How to Manage the Red Flags on Your Resume
Most employers don't like to take hiring risks, especially in today's litigious society where employment laws are loosely interpreted.
Any one of the following red flags on a resume spells "risk" for an employer and could cause him or her to toss a resume:
- Gaps in
- Dates that
trigger age discrimination
- Job hopping
- Appearing overqualified
The solutions to these problems vary, depending on the situation. Here are some suggestions for resolving your red flag.
Gaps in Employment
All employment gaps must be filled so as not to make the prospective employer wonder if you had or have a serious problem such as substance abuse, incarceration, chronic illness, or just plain laziness. In the Work History section of your resume, explain any employment gaps by inserting a "job title" (full-time parent, volunteer, student, independent study, travel abroad) that is relevant to your job objective, or at least says something positive about your character.
For example, aspiring receptionist Sophia Ricardo was unemployed for 15 years while she raised a family. In her Work History section, she listed the relevant volunteer positions she held during that time.
Read more tips and see a sample resume which addresses how to handle employment gaps. Also see the traditional resume for a very untraditional career and mom returning to work with a career change articles and sample resumes for more ideas.
Dates that Trigger Age Discrimination
Here's a great way to understand how the dates on your resume create an impression of your age. It's called the EPT formula (Experience Plus Twenty): Subtract the earliest work history date on your resume from today's date (years only, not months). Add that number of years to 20 (used as a ballpark figure for how old you probably were when you started working) to get a total of "x," meaning that you are at least x years old. For example, a resume written in 2010 with a work history that starts in 1995 tells the reader that the job seeker is at least 35 years old (15 years of experience + 20 = 35).
A well-crafted resume uses dates to lead the employer to deduce that you are within the ideal age range for the position you are seeking, regardless of your actual age. For example, Lillian Smith is older than the "ideal" candidate the employer is hoping to hire for an administrative assistant position. Knowing that, she did not put dates next to her degrees under Education and she went back only 15 years in her Work History, indicating that she is at least 35 years old, an age she believes the employer will deem appropriate.
Read more tips and see a sample resume which addresses how older job seekers can look younger on their resumes. Also see the article and sample resume for the older laid-off job seeker.
On average, workers change jobs once every two to three years. In many industries, employers find this rate of job change acceptable. Less than two years between jobs raises the question, "If I hire this person, how quickly will he leave me for his next opportunity?"
If you have short terms of employment in your history, here are some ways to put a prospective employer's mind at ease. One or more of these suggestions might work for you:
- Use a functional
format. This format takes the spotlight off your Work History
section by placing it at the bottom of the resume, thereby shining
the light on the skill headings in the body of the resume.
- Present similar
short-term jobs under one job title, such as:
Information Analyst assignments: XYZ Inc., ABC Corp., and JFK Co., 2002-2004
This technique works in both the chronological and functional formats.
- If you're
a new grad, include wording such as "concurrent with education"
in the heading of your Employment section. This technique may
be used in either a chronological or functional format.
- If you worked
as a temp, state the employment agency as your employer, or call
yourself a contractor and create a list of selected companies
where you worked. For example:
Information Analyst, ABC Temp Agency, 2001-2003
Information Analyst Contractor, 2001-2003
Selected clients: DEF Corp., HIJ Inc., and KLM Co.
If you're worried that something on your resume might make you look overqualified for your job objective, consider placing that information in an inconspicuous place on your resume, or leave it off completely. For instance, if you're applying for an entry-level job as a pastry chef, you might not put your Ph.D. in Chemistry on your resume for fear that the employer would assume you want too much salary or would become bored in an entry-level position.
© Copyright Susan Ireland, 2003-12. All rights reserved.Used with permission.
About this author:Susan Ireland is the author of four job search books including The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Perfect Resume, now in its 5th edition. For more information about writing your resume, read Susan's books or visit Susan's Website SusanIreland.com. For immediate help with your resume and cover letter, check out Susan's Ready Made Resumes and Cover Letters, an online resume builder to help job seekers quickly create an effective resume. Follow Susan on Twitter @SusanIreland, visit her JobLounge blog, and interact with her on the LinkedIn's JOBS Group (Job Openings, Job Leads and Job Connections!) in her ** Let's Talk Resumes ** featured discussion.