Ten Ways Your Resume Can Scare Employers Away


It would be awful if your job search were being hindered by something in your resume — something that might scare employers away.

It is hard to read your own resume with a critical eye. You know yourself too well. It’s hard to get perspective on your own background.

Pick an honest and forthright friend to review your resume for you, and ask them to tell you what they think of it.

Your resume might be scaring employers away. If you are applying for lots of job openings but you aren’t hearing anything back, this could be your problem. How would you know?

They never tell you “Here’s the problem we ran into when we reviewed your resume.” They just go silent, and you keep using the same resume over and over.

Here are ten ways your resume may be scaring employers away:

  1. Lots of short-term jobs in a row (with no explanation)
  2. Non-traditional, zigzag career path, unexplained
  3. Precipitous drops in altitude (e.g., a switch from an executive-level job to a nearly entry-level job)
  4. Your formal education doesn’t match your career history
  5. Long-term or multiple employment gaps (periods of unemployment)
  6. No obvious intersection between your resume and the job spec
  7. Lots of typos and misspellings in your resume
  8. Industry jargon from a different industry
  9. You’re a non-local job candidate (and you don’t explain why)
  10. You’ve been a manager in the same function as the non-management job you’re applying for now (screeners will wonder “Why does this applicant want to take a step down?”)

People who review and forward resumes are not typically especially senior. They may feel that they can’t put forward a candidate who has even one resume “blemish.”

They may feel that they could get in trouble, lose brownie points or even lose their jobs if they recommend an unsuitable candidate for hire.

That’s one reason resume screeners are often so timid. They seem to care much more about a job candidate’s match to the job spec (that is, a clerical match) than to the candidate’s actual story, their history or their accomplishments.

You can’t run the risk of letting one or more resume problems knock you out of the running!

The key is to explain your background in your resume, whether you’ve had one or more employment gaps, a drop in altitude or some other career shift that might confuse the reader.

None of the issues on the list above have to be a big deal. You just have to put them in context.

You can address an employment gap in the Summary at the top of your resume, like this:

I’m a software-focused Project Manager with experience bringing large development projects from concept to launch, on time and under budget. Returning now from a one-year sabbatical I’m excited to help bring an outstanding new product to market.


If you are job-hunting remotely, you can explain your situation this way:

I am an Office Manager with an HR background who loves to keep a busy office working smoothly. I’m experienced in Payroll, Benefits and Employee Relations along with Office Management. Returning to Charlotte after ten years in New York, I’m eager to help a great company grow.


You can address a drop in altitude in the body of your resume, like this:

Acme Explosives, Phoenix, Arizona

Software Testing Supervisor

2012 – 2015

I joined Acme to help a former colleague of mine when he took over as Quality Assurance Manager. We got the Software QA program running smoothly and then I moved on to my current role.

Wiggly Devices, Townsville, Ohio


IT Director

2009 – 2012

Wiggly Devices was a vc-backed startup (now a division of IBM). I joined Wiggly after its first vc round to establish its IT function.

Now the reader can easily understand why you left a management job and took a lower-level job to help your ex-colleague out.

You have to take the time to customize your resume for every job you pursue. You can’t assume that a person reading your resume will see the relevance between your background and the job they are trying to fill.

How do you customize your resume? You will do it in two steps:

  1. First, you’ll use the Summary at the top of your resume to make it clear that you understand the requirements of the job you want — and that you’ve solved a similar type of Business Pain before (even if it was in a different industry and/or different function).
  2. Second, you’ll choose Dragon-Slaying Stories for the body of your resume that emphasize your most relevant accomplishments — relevant to the specific position you’re pursuing, that is.

Customizing your resume over and over for different job opportunities takes time, but it is worth the time investment. The more you are forced to ask and answer the question “How does my background relate to this position I’m applying for?” the stronger your muscles will get!

Make sure that your resume is helping you in your job search — not scaring employers away.

Address your resume “blemish” directly, and watch your results improve!