How to keep your resume from getting screened out

Briton Wright
Briton Wright

Have you ever sent out a resume and never heard anything back? Have you ever wondered what recruiters consider and why they screen out some resumes? You’re not alone.

There’s so much information out there on how to write resumes and the do’s and don’ts of style and word choice. But there isn’t very much information about how to deal with special circumstances. Have you owned your own company? Have you worked for the same employer for more than 20 years? Do you have significant gaps in your employment because you went back to school or decided to stay home to care for children?

These scenarios and others like them shouldn’t be a reason to worry. There are easy solutions on how to present these situations on a resume to minimize screen-out factors.

Owner or proprietor: Owning a company is certainly an accomplishment, but could raise a red flag to potential employers, including questions about your manageability and compatibility. It’s best to list a functional, descriptive job title like operations manager or president rather than show an equity position in the company. A functional title is more informative and provides prospective employers better insight into your responsibilities.

Experience beyond 10 to 15 years: Stick to highlighting professional experience within the last 10 to 15 years. Sometimes it’s advisable to go further back if the focus of the resume warrants this information. However, it’s best to avoid including experience that’s not necessary to your current goals or could disqualify you or limit your opportunities.

Employment gaps: A prospective employer is going to screen your resume for gaps in your professional history. If this is the case, there are some simple strategies to minimize this concern. If you worked part-time or volunteered during a gap, present this as part of your work history. If you went back to school or completed training during a gap, put the education section before the experience section and show start and stop dates.

Another strategy to mitigate employment gaps is to optimize the format of your resume. There are four simple methods to optimize the format. First, choose a format that doesn’t put the dates on the margin. By moving the dates down onto the job titles, it’s harder for recruiters to run down the line looking for inconsistencies. Another method is to place the gap between the first and second pages. If the gap is further back in your work history, try to arrange the work history so the job before the gap is on page two and the job after the gap is on page one. This also keeps the recruiter from being able to run down the line to notice the gap right away.

Contrary to common myth, a functional resume doesn’t hide a gap. It makes it more visible by stacking all the experience together in one place. Avoid functional formats. Instead, use the third method to mitigate employment gaps by using years only. A gap of a few months or even a year can be hidden by using years only instead of months and years. For example, if one job ended June 2014 and the next began August 2015, you can list the end date as 2014 and the start date as 2015 and no gap will be apparent. Keep in mind, however, that you must be consistent throughout the document. If you only use years for one job, you must use only years for all jobs.

The last method to mitigate employment gaps is to leverage the cover letter. There isn’t room in the resume to explain why a gap happened. A resume should focus on skills and experience. Explaining a gap in a resume simply draws attention to it. In your cover letter, you can explain a current gap and focus on your return and desire to make a lasting impact. For example: “Having taken a few years off to start my family, I’m excited at the prospect of a long-term association with a company like yours where I can make a lasting impact on your operations.” Don’t attempt to explain an older gap if you’ve been working for several years since it ended. This will only draw more attention to the gap and end up working against you rather than helping.

Numerous short-term positions: It’s important to highlight your qualifications and background in the best fashion. If you have numerous short-term positions and it’s advantageous for your presentation, downplay this to show a streamlined, focused work history. You could simply use years or exclude irrelevant or less-needed positions to improve the focus of your resume.

Multiple competing or overlapping positions: For some employers, seeing concurrent or overlapping dates in a resume constitutes a screen-out factor that raises questions about loyalty, commitment and focus. In highly competitive industries, there even could be concerns about potential corporate espionage. To effectively mitigate this, present your experience in such a way that eliminates or minimizes overlapping dates and focuses hiring managers on the value you offer.