The past has a tendency to catch up with you—particularly during job interviews. In an era when unemployment is at record-breaking highs, and amidst COVID-19, it’s tougher than ever to get an interview or a job offer. What can you do when you also have work history issues? It all starts with your resume/application and how you go about your job search.

Networking Is your Friend

Instead of scouring the same job posts as everyone else, a personal connection might be a better way to identify job opportunities. However, avoid posting an untagged, generic ask on social media unless you’re in really desperate need. 

Approach friends, acquaintances, and former employers or co-workers directly. It can be difficult to tell what kind of insights even those close to you have, and you might be surprised by the leads you find. A personal connection with a recommendation is usually the best way to get an interview under any circumstances, but particularly if you have work history issues.

What’s the Problem?

Bypassing work history problems will also depend on what those issues are. For example, maybe you’re trying to get your life back on track after addiction, but you have a criminal history connected to past troubles—that’s going to show up on a background search. It will likely be more difficult for you to pursue any job that requires background checks (depending on types of arrests or convictions). 

The good news is that background checks aren’t as common as they were in past years, and you can find many opportunities that don’t require them. You might consider filtering out job postings that require background checks or clean records. 

If you end up findings a dream posting that does require a check, make sure you provide a clear explanation and update on your current status prior to the background check. Avoid mentioning any criminal background during the initial application unless you’re required to do so, allowing your positive qualities and experience to shine through.

Got fired? Get Hired

One of the more common work history issues is having been fired from a previous employer. As you update your resume after being fired, consider whether it’s worthwhile to include that particular position. If it was a shorter term of employment, weigh the pros and cons of including that position or if it’s better to allow for an employment gap. You will also need to provide permission for hiring employers to contact former employers.

Whether or not you include a former position where you were fired is up to you, but regardless of your choice, you can also “bury” that position in your resume. Spend some time updating your resume to include all of your skills, non-work experience (volunteering or internships), certifications that may be helpful on the job, and other details that will showcase what you bring to the table. 

Make sure your resume is tweaked and customized to every job you apply for. Now that applications are largely automated, there’s a good chance a computer algorithm is scanning resumes for key words and a human won’t actually look at your resume until it’s already been vetted.

Balancing Honesty with Showing Your Best Self

While you certainly shouldn’t lie on your resume, there’s a finer line when it comes to purposeful omission. What if your last employer just wasn’t a good match? Maybe you only worked there for a month before being fired or a personal issue, addiction or something else, got in the way of job performance

You shouldn’t be judged on one part of your life when you’ve worked hard to improve yourself—but how can that be shown on a resume?

Let your resume be your first impression. Be honest, but make sure you focus on showing off the best parts of yourself. You can get more into the nitty gritty details once your resume has got you to the next step. 

Ultimately, a resume is just one tool an employer has to see if you might be a good candidate. The real “sell” comes in the interviews, and an interview is where you’ll have the best chance to explain and clarify your past.

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