The act of preparing a resume can be fairly straightforward, assuming you can tick all the right boxes – e.g., a good education, some blue-ribbon achievements to brag about, and absolutely no red flags.
But for you otherwise fine candidates out there whose resumes unfortunately contain a few warning signs that can handicap your application, preparing a winning resume can be a bit more difficult.
Here’s are four of the most common resume red flags, along with some tips to help you address them and make your resume sparkle nonetheless:
Research from the Pew Charitable Trust shows that the long-term unemployed (those who have been unemployed for six months or longer) have to send 3.5 times as many resumes as the short-term unemployed to get an interview. Like it or not, employers view unemployment as a big red flag.
What can you do? Rather then just leave a part of your work history blank, turn your period of unemployment into something positive by listing your achievements and the new skills learned during this period. This will show employers that you have the initiative to stay productive, even when times are tough.
2. Job Hopping
Attitudes toward job hopping are changing among millennnials, but people older than 35 still see it as a largely negative thing.
Because job hopping is still viewed with suspicion by many hiring managers, it’s important to display your short tenures in the most positive light possible. Here are a few ways to do that:
- List all your achievements, including things you did at your briefest roles.
- Demonstrate that you fulfilled the requirements of each contract/short-tenure position to show you are reliable.
- Outline any key skills that you learned in each post to show how much you learned from job hopping.
3. An Incomplete Education
Even though Steve Jobs, Oprah, Bill Gates, and many other wildly successful people left school before earning their degrees, being a college dropout is still a major red flag to most employers. Therefore, it’s vital that you frame your decision to leave school in a flattering light.
Did you leave to start a business, write a book, or join some major venture or initiative? Then include this information on your resume! Demonstrate what you achieved in place of completing your degree. Anything less than this will look pretty questionable on your resume.
4. You’ve Been Fired
This is perhaps the all-time worst resume red flag, and it requires some serious damage control.
It generally does not make sense to state that you have been fired in your resume or cover letter, but whatever you do, don’t mislead the employer in any way. Simply include the start and end dates of your employment – don’t fudge the numbers.
If your employer asks you at interview, you’ll need to be completely truthful about why you left. In fact, even if they don’t ask, it’s probably best to make it known. Otherwise, the employer may find out from a background check, and that may make them feel like you mislead them.
Of course, you’ll need to go on a PR offensive when explaining why you were fired. Here are a few tips to keep in mind while spinning your firing in a positive light:
- Don’t badmouth past employers or managers.
- Explain the reason for dismissal.
- Where appropriate, be accepting of what happened to you.
- Be prepared to answer any questions around it until the interviewer is satisfied.
- Outline the lessons you have learned.
- Explain the steps you have taken to make sure the situation doesn’t happen to you again.
Finally, it’s important to remember that no one is perfect. Most employers know this, and many of them are more skeptical of resumes that look too perfect than resumes with a few warts. Having hiccups and red flags on your resume is a fact of life. The thing that will set you apart from other candidates is how positively you present those red flags and how constructively you deal with the adversity that created them in the first place.