5 Common Resume Screen-out Factors

Screen-out factors are elements in resumes, cover letters, or other personal marketing documents that can be limiting — or detrimental — to one's job search.

However, it is important to keep in mind that a screen-out factor in a resume may not necessarily be a screen-out factor in an interview where one has the opportunity to build rapport and explain a circumstance in detail (should it come up). The goal of your resume is to get you to the next step, the interview. Screen-out factors in resumes provide an easy way for an employer to narrow down the number of candidates to be interviewed, as an interview requires a much greater investment of time.

In most cases, screen-out factors can be substantially minimized or even eliminated. While there are several types of screen-out factors, these will vary based on one's unique circumstances and future career direction.

Following are examples of potential screen-out factors and how they might be mitigated:

Numerous short-term positions
Showing numerous short-term positions can send a signal that you are not likely to stay long enough to recoup the expense of hiring and training. One strategy is to use years (versus months and years) to help streamline and focus your history. We do not recommend a strategy of removing the dates altogether since this can be a red flag to employers; they may feel there is something to hide. Plus, in many cases where Applicant Tracking Systems (using robust parsing technology) are used to screen candidates and dates have been eliminated, the document may never even reach a human reviewer. There may be other strategies depending upon your unique background and career goals.
Multiple unrelated positions
Many job seekers feel that showing multiple unrelated positions in the work history demonstrates a diverse background. Unfortunately, this type of presentation is much more likely to be seen as a lack of focus and can lead to questions about a candidate’s interest in, commitment to, and likelihood of staying with a new position.
Typically the best strategy is to identify a few common threads in each position as they relate to your current career goals. By placing more emphasis on these functional skills, training, and accomplishments—as they relate to a targeted job search—you are more likely to convey a clear sense of direction.
Long gaps between positions
While it is not uncommon to see gaps in one's work history, these gaps can raise questions about one’s motivation or commitment. Furthermore, because the hiring process is both an investment and a risk, some hiring managers will be concerned that the reason for a gap in history could re-emerge in the future. When possible, it is best to fill the gap with experience or career-related activities such as education. Filling this gap may not be possible, especially if your reasons are personal. In such cases, it is typically best to touch on this time away in the cover letter while immediately conveying your enthusiasm about making a lasting and positive impact.
Including dates or experience that is not current
Most industries in today's job market are continuously changing and evolving, which is why hiring managers are most interested in your recent experience. The basic guideline is to develop the last 10 to 15 years of experience. If experience prior to the last 10 to 15 years is particularly relevant to your current goals, it could be included.
If you are applying to a senior- or executive-level position where more years of experience will be expected, you might develop experience as far back as twenty years.
Also, in some rare circumstances, it can be beneficial to develop experience from more than 15 years back but exclude the dates. This would only be recommended when the exclusion of dates introduces less risk than the elimination of older experience...a circumstance that typically is best evaluated by a professional.
Typographical Errors, Misspellings, and Inappropriate Grammar
Most realize that obvious errors can be a problem because it may raise concerns about your quality of work or attention to detail. This is particularly applicable to spelling and typographical errors where, if one is personally close to the document, the same error can be missed even after several revisions. Furthermore, while standard grammar rules do not apply to the resume itself, proper grammar is essential in critical narrative documents like a cover letter or professional biography.
To identify and remove errors, you can use a spell-check feature to locate misspellings, but a typographical error can be missed if the result is a correctly spelled word (e.g., "mange" instead of "manage"). In general, the grammar-check feature should be avoided since it can often indicate "errors" that are correct and even suggest changes that will result in an error. Ultimately, it is best to carefully proofread your documents as well as have a professional review them before submitting to an employer.


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