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 may be loosely interpreted.

Unless they have no other options, they move on to the next candidate when they see these elements in your work history.

The best option is to manage the elements of your work history that would raise their concerns.

Your goal is to minimize or eliminate those elements that might move your resume to the discard file.

These strategies, below, make those red flags less obvious and less threatening.

The 4 Major Red Flags on Your Resume

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:

  1. Gaps in employment
  2. Dates that trigger age discrimination
  3. Job hopping
  4. Appearing overqualified

The solutions to these problems vary, depending on the situation. Here are some suggestions for resolving your red flag.

  1. 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.

If Laid Off: Make it clear why your were laid off. For example, if you were laid off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, make the reason for the layoff clear. Add terminology like this in your description of the job:

Laid off as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic impact on business.

If many employees were laid off for the same reason, add the number if you know it. Like this (if 200 employees were laid off with you):

Laid off with 200 other employees as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic impact on business.

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 samples:

  2. Dates that May 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).

This is how EPT works:

  • Subtract the earliest work history date on your resume from today’s date (years only, not months). So, if the earliest work history year on your resume is 1995, subtract that number from this year. Assuming that this year is 2020, the difference is 25 years.
  • Add that number of years of work history 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. So, a resume read in 2020 with a work history that starts in 1995 tells the reader that the job seeker is at least 45 years old (25 years of experience + 20 = 45).

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:

  1. Did not put dates next to her degrees under Education and
  2. She went back only 15 years in her Work History.

Using the Experience Plus Twenty formula, this information indicates that she is at least 35 years old, an age she believes the employer will deem appropriate.

Read more tips and sample resumes:

  3. Job Hopping  

On average, workers change jobs once every two to three years. In many industries, employers find this rate of job change acceptable.

However, fewer than two years between jobs raises the question, “If I hire this person, will he leave me quickly 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. This is not employer’s favorite resume format, so it may not be the best solution.
  • 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.
  • Call yourself a contractor, and create a list of selected companies where you worked. For example:

    Information Analyst, ABC Temp Agency, 2017 – 2019


    Information Analyst Contractor, 2017 – 2019
    Selected clients: DEF Corp., GHI Inc., and JKL Co.

  4. Overqualified  

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.

More about being more successful with your resume:

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Susan IrelandAbout the author…

Susan Ireland is the author of four job search books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Perfect Resume. For more information about writing your resume check out The Damn Good Resume website which Susan manages.
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