03/19/2014 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

Owning It: Explaining Your Red Flags

Computer graphic red waving flag

When you’re preparing for an interview, you naturally focus on pumping yourself up.  You review your resume for its high points: the jobs you landed, the awards you won, the projects you completed.  When telling your story to a prospective employer, you probably give her the highlight reel: a flattering, glowing slideshow of what’s worked in your career.

And this is a good idea: you definitely want to tell your story and tell its best version to employers.  But don’t underestimate your hiring contact: if there are weak spots in your background, a careful interviewer will find them.

When preparing for an interview, know what aspects of your job history could emerge as potential red flags. This could be anything from your age and experience level—are you a recent college graduate with zero classroom experience?—to an unexplained gap in your resume (what exactly were you doing for those two years that go mysteriously unaccounted for after your last noted position?).

These inconsistencies might not actually be red flags.  If you’re still in college, you haven’t led a classroom yet, that’s true—but maybe you’ve been a camp counselor, an academic tutor, or a mentor to younger students.  Highlight those accomplishments, and you’ll make that flag a little less red.

A gap on your resume, too, might be easily explained: perhaps you started your own consulting business, earned a fellowship, or needed a brief foray into a different career field to realize that your heart truly lies in the classroom after all.

If you’re reviewing your resume and realizing that you have a few red flags of your own, don’t panic.  The most important thing to do is know them—and own them.  Don’t ever misrepresent yourself in an interview—you want your integrity and your character to precede you.  Plus, you want to work at a school that’s the right match for you: if they have a problem with you because you jumped around a bit before finding your true calling, then they might not be the community for you after all.

Assess your red flags honestly, and explain them openly and positively.  For example, if asked to explain your career trajectory, you could add, “You might notice that I’ve hopped around the country a bit—I’ve made career decisions in line with my spouse, who just finished a medical residency and is more stably located now.” Being truthful upfront and acknowledging a weakness or inconsistency can only help you in the eyes of a concerned or skeptical interviewer.

Even if you’re applying for the “perfect” job, you’re not perfect—and your interviewer doesn’t expect you to be.  Knowing the weak points of your resume—and owning them—can help you avoid an awkward situation and, better yet, can allow you to take charge of your career.

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