This article is the first of a four-part series on navigating “red flags” in a resume. What is a “red flag” exactly? Well, that depends, but essentially it is a detail or characteristic in your resume that tells a hiring manager “This could be a problem, and problems mean costs to us.” Those costs include time wasted during the hiring process and costs incurred for bad hires. And when you consider the time it takes to vet tens (or hundreds) of resumes to narrow things down just to the interview stage, any excuse to eliminate a resume from the “Yes” pile is a good one.
So how does one avoid giving those hiring managers an excuse to toss their resume into the “No” pile, aside from the obvious (like making sure to spell your name correctly, or including your appropriate contact information)? Avoiding potential red flags is crucial, but sometimes not necessarily as easy to manage as proper punctuation.
The first challenge we will address is employment gaps. There is a plethora of reasons for having gaps in your work history, ranging from unemployment due to layoffs to taking a gap year to travel abroad. Gaps in work history aren’t necessarily evidence of a candidate’s inability to hold down a job, but without an explanation a gap in an employment timeline can trigger all kinds of analogies on the part of the recruiter. Once you are in an interview, you have a much better opportunity to explain why it was of utmost value to your career to take a few months off to learn a new set of skills, or explore new avenues, but what does that look like on your resume?
Typically, recruiters prefer a reverse chronological resume, where your employment history is listed in order, and your professional timeline is easily discernible. However, if there are gaps in the timeline you are looking to de-emphasize, consider other formats. A functional or combination resume, where more emphasis is put on the transferrable skills you possess, and less on historical information, can help refocus the reader’s attention where you want it.
A standard resume will have sections including Education, Awards and Associations, along with career history, which can be strategically placed before the career timeline, showcasing valuable accomplishments and evidence of your worth at the front end.
Use Your Profile
The Profile section of your resume, which comes at the very beginning, is your opportunity to communicate your core value, so use this to get the most important details across. If you are concerned that a gap in your history will be a red flag, make yourself sound indispensable right at the beginning. That way, if it does prove a challenge for the reader, they will already be so sold on your merits, any potential concerns will already be offset. Also, your profile is an opportunity to offer statements about your general character, goals, passions, or values. These statements, used strategically, can help validate any reasons for a gap, such as a “dedication to professional development” or a “commitment to personal goals and values”.
Get Creative with Content
Your Career History section can be modified to include details about any gaps in employment, so that gaps are explained or justified. An example would be to include descriptions of activities outside of the workforce that show your continual development.
Ex. “Compassionate Care Leave: – Provided compassionate care and support to ailing family member: 2000 – 2002”
There is no excuse for dishonesty on a resume, as the truth is always eventually discovered. Integrity is paramount, so don’t omit dates or lie to fill things in. Problems are always opportunities, so use the gap to your advantage. If you were out of work due to a difficult divorce, lack of employment opportunities, or stress leave, own it and investigate what you ultimately gained from that experience. Use it to your advantage, noting the skills and strengths you developed during that time on your resume, and preparing anecdotes for an interview that showcase how those experiences helped you to evolve.