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How to turn career weaknesses around


Despite a great layout, perfect grammar and a CV that is beautifully tailored to the job description, there may be times when all this can be derailed by a seemingly fatal flaw. Maybe you have large gaps in your employment history or maybe you’re what employers call a “job hopper” (a big red flag when it comes to hiring). But there’s no reason these flaws have to stop your application in its tracks; and, with the right positive spin, they can be easily overcome.

Very few applicants have the perfect experience and qualifications when applying for a job. In fact, many CVs have a few imperfections that can’t be fixed with a great layout. Given this, there may well be parts of your work history that you want to gloss over without actually being dishonest. In most cases your potential employer will understand that not everyone is perfect and so, with a bit of preparation and forethought, you can explain how you’ve learned from your weaknesses and mistakes and used them to improve as a professional.

Gaps in employment

Whether you took a career break, couldn’t find employment for a period of time, were sick over a long period or had time off to travel, all gaps on your CV should be explained if you don’t want to damage your employability.

Usually, you’d only need to display the past ten years or so of your employment history, so any gaps before this won’t matter. Similarly, you can cover up short-term gaps of a few months by leaving the months off your employment history and just giving the years.

If you do have gaps that need to be explained, demonstrate what you accomplished in that time. If you have done something productive with your time, employers are more likely to see you as employable. Show that you’ve used the time constructively with volunteer work, training courses or creating your own project.

The key with gaps in your employment history is to explain them, as they will be noticed and you should be prepared to have your say before they give the recruiter a negative impression of you.

“Job hopping”

Most employers value a range of experience in the retail industry, but beware of displaying what recruiters call “job hopping”. This is an employment history which demonstrates higher than average changes in jobs, usually for short periods of time. This is generally seen as a warning sign of an employee with little or no commitment, an inability to get along with fellow employees or more serious issues.

Counteract this by making sure you flag up which jobs were short-term contracts, temp jobs, maternity cover or even if you were made redundant. You need to make sure that you highlight these to make sure the employer doesn’t think you simply left the job.

If you’ve changed jobs frequently just because you’ve got bored or haven’t found one that you get on with, that is harder to justify and you should always try to stick it out for a decent length of time. It will pay off when looking for your next role.

Legitimate reasons for you leaving the employer, such as structural changes within the company, significant changes to your job role such as location (and, not simply that you’re being given more work to do) will always be best to fall back on in this situation.

Lack of relevant experience

Sometimes, you can meet all the requirements for a job without possessing quite enough experience in one of the areas covered by the job. This should not mean you can’t apply for the role, but you do need to be aware of how you approach this.

First of all, make sure that you really do meet all the other requirements and that you are not making too big a leap. It is easy to talk yourself into applying for a job that is too far above your current level, but in reality, there’s a lot more work you need to do before getting to the stage where an application is going to be successful. However, there may be occasions when you meet all the requirements of experience and skills, but haven’t got quite enough years of experience in the role, or your company doesn’t use systems or doesn’t include elements under that job title that other companies do.

The key here is to focus on the elements of the job advert that you do meet. When it comes to tackling the things that you don’t have under your belt, focus on the skills you have built up that could apply to the task.

For example, if you are applying for a leadership role but haven’t officially held a management role before or haven’t held it for a long period of time, you will need to demonstrate your ability to lead in other ways. Think about projects you’ve taken on and completed successfully, or people who you’ve mentored. Work with what you have and demonstrate how well you match the job description in other ways. If the lack of experience relates to systems or programmes, you will need to emphasise your abilities to learn quickly or your experience and abilities regarding other systems and processes.

Stuck in a rut

If you’ve held several jobs in a row where you have had similar responsibilities, you might want to have a look at how to differentiate between them. Chances are, you will be able to find key differences that will boost your skills range.

Remember that you should tailor your CV to the specific job you’re applying for and, as such, you should be demonstrating as many skills and as much experience as possible which conforms to the job description. Another way around this is to reorganise your CV so that your skills and experience are listed separately from your employment history.

Confusing qualifications

Sometimes, pathways in a retail career may not be as clear-cut as in other industries, with many different qualifications providing a way into the industry. Whilst this means that retail is one of the most diverse industries, it also means that some interviewers may not be familiar with your qualifications.

To avoid having to explain your past qualifications at length, make sure that you emphasise the skills that your qualification gave you. Retail is a field where transferable skills are looked on favourably, just as long as you can demonstrate their relevance to the job for which you’re applying. Whatever happens, don’t simply invent qualifications as you will be found out!

You were fired

Being fired from your previous position is not necessarily the disaster that it may seem when you’re applying for a new role. To begin with, if you were only at your job for a short period of time,say a few months, you may not need to include it at all, especially if you have other activities that will not make the gap seem so obvious.