Strategies for Downplaying Your Unavoidable “Red Flags”
There are critical mistakes you can avoid on your resume, however not all “red flags” are completely avoidable. Some of these stem from your career timeline – history that you cannot change. There are specific strategies you can use to help downplay these issues and emphasize what you have to offer – experience, expertise, and results.
Gaps in Employment
If there are significant gaps in your career history (2 years or more), the Functional or Hybrid resume format is the best strategy for you. By utilizing a “Career Highlights,” “Select Achievements,” or “Value Offered” section AHEAD of your career timeline, you are showcasing your experience before the reader reaches the facts of your background – where you worked and for how long.
Unrelated Recent Employment
In today’s market, many job seekers find themselves taking positions outside of their preferred area or accepting roles that are at a lower level than their previous job. Again the Functional or Hybrid resume strategy is key because it allows you to emphasize skills and achievements outside of the constraints of your career history. The reader will learn about your accomplishments from a position years ago before assessing your timeline. Remember – the first half of the first page of your resume is prime real estate. Preserve this area for the most exciting information.
Some professionals have had numerous one- or two-year positions for a variety of reasons. To mitigate the negative impression of “job hopping,” be sure to label positions that were contract or temporary. Also, you do not have to include every role on your resume – a resume is not the same as a formal application – however be prepared to address your many positions following a background check. Your resume should only include the best of the best. For example, a two-week temporary assignment may not warrant space on your resume, unless you utilized a highly sought after skill or contributed to the company in a significant way. If you are able to eliminate a few positions from your timeline without showing a gap, this will help to present a more steady background.
There are differing opinions on whether or not you should explain significant gaps in employment due to taking care of a family member, raising a family, personal health issues, etc., however in my opinion, it’s better to present a brief explanation for extended time away from your career within your timeline vs. leaving it to the imagination of the reader. You can address your hiatus in a professional manner without including personal details, and if you have been taking courses or participating in volunteer activities, this is a great place to mention it.
Employers are in a position to be as selective as they want with so many applicants to choose from. If you don’t meet the job posting’s requirements 100%, there are a few tricks you can use to at least increase your chances of getting past the ATS and having your resume read by a human being. If you do not have the specific degree but are currently enrolled or took courses toward it in the past, list “BA in English Candidate,” “BA in English Coursework,” or “Coursework completed towards BA in English.” If you are transitioning into a sales role with no prior experience, incorporate the following sentence into your summary paragraph: “Enthusiastic professional eager to acquire and improve skills in consultative selling, account management, and marketing.”