The trouble with CVs is that you have a limited amount of space to say everything you need (want) to say. They’re read by the hiring manager without you there to explain everything – so there’s a possibility that they may be put off by red flags that you can’t explain.

You can get around this by highlighting and explaining any red flags that an employer might read into negatively, rather than hoping they won’t be noticed.

There are two common red flags: employment gaps and job-hopping and you need to know how to make sure they don’t damage your chances of getting an interview.

Think about your reasons

Start by identifying the issues on your CV. Have you had a short stint at an employer (how short is short depends on the hirer, to be honest, but certainly anywhere that lasted less than a year) or do you have a gap between any of your jobs?

Then be clear with yourself about the reason for these. There are plenty of understandable reasons for leaving a job or being out of work for a period. These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Retrenchment
  • Employer cashflow problems or job instability
  • Relocation
  • Illness
  • Family reasons
  • Having and looking after children
  • Travelling or other significant personal pursuits
  • Returning to education

How recently these situations happened is important, too. If you were out of work for six months once but have been in full time work for five years since, it’s obvious it’s just a blip. If you’re interviewing for a position having only been with your employer for three months, a hiring manager is going to be much more interested to find out more.

Many people I speak to who’ve had instances of the above are worried about their future job prospects. Don’t worry, sound, honest reasons won’t cause you problems with good employers.

Don’t try to cover them up

Some of the online advice about these red flags suggests doing some careful doctoring on your CV. These include only giving years (not months) for dates worked and omitting jobs altogether.

I’m not keen on this advice, because many recruiters (I always do) and employers will ask for months worked, and if you’re seen to be trying to cover anything up, it reflects worse on you than having been upfront.

The only exception would be if your gaps and/or job-hopping were a long time ago. They might be far enough back that no-one is going to worry too much about gaps – remember your CV should only be a couple of pages so ‘old’ jobs don’t have to be explained in much detail.

Give an explanation

Next you need to be able to explain the situation in a clear, concise way. You’re showing that you’re transparent and trustworthy. You don’t have to give details of personal issues unless you feel comfortable to but be as open as you can.

For example:

After joining the business as Finance Manager, I discovered they had significant cashflow problems, and I was concerned about job stability.

Shortly after being employed by the firm, they were bought out by another company, and made several redundancies – including me, since I was a recent hire.

I took time out after leaving this position to look after my two children full time and returned to work once they were both at primary school.

Reassure them it’s completely resolved

You also need to tie up the situation, so that it’s clear it won’t be a problem again.

For example:

After a bereavement, I took time out of work to care for a close family member, who’s now coping well.

I had a health issue that prevented me working and needed regular hospital appointments. I’m fully recovered, though, and it’s not a condition I have to worry about anymore.

Put a positive spin on it

Once you’ve explained the reason you left a job, or were out of work, and reassured the interviewer that it isn’t an ongoing problem, you can go a step further and put a positive spin on the experience.

If you had a short stint in a job, for example, you could mention things you learned while you were there.

If you were out of work for a period, mention any achievements, personal or professional, in this time, and mention any skills you gained – particularly if they’re related to the job you’re applying for.

For example:

In addition to job hunting, I achieved several personal goals. I trained for a 10K race (having never been a runner), took on a big home improvement project, and did the accounts work for a friend’s small start-up business.

It had been a long-time dream of mine to go travelling, and I was keen to achieve it early on in my career. I gained self-confidence, honed my organizational skills, and it made me much better at thinking on my feet.

Give references

If a previous employer is willing to provide you with a written reference, say so. This is a great way to reassure prospective employers.

Edit your CV

For a short stint in a job a couple of sentences underneath the position heading (dates worked, job title, company) but before your responsibilities, in italics, is ideal.

If you’ve had a period of unemployment, list this in the same format as your employed positions. In other words, month and date (from and to), and then how you spent that time.