Finding the ideal candidate is a challenging task under the best of circumstances, but some applicants unwittingly make it even harder on talent acquisition professionals and hiring managers by submitting resumes that are poorly formatted, confusing, or just downright bad.
In nearly every case, there are clues hidden throughout a resume that will give you a read on whether a candidate is a great fit for your company or a terrible one. When sourcing candidates for your new job opening, watch out for these common resume red flags our team of recruiters put together that can improve your selection methods, helping you decide who to pass on and who should make the cut.
13 Resume Red Flags
It goes without saying that a resume should be free from errors, yet we still come across too many 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 these mistakes to exist 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 indicate 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 may indicate the candidate isn’t serious about the position enough to put the effort into it. Clean resume formatting is essential 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.
3. Missing (or incorrect) contact information
No job seeker would forget to include their current contact information on a resume…right? Wrong. We see it constantly: Disconnected or old phone numbers and defunct email addresses show up on resumes with surprising regularity.
There are many reasons for contact information to be missing from a resume, but none are good. This misstep is easily avoidable by every job seeker and leaves the recruiter wondering whether the effort of chasing down the candidate is worth it. With many job openings receiving hundreds and sometimes thousands of resumes, odds are it isn’t.
Now that we’ve covered a few items related to resume presentation, let’s talk about content.
4. Employment gaps
Regarding the actual work history on a candidate’s resume, lengthy gaps between jobs are one of the biggest resume red flags that recruiters and hiring managers will immediately notice. A single gap in employment isn’t that unusual these days, especially after Covid, and with a growing number of people taking career sabbaticals to travel or start a family. It’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’s skills are rusty from not working) to the concerning (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.
5. Overlapping dates
Overlapping dates are, perhaps, even worse than gaps, as the recruiter is left wondering whether it’s a mistake or intentional. A busy recruiter doesn’t have time to sort through a confusing or conflicting work history. It can be an indication of someone who is unreliable or who is trying to hide something, either of which could be a warning sign. It could also be a sign that the candidate is dishonest about their work history, which is a major red flag.
It’s important to note that overlapping dates may be due to the candidate working part-time, freelance, or balancing a job while attending school. If the resume looks great otherwise, it may be worth taking the time to clarify.
6. Job hopping
With pensions rapidly becoming a thing of the past and relocation becoming more commonplace, professionals are now switching jobs more frequently than ever in modern work history. Nevertheless, multiple employer changes within two years are something to watch out for on a resume.
People change jobs and careers for all kinds of reasons—increased pay, improved benefits, and better work-life balance. 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; for at least more than a couple of years.
7. No customization
The average open position attracts 250 resumes. That’s a whole lot of job candidates for talent acquisition professionals and hiring managers! As an employer, you can make hiring much easier by singling out the applicants who take the time to tailor their cover letter and 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 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. On the other hand, a customized resume and cover letter lend major credibility to the candidate’s understanding of the role and what it takes to succeed.
8. Lack of 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 professional achievements – listing generic job duties as bullet points instead – 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 judgment. Suppose a candidate can’t make their accomplishments clear in a resume, which they’ve presumably taken time to craft and edit. In that case, 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.
9. Failure to showcase data
When a resume doesn’t include data or specific examples to back up the candidate’s accomplishments, it might indicate that they are embellishing their role or responsibilities. Quality candidates should be able to quantify their results and demonstrate their impact using specific numbers or percentages. For example, “increased sales by 25% in the second quarter” is more informative and impactful than simply stating, “responsible for increasing sales.”
The absence of such data on a resume may indicate that the applicant isn’t performance-driven, unable to measure their success, or hasn’t been effective in their previous roles.
10. Unusual add-ons
People include weird things on resumes and cover letters, like themed headshots and astrological profiles. While these may make you chuckle and can certainly break up the monotony of going through a stack of applications, they’re a sign that you should probably move on to the next resume.
A candidate’s ability to discern what is appropriate to include on a resume gives a hint of their professional judgment – something that will last well beyond hiring and onboarding. As a recruiter, you must ensure that such add-ons contribute value to their application rather than serving as a distraction.
11. Lack of relevant experience
While transferrable skills can be valuable for many roles, a significant lack of direct, relevant experience is a resume red flag, especially for senior or specialized roles. This may suggest that the candidate does not fully understand the position’s requirements or that they’re indiscriminately applying to job openings.
Sometimes, it may be a positive signal of their ambition or willingness to learn, but you need someone to hit the ground running in most situations. Therefore, a lack of relevant experience should prompt careful consideration of the candidate’s fit for the role.
12. 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 has witnessed our fair share of stunts that 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 an intention behind it that ties directly to the role? Regarding the beer resume mentioned above, the candidate was applying for a creative position with a marketing agency. The imaginative resume was a great way to showcase his superb package design skills.
- The company culture. Is your organization a place where employees march to the beat of their own drum, or would a ploy like this illicit eye-rolls from the ranks? It’s probably not a good cultural fit if it’s the latter.
- 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.
13. Failure to follow directions
While the interview phase is your chance to dive deep with potential candidates, you can screen applicants up front for 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 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 that they have trouble taking direction.
Related: How to Write a Job Description
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 reduce the noise and find the perfect candidate for your open position. We offer direct hire recruiting, contract staffing, and 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.
What are some resume red flags?
The most common resume red flags are typos, formatting issues, missing or incorrect contact information, employment gaps, overlapping dates, job hopping, lack of customization, lack of achievements, failure to showcase data, unusual add-ons, lack of relevant experience, use of gimmicks, and unwillingness to follow directions.
Why are typos on a resume considered a red flag?
Typos can point to a lack of attention to detail. In an age of spellcheck, there’s no excuse for such mistakes on a document as important as a resume. It may be worthwhile to question the candidate’s level of conscientiousness if typos are present.
Why is a lack of customization in a resume considered a red flag?
A lack of customization can indicate that a candidate is blasting out resumes to any company with an open position and may not be truly qualified for the role you’re looking to fill. Customization of a resume lends credibility to the candidate’s understanding of the role and what it takes to succeed.
What should I do if I come across a resume with red flags?
Red flags on a resume can serve as initial filters to help the sourcing and recruiting process. However, it’s also essential to consider the overall picture the resume presents. If a candidate has many strong points, it may be worth asking about the red flags during the interview to understand the situation better. For major red flags, such as a lack of relevant experience or inability to follow instructions, it might be best to move on to other candidates.
Is job hopping always considered a red flag?
Not necessarily. Before passing final judgment, understanding the reasons behind job changes for an otherwise qualified candidate is important. However, frequent job changes could indicate instability or an inability to commit to a role for a substantial period of time.
Why is failure to showcase data considered a red flag?
If a resume doesn’t include data or specific examples to back up the candidate’s accomplishments, it might indicate that they are embellishing their role or responsibilities. Quality candidates should be able to quantify their results and demonstrate their impact using specific numbers or percentages.
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