The Top 9 Resume Red Flags

Professional putting red flags on a resume

Finding the candidate is a challenging task under any circumstances, but some candidates unwittingly make it even harder on hiring managers by submitting resumes to your job posting that are poorly formatted, confusing, or just downright bad.

In nearly every case, there are clues hidden throughout a resume that can give you a read on whether a candidate is a great fit for your company or a terrible one. When searching for candidates for your new job opening, watch out for these common resume red flags put together by our team of headhunters that can improve your methods for selecting candidates; helping you decide who to pass on, and who should make the cut.

Resume Red Flags

1. Typos

It goes without saying that when reviewing a resume, it should be free from errors, yet we still come across some with glaring typos and spelling errors. The occasional typo happens to the best of us and can be overlooked in an email or text message, but in the age of spellcheck, there’s no excuse for typos on a document as important as a resume.

While you don’t want to rule out an otherwise stellar candidate because of a typo, it may point to a lack of attention to detail. If the candidate makes it to the interview stage, it’s worthwhile to ask a few questions that will give you a better feel for their level of conscientiousness.

2. Formatting issues

We get it—resumes can be tricky to format, even for the word-processor-savvy among us. But if the formatting on a resume is so messy that it makes the content hard for a recruiter or headhunter to follow, it might be one to toss in your virtual trashcan.

A poorly formatted resume could indicate the candidate isn’t serious enough about the position to have taken the time to get their resume just right. Clean resume formatting with bullet points is especially important when hiring for positions that require meticulousness, like a software developer, or where word processing is a major part of the job, like a copywriter. Now that we’ve covered a couple of items related to a resume’s presentation, let’s talk about content.

3. Employment gaps

In terms of the actual work history on a candidate’s resume, large gaps of time between them are one of the biggest resume red flags that headhunters, recruiters, and hiring managers will immediately notice. One gap in employment isn’t that unusual these days, especially with a growing number of people taking career sabbaticals to do things like travel or start a family. That’s something you can give a qualified candidate a chance to explain during an interview (and a good candidate will be prepared and happy to do so). But if there are multiple gaps or gaps that seem out of place, your guard should be up.

Breaks in employment raise red flags because they could have a range of negative implications, from the fairly innocuous (the candidate has spent a lot of time out of work and their skills are rusty) to the worrisome (they were fired or quit unexpectedly) to the alarming (serving a prison sentence for a felony). There are exceptions, of course, but most high performers don’t have gaping holes in their employment history.

Take careful note of the dates on resumes too, as some gaps aren’t so easy to spot; sometimes candidates will try to conceal gaps in employment by using years rather than months for their start and end dates.

4. Job hopping

With pensions becoming a thing of the past and relocation becoming more commonplace, people are switching jobs more frequently than they ever have in modern work history. Still, multiple changes of employer after two years or less in a role are something to watch out for on a resume.

People job search for a new career for all kinds of reasons—increased pay, improved benefits, better work-life balance, etc. A candidate might have perfectly legitimate explanations behind his or her job hopping. The problem for you as an employer isn’t as much with the candidate’s character as it is with recouping your investment in hiring them. Two years with an organization typically isn’t enough time to become truly proficient in a role, let alone make meaningful contributions to the company’s larger success.

It’s in your best financial interest to seek out new hires who are invested in sticking around; at least for more than a couple of years.

5. Lack of customization

The average open position attracts 250 resumes. That’s a whole lot of job candidates for headhunters and recruiters to review! As an employer, you can make the task of hiring much easier by singling out the applicants who take the time to tailor not only their cover letter but their resume to the job you’re hiring for.

A lack of customization can be a red flag that a candidate is blasting out resumes to any company with an open position and may not be at all qualified for the role you’re looking to fill. You should easily be able to identify transferable skills from their previous job history to the position they are applying to. A customized resume and cover letters, on the other hand, lends major credibility to the candidate’s understanding of the role and what it takes to succeed in it.

6. Failure to identify achievements

A truly standout candidate uses his or her resume to show you, the hiring manager or recruiter, how they’ve shined in their current and previous roles. A resume that fails to identify work experience achievements and instead just bullet points job duties should raise red flags.

You may have heard the statistic that recruiters look at resumes for, on average, less than eight seconds before deciding whether to keep it or toss it. While it may seem harsh, there’s a good reason behind the extremely quick period of judgement. If a candidate can’t make their accomplishments clear in a resume, which they’ve presumably taken time to craft and edit, it’s unlikely they will be able to provide meaningful on-the-spot answers during the interview phase.

Look for resumes that show clear, results-oriented accomplishments for each role.

7. Unusual add-ons

People include all sorts of weird things on resumes and cover letters, like themed headshots and astrological profiles. While these things may make you chuckle and can certainly break up the monotony of going through a stack of applications, they’re a sign you should probably run for the hills.

Pay attention when a job candidate does something so blatantly outside the realm of normalcy, it indicates to the recruiter or headhunter a disregard for professional norms that could be a problem well beyond the hiring phase. Not only might it point to a lack of awareness or poor judgement, but it could put your reputation at risk if you were to hire this person.

8. Use of gimmicks

From the candidate who sent a hiring manager a box with a shoe in it to “get a foot in the door” to the new grad who put his resume on a beer bottle, our team of headhunters and recruiters as heard our fair share of stunts applicants have pulled to get employers’ attention. Though they may pique your curiosity, there’s a fine line between clever and cringe worthy when it comes to new job hunting gimmicks. In some cases, they’re a resume red flag.

If you’re ever so lucky to find yourself on the receiving end of a job application stunt, consider a few things:

  • The role in question. Is the gimmick purely that—a gimmick? Or is there intention behind it that ties directly the role? In the case of the beer resume we mentioned above, the candidate was applying for a creative role with a marketing agency. The imaginative resume turned out to be a great way to showcase his superb package design skills.
  • The company culture. Is your organization a place where people march to the beat of their own drummer, or would a ploy like this illicit eye-rolls from the ranks? If it’s the latter, it’s probably not a good culture fit.
  • The candidate’s qualifications. Don’t let a gimmick overshadow what you’re really looking to find out: are they or are they not qualified? If the resume isn’t one you’d have noticed without the big gesture, consider it a red flag and move on to other candidates.

9. Failure to follow directions

While the interview phase is your chance to dive deep with potential candidates, you have an important opportunity to screen applicants for interview red flags, like the inability to follow instructions, before things even progress to that stage. If you included specific stipulations—a request for professional references or a request for no phone calls, for example—in your job description, pay careful attention to whether a candidate complies.

If they ignore the instructions, it’s at best an oversight and at worst an indicator they have trouble taking direction.

Take The Headache Out Of Hiring

Overwhelmed and frustrated with the hiring process? We’re here to help. 4 Corner Resources offers professional staffing services to cut through the noise and find the perfect candidate for your open position. We offer direct hire recruiting, contract staffing, payrolling services, and we will even conduct background checks upon a candidate’s hire! Every project is customized to suit your timeline, budget and talent needs.

We’re eager to learn what kind of candidate you’re looking for. Contact us today to set a time to connect and browse our blog for more hiring and employment resources. If you are job searching check out our job openings.

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise though public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.