Overcoming Red Flags


Everyone has at least one red flag in their career history. Learn how to make the best of a bad situation so that your red flags don't hold you back.

A “red flag” refers to any situation or condition that could reflect poorly on your career or your character. In most situations, red flags are not deal breakers, because almost everyone has some form of a red flag in their career history. So, you don’t need to be embarrassed about yours, but you do need to be prepared to acknowledge these red flags and answer questions about them should they be brought up in an interview.

Some circumstances most commonly identified as potential red flags include:

  • Frequent job changes
  • Gaps in work history
  • Lack of a college degree or an industry-specific license
  • Changes in industry or discipline
  • Reasons for leaving a job

Moving beyond the red flags

Many interviewers understand that every person is going to have various parts of their life or their career that they are going to want to gloss over. As much as they are looking to find the red flags in your background, they are also looking to see how you react when they bring them up. Do you get angry or defensive, or do you answer the question patiently and honestly?  Do you maintain a strong self-confidence, despite the fact that you have made mistakes?  We all make mistakes and your ability to take responsibility and convey what you’ve learned says a lot about your character and value system.

When it comes to addressing your red flags, honesty is always the best policy. By being upfront and open in your answers to difficult questions about potential red flags, you are showing your potential employer that you are mature and eager to prove yourself. Every employer wants to hire people of strong character, and honest answers to such questions are indicative of that quality.

As you think about how you can answer “red flag” questions, consider these types of questions:

  1. What do you differently now that prevents that red flag from becoming an issue in your career again?
  2. What did you learn from that red flag experience?
  3. How did you take responsibility for it?
  4. How can you form a calm, rational answer without playing the blame game?

The best thing that you can do to prepare is simply not worry about the impact that your red flags have on your job chances. The more anxious you get, the more that will show up if a question about your red flags comes up. Employers will be hesitant to hire someone who seems nervous or defensive about addressing their past.

Again, everyone has at least one red flag. As long as you recognize yours and are able to talk about them as a learning experience for you, you will be just fine when the question comes up in your interview.

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