Great Resumes Fast » Resume Writing Tips » Overcoming Major Resume Red Flags: From Employment Gaps to Job Loss

Contrary to popular belief, having a “perfect” resume isn’t as important as knowing how to turn your imperfections into strengths. Every job seeker invariably faces challenges, some more complex than others — especially those with red flags on their resumes. However, with the right strategies, controlling your narrative is possible, and it can turn your situation from unfavorable to promising. This post will guide you through seven of the most common resume red flags, providing you with actionable advice on overcoming them and, in turn, improving your job prospects.

Overcoming Major Resume Red Flags: From Employment Gaps to Job Loss Pin

Resume Red Flags: Job Hopping

Job hopping is often perceived negatively, but when presented correctly, it can be transformed into proof of your adaptability and wide-ranging experience.

In the past, job hopping raised eyebrows because it indicated a lack of commitment or consistent performance. That isn’t the case nowadays because COVID-19, mass layoffs, the Great Resignation, and shrinking job longevity have changed the game. Short tenures are more widely accepted now than they’ve ever been. Emphasizing the diverse experience you’ve gathered and how it has accelerated your learning can turn this perceived negative into a positive. 

Years of tenure by industry

For instance, you could convey how working in different industries has broadened your perspective and enriched your problem-solving skills. The trick here is to focus more on your achievements in each role rather than the duration of your stay.

I’ve often seen job seekers attempt to downplay or hide job hopping. Instead, address it head-on. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recommends framing job hopping as a way of gathering a diverse range of skills and experiences that make you adaptable and quick to learn. Mention how you have successfully navigated different work cultures and delivered results.

Actionable Tip: Instead of avoiding the topic, emphasize the valuable skills and experiences you gained at each job.

In the midst of an arduous job search, a top-performing marketing manager named Sarah found herself facing a perplexing situation. Despite her history of rapid achievement in every company she’d worked for, the responses to her job applications were nonexistent. 

The few interviews she did receive were for positions below her level of experience, which left her questioning whether potential employers were able to discern the strategic path behind her varied career moves.

After a year without job offers, Sarah identified two major red flags on her resume: a seemingly scattered career path and her struggle to accurately convey her professional value. These challenges led her to us, with the hope of turning her career history into a compelling narrative that highlighted her true worth.

The transformation of Sarah’s resume began with our Executive BrandBuilding Methodology. This highlighted the value Sarah had brought to previous employers, thus emphasizing her potential worth to prospective companies.

We also ensured that her resume was optimized for applicant tracking systems (ATS) while maintaining readability and elegance. The narrative we crafted reflected not just what Sarah did in her previous roles but also the unique skills and accomplishments she brought to the table. The revamped resume perfectly showcased her professional journey.

Within just three months of working with us, Sarah landed a position at her dream company, along with a 15% salary increase. Her journey serves as an inspiring example of how job seekers can overcome red flags on their resumes and secure the job they’ve always desired.

Resume Red Flag: Employment Gaps

Employment gaps don’t have to be deal-breakers but rather opportunities to showcase your proactive attitude and versatile skills.

Employment gaps, when not addressed, may lead to unfavorable assumptions. But these gaps can also be windows of opportunity if you can demonstrate that you utilized this time for professional development or other constructive activities. Perhaps you took an online course or volunteered, thereby gaining additional skills relevant to the job you’re applying for. Being able to articulate your actions during these gaps can alleviate concerns and display initiative.

Employment gap by age
pandemic employment gap by age

Avoid leaving the gaps unexplained or filling them with irrelevant information. Instead, address the gap in your cover letter or a short one-line statement in your resume that explains how you used the time productively. 

Share any courses, volunteer work, or freelance projects you undertook during the gap. Show how these experiences have better equipped you for the role you want now.

Actionable Tip: Address employment gaps in your cover letter, and explain how you used this time productively.

Resume Red Flag: Overqualification

Being overqualified doesn’t have to be a deterrent; it can be your competitive edge when leveraged appropriately.

Overqualification, if not communicated properly, may signal to potential employers that you’ll quickly outgrow the role or demand a higher salary. This is the main reason why employers choose not to hire someone who they deem overqualified. 

Jobvite percent of job seekers overqualified 2023

However, by clearly expressing your genuine interest in the role and explaining how your extra qualifications can bring additional value to the team, you can address this concern effectively. A relatable example might be a seasoned project manager applying for a team lead role and discussing how his/her project management skills can streamline team processes.

Where I see too many job seekers falter is ignoring the elephant in the room by not addressing the overqualification or assuming employers view it as an asset instead of a risk. 

Instead, address the overqualification head-on and any concerns the employer has that you’ll jump ship if something better comes along. Let them know why this role is the right one for you and why you’re not going to bail the first time something better pops up.

Keep the focus on how your extra qualifications will benefit the company and the position. Then, convey a clear picture of your long-term commitment to the company. 

Actionable Tip: Communicate clearly why you’re interested in a role that you’re overqualified for and how you can bring additional value.

Resume Red Flag: Spelling and Grammar Errors

A single spelling or grammar mistake can bring into question your attention to detail, while ensuring a flawless resume underscores your professionalism.

Your resume is the first impression you make on potential employers, and spelling or grammar errors can be off-putting. Not only does this suggest a lack of attention to detail, but it also indicates poor communication skills. Use digital tools like Grammarly and conduct multiple rounds of proofreading to ensure your resume is error-free. A well-polished resume reflects your professionalism and dedication.

Don’t rely on spell check alone; read your resume out loud. Use Grammarly, hire a professional editor, or get several friends to proofread the document. 

Actionable Tip: After using a spell checker, manually proofread your resume or ask someone else to review it.

Resume Red Flag: Email Addresses

An unprofessional email address is a reflection of your personal brand, and professionalizing it is a quick win for making a good impression.

A quirky email address might have been fun in college, but it can signal immaturity to potential employers. A professional email address, preferably comprising your first and last name, presents you as a serious candidate. This small change can enhance the first impression you make on recruiters.

Avoid using an outdated email service provider or a college email address (especially if you’re not in college), and never use your current work email address on your resume. 

Actionable Tip: Create a professional email address using a reputable email provider.

Resume Red Flag: Inflated or Misleading Job Titles

Honesty isn’t just the best policy in life; it’s equally crucial when listing your job titles on a resume.

Don’t exaggerate or embellish job titles to seem more impressive. Instead, focus on communicating the breadth and depth of your experience and achievements. Inflating job titles or presenting misleading ones can lead to mistrust and doubt about your integrity. Be transparent about your roles, and describe your responsibilities clearly. This shows potential employers that you’re honest.

If you’re in a situation where your past or current employer uses creative and uncommon job titles for roles, simply put the more common job title in parentheses next to the uncommon one so that employers will understand the role. 

For example: Chief Happiness Officer (Vice President of Customer Success)

This tip also helps for search results, ATS, recruiter searches etc. It will ensure your resume populates when an employer searches for someone with the more common job title in their career history. 

In most of my positions throughout my career history, I would end up doing the job of the person in the position above me. I always made it a goal when I changed jobs to also make a move up. To successfully do that, I made sure that I incorporated the accomplishments and skills I possessed from operating in the role above mine, even though I technically couldn’t use the job title. 

I may not have had the title, but there was no doubt that I had been doing the job, based on my work experience. Keep this in mind as you write your resume. You may not have held the exact job title, but your skills and experience will do the talking. 

Actionable Tip: Be honest and transparent about your job titles, and instead focus on highlighting your responsibilities and achievements.

Resume Red Flag: Job Loss on Unfavorable Terms

According to Patricia Carlton with HBR, Addressing unplanned departures on your resume is not about disguising or downplaying them. It’s about embracing them as crucial turning points in your career journey that have fueled your growth and resilience.

Yahoo Finance and BLS Labor Market April 2023

Unplanned departures (such as resignations or terminations) can create suspicion for hiring managers that are often perceived as red flags. These can imply potential issues regarding performance, reliability, or compatibility, which employers naturally wish to avoid.

Blaming past employers or circumstances might seem like a valid justification for leaving a job, but it’s a common misstep. In fact, it portrays a lack of personal accountability and professionalism. 

Actionable Tip: Instead of playing the blame game, emphasize the positive aspects of your experience. Frame your departure as a stepping stone for personal and professional development.

Also, don’t overlook the importance of identifying and communicating about the environments in which you thrive best. Doing so could leave potential employers questioning your fit for their organization.

Actionable Tip: Reflect on what conditions allow you to excel, and be clear about this in your resume or during an interview. This will allow potential employers to see you’re introspective and mindful about your career development.

Lastly, don’t avoid a discussion about your departure. This lack of transparency can raise questions about your honesty and reliability. Addressing the reason for an unplanned departure head-on shows resilience and accountability. Emphasize how the lessons you learned have positively impacted your performance or will provide an advantage in the future.

Actionable Tip: Address the reason for your departure directly, emphasizing what you learned from the experience and how it has prepared you for future roles.

Resume Red Flag: No Specific Results or Achievements

A resume must showcase specific results and achievements, as it’s not merely a summary of your past employment but a testament to your ability to deliver future impact. Neglecting to include specific results or achievements in your resume can raise significant red flags to potential employers.

Resumes without results leave the employer wondering what (if anything) you actually accomplished in the role. Employers can’t guess how you added value or what you achieved. You have to tell them. 

Don’t just list job responsibilities without illustrating how your actions led to tangible outcomes. Show — don’t tell — by providing measurable evidence. Instead of saying you “Managed a team,” say “Led a team of 10 project managers and increased overall productivity by 25% in less than 12 months.”

Actionable Tip: For each job, quantify your achievements, where possible, and highlight the ones relevant to the job you’re applying for now.

The journey to crafting an impeccable resume can be challenging, but remember: Each red flag is an opportunity for growth and reflection. Every job seeker has a unique story to tell; it’s all about how effectively you communicate it. As you revise your resume, bear in mind these strategies to address potential red flags: Be strategic about gaps, give substance to generic titles, clarify frequent job changes, quantify your achievements, and manage unplanned departures with grace.

How We Can Help

You don’t have to navigate this process alone. Schedule your free resume strategy session with Kelly today, and take the first step towards making your next career move. 

Prefer DIY resources? Download a free executive resume template here and improve your resume with content prompts that grab the recruiter’s attention. 

About Great Resumes Fast Product Templates MRP-3882

About the author

Jessica Hernandez, President, CEO & Founder of Great Resumes Fast

Hi, I’m Jessica. I started this company back in 2008 after more than a decade directing hiring practices at Fortune 500 companies.

What started as a side hustle (before that was even a word!) helping friends of friends with their resumes has now grown into a company that serves hundreds of happy clients a year. But the personal touch? I’ve kept that.

You might have seen me featured as a resume expert in publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Fortune. And in 2020, I was honored to be named as a LinkedIn Top Voice of the year!

I’m so glad you’re here, and I can’t wait to help you find your next perfect-fit position!

Leave a Comment

Improve Your Resume: Download Your Free Executive Resume Template Today

Are you struggling to create an executive resume that will impress employers? Download this free executive resume template and receive a series of 10 emails with expert guidance on how to write resume content that resonates with employers so you get more interviews.

It's everything you need to stand out, make an impression, and accelerate your job search.