How to overcome a red flag on your resume

The hiring process can certainly be intimidating for today’s job seekers, but experts say it’s never too late to launch that new career, regardless of your past.

The hiring process can certainly be intimidating for today’s job seekers.

“Knowing that I don’t have any education makes it difficult. You know, I feel like maybe they’re going to look at me like, ‘Ehh… I don’t know about this lady,’” said Ciji Burns.

Burns is working towards her GED and taking adult education classes at Black Hawk College. Like many of the program’s 200 students, she hopes to make a better living for herself and her son.

And experts say it’s never too late to launch that new career, regardless of your past, and free help is available in the Quad Cities.

Background checks

These days, employers are looking at far more than your arrest record.

“The worst thing to do is lie about things and then get caught up in the lie,” said Jim Sweeney.

Sweeney is president of InquireHire, a Davenport company that provides services like criminal background checks, drug screening, and reference checking for human resource professionals. Sweeney says applicants most commonly fabricate their education and employment history, but online profiles can get job candidates in trouble, too.

“Assault, sexual assault, drugs, marijuana… there’s like 500-plus keywords that they look for, and they search whatever’s available out there on social media, looking for those keywords,” said Sweeney.

Sweeney says most employers do criminal record checks, as well as drug screening. Typically, they look for any convictions in the last seven years that would prevent a candidate from doing the job. Possible red flags include assault or sexual abuse violations for a job involving children, or a DUI for a job that involves driving.

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While some employers also request credit reports, Sweeney says most companies don’t look at financial records unless it’s a higher-end position.

He recommends doing your homework, though, before beginning the job-search process.

“Partially what they need to do is educate themselves, because some people think because they didn’t go to jail that they don’t have a conviction, so they may answer something wrong on the application. Know your state rules,” said Sweeney. “You should work with an attorney to get a deferred sentence or a deferred judgment so that it doesn’t stick with you.”

How to overcome a red flag on your resume

There are several ways to deal with a potential black mark on your resume.

Dr. Bruce Storey is the director of educational services at Black Hawk College, and he suggests highlighting the positives – even if you lack formal education or have a long stretch of unemployment.

“We de-emphasize dates and we de-emphasize where you worked, and we emphasize your skills,” said Storey.

“If you were a stay-at-home mom, we can put in for the five years that you were a homemaker and list all the duties and things you did.”

Storey says the most common mistakes are typos and misspellings, as well as applicants who use their resume to provide personal information, like hobbies. Try to stay away from online templates, and instead, customize your resume to fit a specific job description.

If you do have any run-ins with the law, Storey says honesty really is the best policy.

“Usually, you should be the one to bring it up, but wait until you’re face-to-face with them on an interview. If I’m talking to you, I can explain it,” said Storey.

Free Help

BHC’s Career Services Center is open to the public, Monday through Friday.

For more information on the center’s free employment assistance, click here.