I need your help. I’ve been on a job search now for 16 months (I know!) and this afternoon one of my most trusted mentors basically said I have a lot of red flags in my resume – and that may be why I haven’t been hired yet. I was laid off twice within the past 3 years (both due to company economic reasons). His response was “If one of my best employees lost an account, I wouldn’t let them go – it’s a red flag”. We work in two different industries (I have agency experience – he doesn’t). I tried to explain the nature of the agency beast – you shed salaries, not necessarily talent.
I should be interviewing for a couple of positions in the next week or so (yay!). So how do I address my “red flags” in my past? (I have gaps in my resume as well as the layoffs.)
Thanks! – Kathy
Glad you asked this question about your resume red flags. I think it’s something a lot of people share with you.
Although as Ricky Ricardo so often told Lucy “You have some splainin to do!”, the fact that you actually have some interviews coming up (yay!) shows they are open to you – no matter what your resume looks like. More often than not, it’s more the way we handle these things than the resume red flags themselves – especially when you have unique skills and experience an employer is looking for.
Candidly I could have a resume full of red flags, but the way I present my information (leading with a skills/ qualifications section and filling in gaps with volunteer or consulting/ freelance work) lets me focus my resume where I want to focus it (on my strengths and on skills that match the specific job) and it also helps me show I’ve made good use of my time. This way I have a better chance of actually getting to the job interview where I can splain for myself.
Resume red flags or not, you did nothing wrong
So first and foremost, get real comfortable with the idea you did nothing wrong and you have a ton to offer your new employer – no matter what your mentor’s questions might bring up in you. True, layoffs often are a time to let go of people who may not be up to speed. But in tough economic times, employers also have to let go of new folks, expensive folks, and people who they’d prefer to keep but have no choice.
So how do you handle those red flags in an interview?
Your job is to come up with the most honest and yet positive explanation and then quickly move on (if possible) to tell a short story – something positive about yourself that helps them see what strengths you bring to this particular job. A great story might even offer something you learned from the layoff, what you’ve done to strengthen your skills since then, and how you are ready and determined to throw yourself 100% into this new job – and why this particular job is so ideally suited to you.
Basically answer the question as truthfully as possible (don’t divert), but then move on to paint a flagless picture of you now and in the future; the past is over and we’ve all had things like this happen to us. In fact, in one interview I once had an SVP of a major bank tell me “Without mistakes to learn from and obstacles to overcome, we’d never get better.”
Maybe not such a red flag for your resume after all
And btw…I have friends who work in your field and even the best of them get let go now and then and wind up with long periods of unemployment. It’s pretty common in this industry & not such a red flag any more. In fact, one friend who had to do freelance for well over a year is now happily in his 3rd year with a great agency. As I said, it’s all in the way you handle it.
So come up with your best personal marketing plan, believe in it (and yourself), and go into each interview ready to help them see a vision of you successfully handling the new job. And while I understand you trust your mentor in many things, trust yourself on this one, OK?
Hope that helps, Kathy. I wish you the best of luck. And PLEASE keep us posted!
Oh…and in case you’re curious, this post comes from a comment Kathy left on a previous post: