How to Handle Resume Gaps and Blemishes

Nov 29, 2017

5 Tips for Addressing Application Blemishes

By Brittany Mihalec-Adkins

Are you applying for a fellowship and stressing about a glaring blemish or gap on your resume or transcript? Here are five simple strategies to address weaknesses in your fellowship application package and keep you in the competition.

Point out your flaws.

If you’re applying for a competitive fellowship, reviewers will be getting pretty cozy with your resume. In other words – they’ll notice that “F” on your transcript or the year you took off between sophomore and junior years. Don’t allow reviewers to come to their own conclusions about your unexplained resume gaps and blemishes. It is best to acknowledge these blemishes head-on in your application so reviewers know you’re not trying to hide them. You may even include a sentence that reads something like: “During my final semester, as the selection committee will notice, I failed a class for the first and only time in my life – which I would like to address before moving forward.”

Explain – but don’t make excuses.

It is completely fine (and even encouraged) to give your side of the story on that “D+” you got in Organic Chemistry. Maybe it was a tough semester because of a family emergency. Maybe that was before you realized you hated Chemistry and changed your major to Art History. Spend a sentence or two explaining what happened, but be careful not to make excuses or say your grade was completely out of your control. In short:

What NOT to do: “This professor is notoriously difficult; over 60% of students failed, including myself.”

Better: “During my final semester of college, I found myself unable to juggle my full course load due to ___.”

Show what you’ve done to correct it.

If you failed a class, you probably had to retake it – right? Take a few sentences to explain how you approached the class differently the second time. Maybe you cut back on other obligations so that you could spend more time studying. Maybe you went to office hours every week and met with the professor between lectures and before exams. Maybe you ended up taking an extra class in the same department, just to make sure you knew your stuff before graduation. Showing reviewers that you can not only acknowledge mistakes but effectively troubleshoot will do wonders for addressing any concerns they may have.

Focus on your achievements.

After you’ve gotten your explanation out of the way, spend a lot more space writing about the things you’ve excelled at. Talk about your many experiences outside of the classroom, your internships, and your senior honors thesis. After all, this is what reviewers will be looking for in your application.

Ask one of your recommenders to address it.

One final strategy for addressing a snag in your application is to have one of your recommenders cover it in their letter. It can never hurt to have a professor or mentor explain how your achievements say a lot more about your potential than your one bad mark. Also, if your mentor knows you well, they can speak to how hard you’ve worked to make up for it. This can go a long way in terms of boosting your image as a competitive applicant.

Brittany Mihalec-Adkins is a first-year National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and second-year Ph.D. student in Human Development and Family Studies at Purdue University. 

© Victoria Johnson 2017, all rights reserved.