When to Bring Up Your Baggage in a Job Search

By S. Ricker

Just like in dating, job searching can sometimes cause you to look back on your past at some of the baggage you’ve collected. But while your date may be forgiving of poor communication skills or your fear of commitment, hiring managers aren’t necessarily as understanding.

So when you bring baggage to your job search, such as gaps on your résumé or looking for jobs out of state, you’ll have to discuss the subject carefully and at the right moment. To help figure out timing, consider these tips for addressing your job-search baggage.

Save the cover letter for why you’re qualified
A cover letter may seem like a natural place to address any concerns a potential employer may have, but in a competitive job market, your first impression can’t be made up of reasons to doubt your capabilities.

“This weakens your application right from the start,” says Cheryl E. Palmer, career coach and owner of Call to Career, a career coaching firm. “My advice is to keep it positive in the cover letter and avoid touchy issues. If you have a strong résumé, the recruiter will follow up with you, and if they have questions about your background, they will ask those questions during a screening interview. But with the cover letter and résumé, you at least want to make the first cut.”

Addressing résumé gaps
If there are gaps of empty time on your résumé, an employer will likely be curious as to what you were doing. Palmer suggests waiting for the interviewer to bring this up — but be sure to have an answer ready. “The answer that you give needs to be clear enough so that it does not provoke more questions,” she says. “So if the company that you worked for closed, and you were unemployed for a period of time after that, you need to explain that the company closed and tell the interviewer what you did in-between jobs. Hopefully you can truthfully say that you were doing contract work or updating your skills by obtaining a certification.”

As Palmer mentions, employers want to know that your career was a part of your life even when you weren’t working, and they want to know how you stayed involved with your field. Whether it was volunteering, pursuing more education or simply reading industry publications, show how you made the most of your time.

When you’re overqualified
There are plenty of reasons a job seeker may be interested in a position that’s a rung lower on their career ladder. Just know that interviewers will want to understand your reasoning. Yes, you can bring your experience to the role, but if an interviewer believes you’re only interested in the job until you can find something better, he probably won’t take the risk of hiring you. Instead, point to why this match makes sense.

“If you have been in management but are being interviewed for a staff position with no managerial responsibilities, you may talk about how you realized that you prefer to be in a position where you can focus on being an individual contributor and do your best work. After all, not everyone is cut out to be in management,” Palmer says. “Or you might enthusiastically talk about your interest in the mission of the company that you are applying to instead of focusing on the fact that it is a step backward for your career. The bottom line is that you need to convince the interviewer that your taking the position will be a win-win for both parties.”

Bringing up relocation
By applying for a job that’s a significant distance away from you, you may think it’s obvious that you’re willing to relocate. However, employers can sometimes see this as a gray area in a candidate’s qualifications.

To help take away doubt, Palmer says, “Typically, when it comes to relocation, you are competing against local candidates. And not all employers are willing to pay for your relocation. If you are in a position to pay for your own relocation, and you know that the employer will not do it for you, it is appropriate to mention in the interview that you are willing to relocate at your own expense. This will put you on an even playing field with local candidates.”