A gap in employment here, a temporary position there—a job seeker who doesn’t have a potential resume “red flag” is pretty rare these days.
I don’t have to tell you that the global economy took a hit over the past decade. And so did many highly capable professionals who saw their career trajectories shift, sometimes several times in a few years.
If your job history has a few blemishes, how do you get prospective employers to look past that rusty exterior to uncover the shiny, worthwhile candidate underneath?
Remember that most job seekers have a red flag or two, and don’t fret too much about them. Stay confident. Your goal is to minimize them, spin them, address them and offset them with your strengths.
4 Ways Job Seekers Can—Honestly—Minimize Red Flags
Write the Right Resume
How you present your history makes a big difference, and that begins with your resume. The format and organization of your resume, and the language you use can de-emphasize potential red flags and put them in a more favorable context. If you had a job—or two—that didn’t work out after only a short time, or if you took temporary positions while searching for the right opportunity, roll them up under a single headline such as Contract Positions. This helps give the appearance of a longer commitment or a choice you made when you weren’t interested in full-time work, but still is honest. You may want to work with a professional resume writer to determine the best presentation.
Be Up Front
If you’re worried that an employer might be concerned about a gap or some other issue in your career history, address it directly in your cover letter. I recently worked with a client who, as a sales person in the tech industry, experienced a series of layoffs leading to six different roles in a decade.
We took a pro-active approach in his cover letter, writing:
“While my frequent career transitions over the past decade are a direct result of the recession, this afforded me the opportunity to work with many exciting organizations—including both well-established titans of industry and emerging start-ups.”
Don’t fall into the trap of explaining too much. You will appear to be making excuses—and also draw too much attention to the issue. Trying to dance around it will only create suspicion. And, please, remember not to complain about the situation or blame former employers. Always spin it into a positive—an experience that actually makes you uniquely qualified for the role.
When someone on the inside can vouch for you, potential red flags look a whole lot less worrisome. Remember that employers don’t like taking risks. A referral from a trusted employee will help establish your credibility. Essentially, that trust is passed on to you. Don’t squander it. If you’re relying on a friend, family member or another professional contact to help mitigate your red flags, you must know you will represent that person well if you get the job. Make sure you live up to the faith they put in you. Otherwise, you’ll quickly build a bad reputation and your network will no longer serve you.
Determine what an employer might be concerned about, and find experiences and examples that will counter a negative impression. For example, if you’ve had a series of jobs in a short time and worry an employer will view you as a job hopper, use your interview to focus on situations in which you have shown loyalty or commitment, such as a long-term volunteer position you’ve held.