How to Manage Red Flags in a Cover Letter

Managing red flags in a cover letter

A job search can be a stressful process. Issues in your employment history can make it even more challenging to put yourself out there. Resume content that demonstrates potential red flags raises concerns about your viability as a candidate, thereby, diminishing your chances of being considered for a role. Your cover letter is an ideal place to address such concerns about your application. In this article, we will discuss how you can manage red flags to ensure you are viewed as a viable candidate.

1) Career Changes/Job Hopping

Changing jobs can help you build a more satisfying career, leading to a desirable job role and higher compensation. However, too frequent job changes can be a serious red flag to prospective employers. A company is looking to make an investment in you, and they are looking for someone who can commit to staying in the long-term. If you are spending less than two years in a position, it may be considered job-hopping. This can be perceived as a reflection of restlessness, fear of commitment, or other issues in previous roles.  

To ease decision-makers concerns, it is critical to frame your cover letter effectively. We suggest taking time to understand the job requirements and establishing an alignment with your goals. Demonstrate your commitment by communicating how your background has built you up for the role, making you the perfect fit for the job. This will allow your career changes to be viewed as an attribute rather than a red flag.

2) Lay Off 

Layoffs may happen for various reasons, such as reducing salary expenditures, changes in business objectives or processes, or declining revenue. Conventional wisdom dictates that it is not ideal to talk about a layoff on a resume or a cover letter and that you should wait until the interview.  However, this might leave prospective employers with unanswered questions that will diminish your chances of landing an interview. Thus, it is critical to learn not only how to write a cover letter that sells your qualifications but also strategically addresses your layoff through it.

With the  COVID-19 pandemic impacting the global job market, companies have increasingly become empathetic towards job seekers who were laid off. Hence, if you lost your job in 2020, this shouldn’t be a major cause of worry. You can develop a strong case in your favor by maintaining focus on your accomplishments. We suggest creating a results-oriented resume highlighting your achievements using metrics. This will allow prospective employers to see that you left a mark even though you held the role shorter than expected.

3) Involuntary Termination

Involuntary termination generally occurs when an employee makes a severe error in actions or judgment. Some of the top reasons employees can get fired include misconduct, insubordination, poor performance, damaging company property, and falsifying company records. Regardless of the reason, termination is typically viewed in black and white by employers. Thus, it is crucial to be strategic about when to bring it up.  

Your cover letter is the first impression you make on potential employers. While it is essential, to be honest about your work history, your cover letter is not an ideal place to discuss reasons for termination. Mentioning any negative information in a cover letter decreases your chances of being considered for the role. In this case, it is strongly recommended to provide an explanation of what happened in your previous role at the interview stage. Delaying your explanation ensures your application is given the fair chance it deserves.

4) Long-Term Unemployment/Gaps

Some of the most prevalent reasons for employment gaps include raising children, caring for an ill family member, medical leave, traveling, and lengthy job searches. While these are valid reasons for employment gaps, some employers stigmatize job seekers who have been out of the workforce for a while. This is due to the assumption that something must be wrong with the applicant and that they are not as desirable as employed candidates. For this reason, it is crucial to address the long-term employment gap in the cover letter.

As a best practice, it is strongly recommended to keep your explanation brief. Maintain focus on your commitment to returning to the workforce and utilizing your skills to contribute to the company’s success. It is also a good idea to mention how you used your time productively. This can include taking relevant courses, participating in voluntary work, or offering services as a freelancer. Then, link the competencies you have acquired to the skills your target employer is specifically seeking. This approach will allow employers to see your potential value despite your employment gaps. 

5) Relocation

It is a common practice for employers to favor local candidates. For this reason, candidates who submit documents with an out-of-town address are at risk of being screened out. However, this does not need to be a deal-breaker. Your cover letter is a perfect opportunity to articulate your circumstance to prospective employers and address any concerns about your residency. 

Phrasing your cover letter correctly is crucial to increase the probability of getting your application considered even if you are not a local candidate. Mentioning the fact that you are moving upfront will be beneficial for your candidacy. This is regardless of whether you are considering relocating for the job or have already got plans to move. Demonstrate your interest in the job itself and focus on how your qualifications can benefit the company. This will help precede any reference to the fact that you’re relocating and make employers believe you are worth the effort.

6) Criminal Records

One of the top drawbacks of having a criminal record is difficulty in finding employment. A conviction can make you look reckless, irresponsible, and untrustworthy of working in a safe environment. This makes it extremely challenging for a former offender to get their foot in the door despite having the right combination of experience and skills. While it is essential to be upfront, your cover letter is not the best place to communicate the history of misdemeanors and felony convictions.

Due to the stigma associated with having criminal records, mentioning this upfront can introduce unconscious bias into the hiring process. Unless the employer requires an explanation pre-interview, it is strongly recommended to address your circumstance in a face-to-face meeting. This provides you with a chance to properly convey what happened and demonstrate how you’ve since grown from that experience. Impeding your explanation until the interview stage will help you get an equal footing with other job seekers despite having criminal records.

No one has a perfect employment history and there are always professional deficiencies. Despite this, you can optimize your job search results by strategically addressing potential concerns about your background in your cover letter. So, even if some of the red flags above are relatable to you, you can still be successful at landing your dream job.