red flags on your resume are turning employers off

As you’re probably well aware, most employers spend only seconds skimming your resume before making a quick decision about whether to reject you or consider you further, so it’s essential that your resume doesn’t contain the red flags that will turn them off during that short initial scan. Here are eight red flags that will often put you straight into the “no” pile without further consideration.

1. A history of job-hopping. If you have a history of moving quickly from one job to the next without staying very long, employers will wonder whether you get bored easily or can’t keep a job. If you do have good reasons for the job changes (such as having a spouse in the military), make sure to fill in employers up-front so they don’t draw wrong conclusions.

2. Grammatical or spelling mistakes. Mistakes like these can get your resume immediately tossed, because they convey to an employer that you don’t pay attention to detail. Employers assume that you’ve polished your resume more than you will most documents, so if you have mistakes in it, they assume your work will have even more errors.

3. Bad writing. Even for jobs that don’t require flawless writing, employers still want to see evidence that you can communicate well. If you don’t write clearly and concisely, they’ll worry about how you’ll communicate once on the job – and many will take your resume writing quality as a shortcut to drawing conclusions about your intelligence.

4. Overly aggrandized self-descriptions. Hiring managers generally frown on language like “visionary thinker,” “creative innovator,” or “respected leader” – because these are the sorts of things that others can say about you, but you can’t say credibly about yourself. Putting them on your resume signals that you’re either naïve or arrogant – or both. Stick to objective experience and accomplishments only.

5. Lack of evidence of achievement. If your resume lists nothing but your job duties at each job – rather than what you achieved there – you’ll signal that you never did more than the basic requirements. Hiring managers are looking for candidates with a track record of achievement – not meeting minimum requirements, but going above and beyond and accomplishing things that an average candidate wouldn’t.

6. No overarching theme to your career choices. If you’ve moved from one unrelated job to the next, without a clear pattern, employers will be skeptical about your commitment to the roles you’re applying for now. Most employers want to be able to scan your resume and get a quick understanding of how you’ve progressed within one or two fields, rather than trying to work out how you’ve moved from tech writer to salesperson to nurse’s assistant to video editor.

7. Lack of professionalism. If your resume includes information about your spouse and children, or other information unrelated to your qualifications as a candidate, most employers will conclude that you’re naïve at best and unprofessional at worst.

8. Large gaps between jobs. When employers see gaps of unemployment, they wonder what happened during that time. Did you leave the previous job with nothing lined up, and if so, why? Were you working somewhere that you’ve deliberately left off your resume, and if so, what are you hiding? Gaps raise questions that you don’t want on a hiring manager’s mind.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 89 comments… read them below }

  1. Penguin*

    What if 6 and 8 go together? Ie I have a several years gap in my resume as I was raising our three young kids. They are now in school so I am looking for a job. So far, I have been addressing it in the cover letter, something like “After taking a few years out to
    raise my kids and volunteer, I would like to get back into the
    workforce…” should I not do that?

    1. KellyK*

      If you have volunteer experience that’s significant and relevant enough to fill the gap or part of it, you could list it in that chronological section. If not, being up front about it in your cover letter sounds reasonable to me.

      1. the gold digger*

        That’s how I did it last summer: I explained I had been laid off from my previous job, but now was returning to work because our financial situation had changed.

        I didn’t explain that my husband was taking an unpaid LOA to run for state-level office, as politics has been a very touchy subject around here the past two years.

  2. Laura*

    My three all-time favorite resume blunders — I received one where the applicant spelled her last name differently on the resume than she did in her cover letter, and another resume that contained absolutely no name at all. Another applicant listed in his cover letter a number where he could be reached, then said something to the effect of, “please enjoy the hold music while you wait for me to answer your call.” Um, no thanks.

    1. Runon*

      Those phones where there is a kooky message or hold music that happens instead of ringing area always extremely unprofessional to me. Of course the worst is “This phone does not accept incoming calls” which then sometimes has directions about what else to do or how to get thru, but frankly by that point I’ve already hung up.

    2. Seal*

      My favorite resume blunders:
      – the candidate who not only misspelled the name of our library, but also the name of the institution she had attended before transferring to our university. As an added bonus, she was planning to be a teacher.
      – the candidate who submitted a resume with an objective stating that she was “seeking a position at Chocolate Teapot University.” Unfortunately, she was applying for a position at the University of Silver Spoons. This same candidate also claimed to have “exceptional attention to detail.”
      – the candidate who pulled their folded up, hand-written resume out of their back pocket and gave it to the interviewer (as related by a fellow supervisor).

        1. Anonnymouse*

          I have a PDF resume sitting in my inbox. The applicant’s phone is handwritten and scrawled across the top of it.

          Yep. They apparently typed and scanned their resume, updated their phone number, wrote it by hand across the top of the resume, and then rescanned it in. I can’t even. I just…can’t even.

          Bonus: the town name for their most recent employer is misspelled. Sadly, they have applied to our company the last three times I have placed an ad and conducted interviews. (I know this because they have had the same misspelling on their resume every time!)

    3. COT*

      I had a recent applicant (for a volunteer position, but a professional one) whose voicemail greeting consisted only of her singing several lines of a gospel song (not well, may I add) and then a short sermon about God’s grace. She never mentioned her name or “please leave a message.” Just song, sermon, *beeeeeep*

      When I expressed concern to her that this didn’t seem like a good fit because we’re not a faith-based organization (and her application implied that’s what she was seeking) she showed up unannounced and uninvited to “talk it over in person.”

      Needless to day, she didn’t get the position. We need people who understand basic professional norms and boundaries.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Would you hold it against me if my home phone answering machine says “This is Betty and Bob’s machine. You know what to do.”? Because, most of the time I’m not looking for a job and the callers are friends or businesses. I’ve identified myself, so you know you got the right phone.

        Really long phone messages annoy me. I have to wait for the whole “we’re not here, we might be busy or gone or ignoring you, here are all the cell phone numbers for the 5 people in the household, leave a message, we’ll get back to you” before I can leave my message. I KNOW an answering machine means you didn’t pick up and I should leave a message: you don’t need to instruct me on how it works.

        1. COT*

          I agree that a lengthy message is annoying. What’s the harm in just making your message, “You’ve reached Bob and Betty; please leave a message and we’ll call you back”? I probably wouldn’t judge someone whose greeting was just a little weird or humorous (i.e. “you know what to do”), but why not just keep it simple and professional while job-searching?

        2. Editor*

          When I was younger, having an answering machine say “you know what to do ” sounded funny to me. Now it just sounds annoying and snarky.

          My answering machine message has always provided the number so people know whether they’ve dialed correctly. We never used our names, just said “Thank you for calling 123-456-7890. Please leave a message at the tone.”

          It is boring but succinct. It also meant that I didn’t have to change the message and take my husband’s name off the recording when he died unexpectedly, nor did we have to change the message when our children left home, returned home, or left again.

          1. Elise*

            I would suggest you add at least a first name. In my job, we cannot leave any sort of voice mail on an unidentified machine. Number doesn’t count, since you could have put the wrong number on a form and we have no way to verify we reached the right person.

          2. Ellie H.*

            I hate messages that do that because a) even though I use actual numbers more than most people do these days, I don’t always know the number b) it makes me think that maybe the number has been disconnected or changed. I get that there are safety and other reasons to not say your name in your message but I can’t help but find it irritating. Mine just says “Hi, you’ve reached Ellie H.’s cell phone, please leave a message.”

    4. AnotherAlison*

      I wouldn’t say this was a resume blunder, but I interviewed a guy whose resume listed the nonprofit he ran on the side, which led to some major awkwardness in the interview.

      It was a nonprofit in honor of his son who had died in a motorcycle accident a few years before, when he was about 20. the interviewee got off on a tangent about it and went on and on, while my manager and I did not know what to say.

      Since our business and the position had no ties to nonprofit management, and he had other relevant management and work experience, it wasn’t really necessary for him to include this.

    5. just another hiring manager...*

      My ABSOLUTE favorite resume blunders:
      1. degree listed as a Bachelor o farts
      2. listing “asses client needs” as a bullet point

      When will people learn that spell check is not your friend?

      1. KellyK*

        Bachelor o farts! Nice!

        And yeah, spell check is only your friend if you’ve also made friends with the exclude dictionary. (You can create a list of words that are correct to flag as wrong anyway. Mine includes both curse words and words that are really unlikely to appear in business documents, but that are easy typos for words that are, like “manger” for “manager.”)

        1. Anonnymouse*

          I manage all of our social media for my job, and after the first couple of times I caught typos after the posts went live, I now read all of my posts out loud under my breath before hitting “post.” I do the same exact thing with resumes, cover letters, so on and so forth.

          It’s embarrassing to catch typos/spelling errors well after you can do anything about it.

    6. Stells*

      Back in my agency recruiting days, we had a tradition that whenever someone had a “ring back” song (or some ridiculous voicemail greeting) we would play it on speakerphone.

      There is never an “acceptable” song to play in those situations. Even if I like the song, it makes the person look so unprofessional.

  3. Anonymous*

    Laura, I can understand and accept your problems with the spelling errors, but not with the hold-music reference. Clearly, he/she was attmepting to inject a bit of humour which was lost on you. He/she was not saying that you will be placed on hold willynilly or that you’d be calling in vain.

    IMO, I think you might be assigning way too much gravitas to the hiring process. Yes, you should be professional and serious but not completely bereft of personality. We keep getting advice to spruce and spice up our resumes, and not to bore the hiring manager, yet for something this innocuous, at least in my view, he/she is slapped with a ‘no thank you.’

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think it was an attempt to inject humor; that’s a built-in part of the phone feature that plays music instead of having the caller hearing the phone ringing on the other end. The problem is that using that particular phone feature comes across as unprofessional to many people.

      Advice not to bore the hiring manager doesn’t mean playing them music. It means being a strong candidate with a track record of achievement.

      1. COT*

        Those songs are called “ringback tones.” I once heard a bump-and-grind type of ringback song… while calling someone who was applying to be a nanny. If someone shows such poor professional judgment I wouldn’t trust them to be mature caregivers for children.

        It’s just like people who use ridiculous or sexual email addresses on their resume… do what you want in your personal life but have the common sense to present a professional image during your job search.

        1. Someone's sister*

          Yes, my sister had this while applying for teaching jobs. Hers was some unintelligible rock song — I’m a rock fan and her sister and didn’t like calling her because of it. My dad told her she needed to get that off there (I did too), so she changed it to Pachelbel’s Canon. At that point, I thought maybe she truly didn’t have good enough judgement to get a teaching job, and her interview/offer record seems to show people agree with me. Tight market=need to eliminate disadvantages where you can.

          1. Anonymous*

            I’m curious how old she is. This is NOT a defense of ringbacks, personally, I think they are just stupid and yes, professionally, anything your phone says, can and will be used against you so I think they are a bad choice.

            But, if you really think about it, there is a growing population that didn’t (or mostly didn’t) grow up with telephones. This means no dial tones, busy signals, and traditional ringing. If you grew up with traditional ringing, the ringing seems obvious, but for a generation who’s grown up with phones using ring tones, doesn’t the normal ring seem a bit arbitrary?

      2. Laura*

        Thank you Alison, you are right, there was nothing in the letter to indicate there was humor involved. It was more instructional in nature. And for the record, he wasn’t “slapped with a no thank you” solely for that reason. He wasn’t qualified anyway, and there were other parts to the resume and cover letter that were unprofessional. I was trying to keep the account brief. You can rest in the knowledge that he certainly would have been moved along in process if he had been qualified. I just thought it was a funny thing to say in a cover letter. And LOL, if there’s one thing I’ve NEVER been accused of, it’s “bereft of personality.” Funny thing to infer about a person from the few short sentences I wrote. But I guess that’s the internet for you.

      3. Christine*

        I have a friend who uses the ringback feature, but it’s always nice classical music, which I don’t see a problem with. Now, if it was bump-and-grind type of song, that’d be a different story.

        What I hate is when a call goes straight to voicemail without even one ring. Not a good idea of you’re actively job searching, imho.

        1. Broke Philosopher*

          I don’t think you can help that. If my phone is turned off or out of service, it goes straight to voicemail. I really hope that an employer wouldn’t assume that I was unreachable or otherwise unprofessional because of that.

  4. RB*

    Gaps can be problematic, yes. Hopefully, with the state of the economy, employers may be more flexible. We have had double digit unemployment here for 5 years. Companies have closed their doors and layoffs have been significant. I don’t automatically dismiss anyone with some gaps. Some can be reasonably explained.

  5. AdAgencyChick*

    #2 and #3: Oh my god, yes. I hire *writers*, and several times I’ve gotten resumes with client names misspelled, ungrammatical English, the works. It’s not enough to run a spell check — that won’t catch errors in proper nouns unless you’ve customized your spell check for them.

    I will often meet candidates who have other warning signs (long employment gaps, job-hopping), but I categorically refuse to interview someone *for a writing job* who’s displayed carelessness in his/her writing in what should be a showpiece document.

  6. Frenchie*

    A few things that I have seen recently:
    Remeber to put your job title! Writing where you worked and your responsabilities is not enough, When reading quickly I want to see what the job title was.
    Not adding a cover letter.
    If you hand in your resume in person (your first mistake in my opinion) and you are a smoker… Please make sure your resume doesn’t smell of smoke!
    In your “objectives” I don’t want to read about how you need a good job to start a family or take care of your kids.
    Don’t have your wife phone in to ask if we have any opportunities and then if I say yes come on the phone yourself.
    One of the first questions you ask should not be “how much do you pay” before you even know what the job entails or if we would be interested in interviewing you.

  7. Chinook*

    When addressing the job hopping due to spouse in the military, where in the cover letter should I put it? Right now I am putting it near the end after selling why I would be a good choice. Should I be mentioning it sooner?

  8. Heather*

    When applying for a position through the company website, I have no option for filling in the blanks. It is all chronological. How do we address this. It is the same with LinkedIn.

    Do companies even read the uploaded resume?

    1. Anne*

      If you’re both filling in an online form and uploading a resume, one of them will probably be read by an actual person, and the other will be read by an ATS. Or that’s my understanding from my husband, who programs CV/resume-parsing software. The program looks for keywords, etc.

      It’s hard to know which is which, but it would take a very odd company to not have an actual human at least cast an eye over each application, unless the ATS throws up some serious red flags (ex. cursewords in it but, no mention of “experience” and “skills”, etc.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Gaps of a few months should never matter. Beyond that, it depends on the full context so there’s not one blanket rule that can easily be cited. For instance, if you have a solid work history without job hopping but you have one gap of 8 months, it shouldn’t be a big deal. But if you have multiple gaps, then it’s a concerning pattern.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Coincidentally, that is my exact situation! Solid work history in the same field, except for one 8-month gap.

        The gap happened 5 years ago. My fiance got an out-of-state job offer. I waited until my contract was up and then I moved to join him. A medical issue came up and I took a bit of break from job searching. Should I try to explain any of this in a cover letter?

  9. Anonymous*

    If I had to guess, I’d say that the problematic resumes and cover letters you receive are actually written by the applicants themselves as opposed to the pristine, manicured ones that are perhaps written by a third party, a professional resume writer for instance. So, if I were the hiring manager, I’d be cautious in letting inconsistencies and errors torpedo a candidacy and the lack thereof propel one. My jaundiced view is based on my experience in admissions at so-called elite schools where it was common for third party professionals to ‘edit’ prospective applicants’ essays, etc., when the reality is that the applicants themselves would not in a lifetime have been able to reproduce the quality of the final result.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The vast majority of people don’t use professional resume writers, so I don’t think that’s it.

      It isn’t about having professional-level resume writing skills; it’s about what your actual job history shows (in the case of substance) and about having attention to detail (in the case of things like errors). You don’t need a pro to avoid those things.

      1. KellyK*

        Absolutely. And if you know you have issues with typos and spelling errors, even getting a friend or family member to review your resume can make a big difference.

  10. E*

    Ok, here’s the one thing I’ve been having problems with- #5, listing achievements instead of duties. I understand the theory behind this, but I’m struggling how to personally portray achievements instead of duties on my resume. If you aren’t in an industry where you have easily measurable goals- such as sales, where you could say “I brought in x amount of money”, or marketing, where you could say “I increased our reach by x amount” (or whatever marketers do)- how do you list your achievements?

    To be specific, I’m trying to find a job in informal education, and most of the time achievements are based on teaching a great lesson, or thinking up innovative ways to teach subject matter, or connecting with your audience. But those aren’t measurable achievements that I could list without coming across as arrogant, and really, anyone could say that about themselves. So while I think I’m doing ok with my resume, I’m not sure I have all achievements instead of duties. Is this something that isn’t universal in the job searching world?

      1. Anne*

        I’m assuming it’s okay to mention some of your responsibilities as well as your achievements?

        I work at a startup, where I was originally hired just to answer the phones, and now I’m being trained as the accountant and also doing some tech stuff. I have lots of achievements I can list, but they’re in so many different areas, I feel like it would be strange to to list them without any explanation.

        Like… who overhauls the Support function while also putting in new processes for dealing with overdue payers, license renewals and general sales? I feel like I will either come across as way more high-level than I actually am, or as if I’m just lying.

    1. Sabrina*

      I’ve often wondered this too. Most of my experience was as an Administrative Assistant, and I don’t think that scheduling meetings and booking travel is really an achievement. Lately I’ve been doing data entry. Is getting 100% QA scores several months out of the year an achievement?

  11. ThursdaysGeek*

    So, when you have a posting and it says “Comments on this entry are closed”, that also means none of them can be read. Is that the point? If so, wouldn’t the better wording be “Commenting not allowed on this entry”?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think you’re talking about today’s sponsored post, right? There weren’t any comments, because I created it as a no-comment post from the beginning. But I just figured out how to disable that message so that it won’t cause confusion.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Thank you. Now I won’t be wondering if there were some wildly inappropriate comments that got out of hand, and I don’t get to see them because I got to the party late. :)

  12. Henning Makholm*

    Point 6 (“no overarching theme”) confuses me. The explanation of it seems to fit point 1 (“job hopping”) better.

    Suppose I have a history of holding jobs for 5-8 years each but those jobs don’t have any clear line between them — why would any employer care in particular about that beyond what kind of relevant experience I’d bring to the job they’re trying to fill? Why would they care whether, once I leave them for something better, I’ll go on doing more of the same stuff or something entirely different?

    1. KellyK*

      I think it’s the idea that you’re not sure what you want to do or where you’re going that might be concerning. How much that matters might depend on how senior a position it is or how interested they are in having employees stay for a long time and work their way up.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      They do care. A lot.

      I work in strategy & development in engineering and construction (for 5 yrs now). I have an engineering degree and did actual engineering for 8 yrs. I also have an MBA. Yet, people seem genuinely befuddled about how I ended up where I am. One of the first things I’ve always had to answer was how did I get from A to B, even though to me the connection is obvious.

      I think if there is no “overarching theme” you have to explain it in your cover letter. For example you could explain a move from teaching to technical sales this way: “After spending five years in public education, I decided I was more suited to a career path where I could still use my teaching skills to educate my ‘customers,’ but where I personally would be responsible for my achieving my goals.”

    3. just another hiring manager...*

      Think of it this way: the overarching theme should be how your relevant experience relates to the position to which you are applying. If your previous positions don’t make that clear on their own, a solid cover letter and tailored resume should connect the dots.

      If you are connecting the dots, you’ve got an overarching theme and there is not an issue. If you are NOT connecting the dots, that is a HUGE problem and gets your application tossed in the round file.

      1. Henning Makholm*

        Why is it a HUGE problem to have some experience that doesn’t relate to the position I’m applying to? As long as I do have the experience necessary to do the job, why would it matter that I’ve also done other things that don’t relate to it?

        Logically that ought to be a neutral (or perhaps a weak positive if there were a chance that the additional experience might come in handy for the employer at a later point in time).

        1. AnotherAlison*

          If it ties together, I might call you a senior level 15 yr person. If it doesn’t, you (the hypothetical you, not you Henning) might be a 3-yr person, if 3 years is all you have in the most recent chain of career choices. This would only be a HUGE problem (for me) if you want to be paid like a 15 yr person, rather than a 3 yr person.

          Alternatively, I’m looking for someone who has particular career goals in mind that align with what I offer for the position. You might look like you just do whatever strikes your fancy for a while and then go do something else when it gets boring.

          Career changers are worrisome to managers because they can “fall back on” their old field. If the new field turns out to not be a fit, they can easily do something else, where a person who has been in one field forever is more likely to stay. (I’m guessing. . .)

          1. COT*

            Exactly. If you’re up against candidates with 15 years of relevant experience, it’s in your best interest to show that your last 15 years have also been relevant to this new position–not just the last three.

            Employers may value those other skills, but they’re not going to get you an interview. Just because my coworkers rely on my tech background when it’s time to troubleshoot the copier doesn’t mean that my employer placed a lot of value on IT skills when I applied for my current job, because my core duties have nothing to do with that.

            1. Henning Makholm*

              Of course only relevant experience is relevant experience.

              But I’m not talking about being up against a candidate with 15 years of experience. I’m talking about having the same experience as other candidates, only with some irrelevant additional experience.

              Suppose you’re trying to fill a teapot-related position and have one 35-year-old applicant who’s been an accountant for 5 years, then a train driver for 5 years, and then finally a chocolate teapot maker for 5 years. Another applicant is 25 and has only ever been a chocolate teapot maker, also for 5 years.

              Do you really think the first applicant should be summarily rejected simply because he has some irrelevant experience? Whereas the second applicant will be fine because the single job he’s ever had constitutes an overarching theme?

              What possible business reason could there be for doing that?

              1. Lindsay*

                Why have the train driving experience on your resume at all though if it does not relate to your ability as a chocolate teapot maker in any way, though?

                If you can connect the dots in any way between your train driving and being a stronger chocolate teapot maker candidate, do that. Otherwise, why not use that space on your resume to flesh out your other experiences that are relevant to chocolate teapot making – include more achievements etc?

                1. Lindsay*

                  I forgot to add that you could still include the train driving on the resume, but de-emphasize it. Perhaps place it in a separate category underneath entitled “Other experience” where you list the employer, job role, and dates of employment but don’t get into responsibilities and achievements etc.

                  That way it doesn’t look like you were doing nothing during that time period but it is not taking away from the narrative your resume is trying to create.

                2. Henning Makholm*

                  Wait, so if it’s there on the resume, but “de-emphasized”, I can hope that the hiring manager will overlook it and/or somehow forgive it?

                  That is, a lack of “overarching theme” in my life that would otherwise render me an instant-reject unemployable may be fine if only I make a half-hearted attempt to direct attention away from it?

                  (Still a hypothetical “me”, btw. My actual own life history is just as boringly straight-lined as anyone could want).

              2. Anonymous*

                If your two candidates have the same five years of skill development and achievement, there is no justifiable ‘business reason’. It’s just expediency – HR staff are relieved to find any reason to eliminate resumes – rationalized by various ideals and myths.

                A linear, progressive career – just think what ‘career’ denotes – is taken as evidence of being worthy of capitalist trust: it means you are *hardy*, enough to escape layoffs, and to endure personal misfortune (divorce, illness, loss); *rational*, enough to not be fooled by myths perpetuated by money-starved universities, and to plan a fitting education ; *savvy*, enough to play and win every office game, to climb, climb, climb. Those are the ideals guiding Human Resource recruitment.

                The myth is that the ostensible traits valued by business – hard work and skill – are more important than luck or timing. Being born in a place or to a family that taught the right kinds of rationality, savviness, or hardiness is luck. Most personal misfortune isn’t chosen. Making choices that were benign before 2008 but turned out to be fatal afterwards, is timing.

                Fairness has little to do with it.

          2. Henning Makholm*

            Why would you be looking for “someone who has particular career goals in mind” rather than someone who can and will do the position you’re actually hiring for?

            As for the ability to “fall back” being worrisome, remember that we’re talking about someone whose history shows a solid habit of not doing that, but actually staying in a job for a good period of time even those that job has been of a new kind every time. (Because if we aren’t talking about such a person, we’re in the job-hopper case anyway).

            1. Joey*

              I think the better question is why In the world would you hire someone whose career goals were not aligned with this job? Hiring managers aren’t looking for someone who just “can” and “will” do the job, they’re looking for someone who is going to be passionate about kicking ass in this job. If your goals aren’t aligned with this job that probably means that you won’t be investing as much energy into learning as much as you can about this job because you’ll be moving on to something else.

          3. Anonymous*

            Is that even logical, though? Why would a career-changer, who’s invested time (usually, at least two years of retraining and/or internships) and not insignificant money to pursue not just any thing, but a *specific* thing they are enthusiastic about and presumably highly motivated to pursue, want to go back to something s/he found unsatisfying?

            The person who’s been in the same field forever might be bored out of his mind and used to cutting corners, but trapped by his history, and perceptions like yours.

        2. fposte*

          This might be the resume vs. CV thing, too. Unless you’re pretty new to the job market, a resume isn’t likely to include everything you’ve ever done–it uses your relevant employment and other information to tell the story of your professional trajectory in a way that makes it relevant to the job you’re applying for. A CV is a much more complete document.

          1. Henning Makholm*

            The resume may not spend much on each position, but I presume it still does have to list them such that it’s apparent that the applicant didn’t spend all that time between school and the first relevant job in jail?

            1. fposte*

              No, it really doesn’t. The resume isn’t a job history. It can read like one, especially for younger candidates, but if you’re 50 and you switched fields at 30, you really don’t need to put those ten years of fast-food work or brain surgery on the resume, because it’s not relevant to the job you’re applying for.

    4. GeekChic*

      I’m glad someone else was confused by that. Then again, the only “overarching theme” to my various jobs is that I’d like to get paid so I can eat.

      1. Rana*

        I also sort of wonder what one does when the “overarching theme” is at odds with the position one’s applying for, as when you try to change careers. I guess that’s something to address in the cover letter?

  13. Another Sara*

    One of my coworkers interviewed a candidate who asked a million questions about salary, bonus structure, benefits, and so on. My coworker referred him to HR on those issues and asked if he had any questions about the job, culture, etc. His reply: “No, that’s all my mom told me to ask about.”

      1. Anne*

        ohmygoodness <3

        So cute and so not hired.

        I'm pretty sure I've left messages with people's parents before. I've always found that kind of nice though. :)

    1. Lisa*

      I literally just face-palmed. I wonder if it’s the same mother who told her daughter to call every day for an interview…

    2. Christine*

      I’ve got a better one: Years ago one early morning, I got a call to come in for an interview at the local middle school. However, I was still in bed (though close to getting up), and my mom took the call. She actually asked the caller about the job!

  14. Job seeker*

    The one that bothers me is # 8 about gaps between jobs. I worked part-time, went back to school and now have a larger gap because I am trying hard to help a parent in my home. I really do not know how to cover this well in a cover letter. I believe my resume and cover letters I send out are good because I have gotten some responses. But one person said if you apply several times for a long period of time to the same employer that looks bad. Do employers think why has no-one hired you yet? Sometimes, there is a valid reason but how do you address taking time out to help your parent in a cover letter? Does it really look bad to keep applying to postings at the same company for a year? Someone told me to try to get a job some place else and then later go back and apply there if I saw anything posted. I am now only looking for part-time positions to be able to do everything. Another person told me to just put looking for a job on hold. That makes me nervous because I will have a larger gap.

    1. fposte*

      There’s a lot of “it depends” in there. For one, reapplying at a large facility for positions of a kind they frequently have open and have a lot of is different than sending in a resume every time there’s a single position at a small organization. I do think that part-time can be a good way to build up career history again after a gap, so if that’s all you can do time-wise right now that might work out very well.

      As far as putting the search on hold, that’s an even bigger “it depends.” Some relevant questions: is there enough other support for your ailing parent that you can be a reliable worker with limited absences? Or, on the other side, would you really prefer to not work and instead spend more time with your mother (it is your mother, isn’t it?) and would that be okay financially, even if it limited your future income as well as your current? I think you’re right to be aware of the gap issue, but the gap is already there; the question is how much it hurts you to extend it and whether you gain more personally from reentering the market or waiting. And that’s another “it depends.”

      I personally think that if my mother were very ill and I was likely to lose her quite soon I’d make a different decision than if she were in need of assistance but was likely going to be around to need it for a while. Sometimes it’s hard to know where you are, of course, but that’s the challenge of life–often we have to make our decisions without knowing what we’d like to.

      1. Job seeker*

        Thank you fposte for your reply. My mother needs assistance and has some on-going medical concerns, but is not critically ill. I am thankful I can help her. There is no-one else in my family that can help my mom. There are only two people she has to depend on that is my sister and me. My only sister just had open-heart surgery three weeks ago and is a single mom in another state. I am trying to help my sister long-distance too. My husband and I flew my sister’s adult daughter from another state to help her and my mother and I have sent her some assistance. My mom is older now and a widow and she tells me she feels safe when I am here.

        I realize the gap is there already and I guess there is not much I can do about that. I guess I just hope that employers will understand that I have not been just sitting idle. I believe that part-time would work if the hours were right. From reading your post you have a very good heart and I agree with you so much. I never want regrets either.

        I am fortunate that my husband makes a very good income, but I am thinking about earning money for the future too. I did enjoy working and it makes me feel good to be able to earn money and be out in the workforce again. I would never neglect anyone in my family though. I just want to be able to do it all. I guess I just worry a lot about how it looks in the job market to be looking for a long time. Like you said, the challenges of life are hard.

  15. HR Pufnstuf*

    I once called and applicant and the answering machine greeting had nothing but a small child bawling. I hung up.
    If on the job search everything is evaluated, keep it professional.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Oh dear Lord. You know what likely happened here. The machine was at kid level & the kid pushed the buttons until it recorded something. You never listen to your own greeting, if you think you have a good one recorded, so you’re at the mercy of someone telling you. I feel bad for that person, but I wouldn’t have left a message either.

      1. Canadian mom*

        When DS #1 was in his young-and-stupid teen years he changed our machine-greeting to one of those “hello……hello…..hello” things and I had no idea till my mom told me – as you say people rarely have any reason to listen to their own greeting.

        Luckily I wasn’t looking for a job at the time.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          My son did that on his cell phone. I told him to change it or lose the phone. Teenagers. . .

      2. HR Pufnstuf*

        I thank you for that thought. I chalked it up to parents who over-share (a shout out to!).

        If I ever run into it again (i pray not) I’ll at least hesitate a second or two before hanging up.

  16. not really a job hopper*

    Ok, I may be going nuts, cz I thought I posted a comment earlier today but it’s not here.

    I finished school in 2009. My longest job was 16 months, from 2008-2009, when I finished school, that job ended as well.

    In 2011 I started volunteering and taking positions that are in the field I eventually want to get into.

    Between 09 and 11, are a few jobs that I took cz I needed just to keep busy–had no idea what I wanted to do as a career.

    So my Q is…what’s worse? A bunch of irrelevant jobs where I have no references, or a 2 year gap?

    Is it acceptable to mention that I temped in a cover letter or in an interview?

    And how do I word it on my resume that all of my jobs have been temp/seasonal?

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