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6 Job Application Problems and How to Fix Them

6 Job Application Problems and How to Fix Them
Steve Gillman Sep 19, 2017
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You can find plenty of job hunting advice online, including articles about how to apply for a job online, or  how to write a resume. even has a nice tutorial on to how to write seven different types of resumes, and you get free templates.

That’s great if all you need is a little help putting your perfect credentials and wonderfully relevant job history on paper. But what if things aren’t so perfect? What if you have a problem or two?

For example, maybe you stupidly got into a car that your friend stole when you were 18, and you both got busted. What do you say when the application asks if you have a criminal record?

What if you’ve been fired recently, or you took a few years off from working? Or what if you don’t have any relevant job experience?

What can you do?

Here are six problems you might face when applying for a job or creating your resume, with solutions for each of them.

1. You Have Gaps in Your Employment Record

I like author Tim Ferris’s idea of “mini-retirements,” and I’ve had a few myself. After all, why wait until you’re too old to fully enjoy that employment-free time?

The problem is that employers are suspicious of employment gaps. For some reason they like to hire people who have always been working.

So if you’ve taken time off or just couldn’t find work for long periods in your life, what can you do make that “work history” part of an application look better? Here are several things to try:

Have a Business

This strategy can be used to fill any gap, and it’s not complicated. For example, if your mom ever pays you to rake the lawn, you have a lawn maintenance business, right? Now go file a DBA (doing business as) form at the county clerk’s office. For $20 or so you can officially call your company “Employment Gap Lawn Care” or whatever you wish.

When you work on that next employment application, you can fill in a month-long or year-long gap with “EG Lawn Care” as your employer. While you’re unemployed rake a lawn or three to make it honest. If asked, be open about it being your own company.

Round Off Your Dates

Suppose you were hired on February 28th, 2016, started on March 15th, worked until October 17th, 2016, and got your last paycheck November 1st. You worked 7 months, but I think it’s fair to say you were employed from February, 2016 to November, 2016, which looks like 9 months to a prospective employer.

Have an Explanation Prepared

Taking care of an ailing parent, going to school, and working for a volunteer organization are all good reasons for an employment gap. Whatever explanation you have, be sure to prepare for the interview and note it on the application.

2. You’ve Been Fired From a Past Job

In the “Job History” section of most job applications there is a box or line that asks, “Reason for Leaving?” Employers do not consider “I was fired” an acceptable reason, so what can you do about it if that’s what happened? Here are some suggestions.

Say You Were Laid Off

I’m not suggesting you lie, but were you actually fired or just laid off? If your previous employer will answer the latter you can put that on the application.

Don’t Include That Job

If you worked a short time before being fired, maybe the job isn’t relevant enough to include. Fill in the gap this creates using the suggestions above.

Quit First

This is a suggestion for avoiding the problem in the future. For example, I once quit a security position because I thought I would soon be fired for refusing to follow a dangerous rule. That way I could honestly tell any future employer that I left. For that matter, had I been fired before my last day, it would be honest to say I quit since I had put in my notice first.

3. You Quit Your Last Few Jobs

Yes, this is a big problem for some of us. I’ve quit dozens of jobs. Of course you’re usually only asked about the last three jobs on an application, but in any case, what can you do if you quit one or more of those without a good enough reason? Try the following.

Say You Left for Business Purposes

If you have that lawn care business name and you’ve mowed someone’s lawn since leaving that last job, you “left to pursue business interests.” That’s what I did when I quit the security job.

Make Subsequent Jobs Better

If you quit a job and took another, find something better about the next job, so you can claim to have “moved on to something more in line with my goals.” And, of course, the job you most recently quit was not nearly as good as the one you’re applying for, so you’re advancing your career, right?

Do Some Volunteer Work

Suppose you quit a job just because it sucks. I understand, and it’s a perfect reason to quit as far as I’m concerned, but prospective employers won’t see it that way. So create a better reason before you apply for the next job.

One way to do that is to do some volunteer work. You had to leave the job to focus on that, right? This also can help with the next problem…

4. You Don’t Have Relevant Experience

How do you get a job when you have little or no experience? I was once hired as a house painter even though I had only three or four days of previous experience. Here’s what helped in my case, along with a couple other suggestions.

Volunteer to Get Experience

A house flipper hired me to paint houses (among other tasks). I was able to tell him I had painted houses for Habitat for Humanity for two months. It was true, because I had volunteered one day per week for several weeks in parts of two calendar months.

If you want to apply for an office job, volunteer to do office work for an organization you like. If you want to do computer work, find some place to volunteer that service. You can do this while working at your current job to get the experience needed for the next one.

Use What You Have Done

Find a way to make some of your past work experience relevant. For example, if you worked as a security guard and are applying to be a bank teller, did you ever handle money in your security work? If so, list he work as “Security/Money Handling” and emphasize that part of the work when writing about or talking about your duties.

Get YouTube Experience

I actually told the house flipper that my painting skills were limited. He shrugged and told me, “Don’t worry about it. Go home and watch three hours of ‘how-to” videos on YouTube.” I did that, and by the next day I knew twice as much painting lingo, and I could cut a fine line between wall and ceiling.

Almost everything you might have to do for a job is being done and explained in a YouTube video. Watching videos doesn’t give you “hands on” experience, but it helps you speak the same language as your prospective employer, and shows you what you need to learn first.

5. You Don’t Have Good References

Yes, I have this problem too. With years between jobs, how am I supposed to remember the names and phone numbers of previous supervisors? If you too, have a problem coming up with good employment references, for whatever reasons, here’s what you can do.

Get One Good Reference

Employers ask for several references, but rarely call them all. So if you have one good one at the top of the list you might be fine (more on what to do for the others in a moment). Get permission so the call doesn’t hit the person out of the blue, and be sure to get a good email, physical address, and phone number.

An article on suggests that besides former supervisors, work references can be coworkers, teachers, organizations for which you’ve volunteered, and former clients. The last can be created if you still have that job-gap-filling business.

Leave The References Section Blank

For low-paying jobs references may not be important. If you suspect that’s the case, you can simply write “To be supplied at the interview.” The matter may not come up again. In any case this buys you time to arrange for a reference or two.

List References Without Contact information

If you’ve lost touch — and contact information — with potentially good references, just put your one good one on top.Then add others using whatever old contact information you can scrounge up. Bad phone numbers don’t matter if the employer never calls, right?

If the employer later mentions that he couldn’t contact one or more references, just honestly tell him something like this: “Yes, I wasn’t sure about that contact information, but it’s all I had. It’s a shame too, because she would have been a great reference. I’ll see who else I can add to the list if you like.”

6. You Have a Criminal Record

If you have an extensive criminal record it isn’t a problem, because you’ve developed the skills necessary to avoid employment, right? But seriously, what if you’ve made some mistakes in the past and you’re facing this question on the application: “Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense?” Here are some tips:

Avoid Certain Jobs

According to the non-profit organization, Workplace Fairness, most state laws allow criminal records to be used in hiring, but employers must show that their decision “is reasonably related to the job requirements.”

For example, it’s reasonable to refuse to hire you for a position working with cash if you were convicted of embezzling. In general, apply for jobs where your crimes are irrelevant, or at least less relevant, to the work you’ll be doing.

Get Your Record Expunged

Workplace Fairness points out that when charges, arrests, or convictions are expunged, they are “legally considered to no longer exist.” That means you can say on an application “I have no criminal record” (assuming all convictions were expunged).

Getting your records expunged is sometimes possible for less-serious crimes and those committed when a minor. The process varies from state-to-state, but if your record has been causing employment problems it might be worth investigating.

Don’t Say Much on the Application

If the application doesn’t ask about criminal records, don’t volunteer any information. If you check the “yes” box when asked about felonies, don’t explain anything in writing. According to Chrysalis, another non-profit organization, it’s almost always better to explain these things in person, at an interview. To get ready for that, read the ex-offender tips offered by Chrysalis..

If you know sme strategies for dealing with these or other job application problems, share them below. And keep on frugaling!

Steve Gillman

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