with their résumés, I always recommend in this situation to do two things:
Keep a master résumé: a master résumé is one that is for the job seeker's eyes only. This is not a résumé that is sent out to employers. Include in it every type of work and experience you've done. It can be as long as 20 pages and it won't matter because it will only be used to pull items from. When designing the résumé that will be sent out, pick and choose items from the master resume that are relevant to the job for which you are applying.
Have two experience sections on your résumé, one called 'Relevant Experience' or 'Related Experience' with relevant jobs/job duties listed under it, and then a section called 'Additional Experience' with other past jobs that are only somewhat relevant listed under it. This allows you to move your most relevant experience toward the top of the page while still keeping it in reverse chronological order since each separate section will be listed in reverse chronological order." - Lori Bumgarner, owner of Nashville-based consulting firm paNASH Style
"Your résumé has to tell me a story about you and what you like to do. I don't mind seeing evolution, but I do mind seeing a lack of clear focus on a résumé. For instance: I was looking to hire someone in production, when I saw a résumé that showed a path that included production or some exposure to production that showed me that this person was learning as he [or] she went along. But if the résumé jumped from assistant teachers' aide to bus driver to mail room then I know this person is job hopping to whatever is easy to land for them. This is a person who wants a job not a career." - Kathi Elster, co-author of "Working with You is Killing Me" and "Working for You isn't Working for Me"
"The most important concept to keep in mind when preparing a résumé is to focus on your experience, skills and abilities that you intend to carry forward -- not everything you have done.
Furthermore, to make a distinction between what you responsibilities and duties are and what you have accomplished is key. Particularly as you move into supervisory and management roles.
Lastly, make sure your job titles are accurate with what you want to do. Many companies have grades and titles internally that work for their organization structure but don't make sense in the bigger world of job seeking." - Carolyn Thompson, author of "Ten Easy Steps to a Perfect Résumé"
"The solution to the problem is to find the common denominator. It can be communications. It might be customer service. The recruiter or counselor has to help the candidate find the link. The link always exists. You're a writer. I guarantee that you have never had a job outside of your basic skill set. You have not worked as a mechanic. You have not been an engineer. But you may have worked in IT. But if you did, at one stage you probably were responsible for writing a guide. That would be the link.
Let me use myself as an example. I'm a recruiter. I used to work at non-profits. Then I got a job as a recruiter with a recruiting firm that specializes in the non-profit sector. There's the link. Even though recruiting has nothing to do with fundraising, I'm still a non-profit professional. There is always a link." -- Bruce A. Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, New York.
"If a person has moved jobs fairly frequently, there must be a reason for the job changes. The two things an employer really wants to know are: Will you leave them quickly and therefore might not be a good choice? And was there a good, compelling reason to leave the previous job? The best way you can signal you are an asset is to demonstrate on your résumé how each job was actually a progression of growth. Detail not only your skills and accomplishments but the elements that show you learned more or took on greater responsibility with each job." - Dorothy Tannahill Moran, career coach
Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.