How to address resume red flags with your cover letter

How to address red flags on your resume with your cover letter

Applying for a new job is stressful enough. Having red flags on your resume makes it even harder to put yourself out there. Say you’ve got an employment gap, or you’ve only been at your current position for a short while, but already feel that it’s time you looked elsewhere.

“A strong cover letter that responds preemptively to any red flags can cast you in a new light.”

You may be worried that an employer will turn you down if one of these conditions shows up on your resume for accounting jobs or any other finance career. So how do you overcome these potential pitfalls and make it to the interview stage? The answer is a strong, explanatory cover letter that responds preemptively to any red flags.

By following these cover letter tips, you’ll prove to a hiring manager that, despite an imperfect work history, you are still very much a viable candidate.

Honesty is key
Many times when we’re not proud of what we’ve done, the temptation is to distort the truth or cover up mistakes. But if you’re going to convincingly explain a red flag to a hiring manager, you’re going to have to do it honestly.

If your resume conveys the perception that you hop from job to job – an impression created by anyone who regularly spends less than two years at each bank or firm – then an employer will typically question your dedication and the long-term value you bring to their business. To assuage those doubts, use your cover letter to explain any rapid movement between jobs.

If you worked as a temp, be sure to note it. If you moved to assist family members during a difficult time, the cover letter is your chance to say so.

Honesty is equally important in explaining long employment gaps. Many people have taken a year off to travel, volunteer or raise a family. While those gaps between dates may look troubling, an honest description of what you were doing and why can go a long way.

How to address resume red flags with your cover letter (2)

Brevity is your friend
While honesty is indisputably the most important aspect of a cover letter, brevity is a close second. This is not the time to offer long-winded tangents about your life story, but instead an opportunity to target those few areas of your employment history that you believe an employer might find most concerning.

Most cover letters run to four or five paragraphs. That’s the length range you want to be in. Focus on your strengths and any experience directly relevant to the position you’re applying for. As you write, remember that your cover letter is not an excuse – it is an explanation. There is a big difference between the two.

An excuse is a defensive reaction. It is a way of denying responsibility. An explanation, however, helps to clarify the circumstances behind an event. They are factual, not emotional, and take responsibility for what happened. This is exactly what hiring managers want to see from you.

Keep a positive attitude
When you sit down to address red flags in your resume, it’s easy to get bogged down in negative memories of the poor relationship with your boss or company downsizing that led to you leaving a firm earlier than you would have liked. The same goes for older professionals convinced that the industry has moved beyond them.

Negativity can sink a cover letter. As tempting as it can be to blame economic circumstances or workplace friction or any other number of factors, hiring managers aren’t looking for candidates who carry the baggage of the past on their shoulders. They’re looking for positivity and an ability to weather adversity.

Rather than linger on dark moments in your work history, use your cover letter to emphasize what you accomplished in your time at an old firm or bank. How did you benefit them while you were there? What did you contribute to the team?

These kinds of constructive examples give hiring managers a far better understanding of who you are and what kind of asset you would be to their team than vindictive excuses ever could.

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