3 Simple Steps to Handle Resume Red Flags During An Interview

Written By: Dan Clay, Gartner Account Executive

Hiring is a risky business. A bad hire can cost a company tens of thousands of dollars in lost productivity and opportunity costs, so companies tend to err on the side of caution when bringing someone new into the organization.

If something about your resume may be construed as a red flag, then you need to spend some time preparing a talk track around it so you’re not caught flat-footed when the recruiter inevitably asks you about it.

Structuring your narrative using the following three steps will help to neutralize the recruiter’s concerns.

  1. Acknowledge

Confront the concern head-on and demonstrate that you understand why the recruiter may have a right to worry about it. If your last three jobs have only lasted three months each, for example, acknowledge that you realize that this may position you as a job hopper. It may sound counterintuitive, but you want to take control of the narrative so the recruiter doesn’t fill in the blanks on her own (because if she does, they’ll almost certainly be negative).

Showing that you can relate to the recruiter’s concerns will demonstrate a high level of self-awareness, and help you build empathy and trust with the recruiter, which are crucial for getting to the next stage of the interview process. So don’t try to weasel your way out of addressing these concerns — own them and tackle them head-on.

  1. Career-Advice-Blog-ImageExplain

After you’ve acknowledged the recruiter’s concern, it’s time to explain yourself. You want to remove all the uncertainty from the recruiter’s mind and provide a perfectly logical and heartfelt explanation for what happened that ultimately ties back to your core sense of purpose. The important thing is to position each red flag as a learning experience that taught you something valuable and helped you further home in on the career direction that’s right for you. Everything you say at this stage will help build up to the final stage of your narrative when you’ll unleash the wave that will remove all doubt in the recruiter’s mind.

  1. Enlighten

This is where your story comes full circle as the stepping stones fall into place, leaving the role you’re interviewing for as the obvious next step in your career journey. You want to tie everything you learned from your past experiences into a single “Aha!” moment that gave you some important insight into where you want to take your career next — and that insight will align perfectly with the role you’re interviewing for. The recruiter should come away with the impression that your story makes perfect sense, and if that happens, you’ll be better positioned for the role than ever.

As with every aspect of the interview process, confidence is absolutely crucial here. How you say something matters just as much (probably even more) than what you say, so make sure you deliver this narrative with passion and conviction.

photo-handshakeExplaining any red flags using the formula outlined above will provide the confidence the recruiter needs to feel that you’ve carefully considered your career options and have decided to interview with her company for a very specific purpose. Employers love talking to candidates who know what they want because it allows both parties to more easily come to a decision around whether or not it’s in their best interests to formalize a new employer/employee relationship. That, and it minimizes the concern that you’ll be a flight risk when you realize the job isn’t actually what you wanted after you’re hired.

One last thing to keep in mind about addressing red flags: Don’t bring them up unless the recruiter specifically asks about them or alludes to them in conversation. You can use these situations to your advantage and turn them into a strength, but there’s no sense making them into an issue if the recruiter doesn’t think they’re a big deal. This is one of those delicate situations where you really have to stay acutely tuned in to the conversation in order to determine the points you need to express at any given moment. Don’t create the opportunity to sell yourself out of the job unless it’s explicitly handed to you — then, use it as a chance to sell yourself into it.


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This is part of our careers inspirations blog series by Gartner Sales Executive Dan Clay. To receive Dan’s latest updates, sign up for his weekly newsletter here.

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