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How to Manage the Red Flags on Your Resume

By Susan Ireland

Most employers don't like to take hiring risks, especially in today's litigious society where employment laws are loosely interpreted.

The 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:

  • Gaps in employment
  • 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.

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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 samples:

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):

  • 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 2014 with a work history that starts in 1999 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 sample resumes:

Job Hopping

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
    or
    Information Analyst Contractor, 2001-2003
    Selected clients: DEF Corp., GHI Inc., and JKL Co.

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:

More About Beating Unemployment


About 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, read Susan's books or visit Susan's website SusanIreland.com.


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