Nearly anyone who’s ever recruited for a position has horror stories about the quality and veracity of at least some of the resumes they’ve received. I know I do – and I want to share with you what I think are the six most important problems – red flags – that you must consider when evaluating candidates (apart from technical skills and qualifications).
Not all of these red flags are deal-breakers for me, but some of them are – and whenever I have coached jobseekers, I warn them that when I receive resumes with certain problems, those resumes go directly into the trash without even a second of consideration – and there are many other recruiters and hiring managers who feel exactly as I do.
So, what should you be watching out for on candidate resumes?
- Resumes That Contain Spelling Errors, Typos, and Grammatical Problems. For me, resumes with even one spelling error are eliminated; I use spelling (and typos to a lesser extent) as a litmus test for professionalism, interest in the position, and attention to detail. I have talked to many recruiters who agree with me that these errors raise serious concern, but depending on the position, some do not act as drastically as I do.
Before you start reviewing resumes for a particular role, you need to decide the value of writing, proofreading, and spelling to that position. And if you do decide these kind of errors don’t justify elimination, when you hire someone who talks about his or her “self a steam” to the CEOs, remember my rule.
- Resumes That are More Than Two Pages. Candidates who think so much about themselves that they have to go on for pages and pages when writing their resume tell me that they are completely full of themselves and likely to destroy the delicate team balance if hired. Furthermore, these candidates seem incapable of editing themselves and getting to the core of an issue.
Of course, many highly qualified candidates could easily have resumes that go beyond two pages, but I believe it’s essential to get to the meat of the matter and keep the resume to two pages. If needed, additional documents can supplement the resume, such as a Project Highlights, Published Research, and the like.
You will need to decide on a rubric for handling multi-page resumes.
- Resumes That Contain Too Much Jargon and Not Enough Real Information. Resume experts and coaches are telling jobseekers to stuff their resumes with keywords so that their resumes will be found by applicant tracking systems, but some take it too far and their resumes become one giant list of buzzwords and industry jargon.
The worrisome issue here is not the candidate who mistakenly stuffs his or her resume with too much jargon, it is the candidate who is doing so to cover up something else – lack of experience, lack of accomplishments, lack of skills, weak work history.
Remember, just because a resume makes it through an ATS doesn’t mean it belongs to a truly qualified candidate. You need to spend an appropriate amount of time evaluating each applicant’s qualifications, skills, and accomplishments even after it’s made it past the machines.
- Resumes That Lack Results and Quantified Accomplishments. Candidates who describe their work history based on their job duties and responsibilities are either sadly misinformed on how to write a resume or are the type of worker who never went above and beyond the call of duty.
While I tend to believe these candidates lack initiative, many recruiters feel like this is a drastic perspective to adopt. What is true, though, is that those candidates who do include quantified accomplishments on their resume prove that they will not only do the job, but will likely look for ways to expand the job and help the company beyond what is simply required of them.
- Resumes That are Too Bland, Vague, and Not Targeted to Position. It is not always a deal-breaker for me, but when I review what I call a generic resume for an open position, I tend to downgrade that candidate considerably. My thinking goes this way: this jobseeker must be applying to so many jobs that she or he does not have a unique interest in this position or they don’t have the time to really research the position and employer and customize their resume.
I also have a major pet peeve with jobseekers who do not have the imagination or skills to create a resume from scratch, and instead rely on a generic Word resume template.
You’ll have to decide whether to value initiative and creativity or whether shotgun-applying candidates are ok.
- Resumes That Have Job History Issues – Signs of Gaps and/or Job Hopping; No Dates for Work History. These related work history concerns are a big issue for some recruiters, but on this issue, my sympathy lies with the jobseekers. I have seen too many excellent candidates with short tenures or gaps on their resume due to downsizing or a situation where they were forced to resign to deal with an ailing family member.
For candidates with big gaps between employment, my only concern is whether they are still qualified for the position – that their skills, training, and such are up to standard; if they are, I see no reason to hold the gap against them.
What is true, however, is that recruiters should recognize when a resume contains this kind of information and enquire further to find out context.
Some Final Thoughts on Red Flags
No resume will ever top the one I received many years ago that was written in crayon. I wish I still had that resume; and no, I did not ask that candidate for an interview.
Two quick other red flags that sometimes get mentioned:
- Resumes That Show No Current Employment. It certainly raises the question, ‘what is holding the candidate back from getting hired’, but if qualified and there is record of other kinds of impressive experience, I see no reason to hold that against him/her.
- Candidates who still use Yahoo or Hotmail accounts. I have to admit that I have a snobbery that sometimes puts these folks in the same category as that crayon-writer. What decade are these people stuck in? But then again, like I said, I am a Gmail snob.