Resume Red Flags: 10 Tips Every Hiring Manager Ought to Know

By Robert Half on January 24, 2022 at 8:48am

Every time you set out to hire a new team member, a large stack of applicants’ resumes waits on your desk — or desktop — for review. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a filter to determine right away which candidates to invite for an interview and which to reject? Well, now you do. Here are 10 resume red flags to look out for during a resume review:

1. Ignoring the basics

The most obvious resume red flags are those with grammatical errors or typos. If a candidate doesn’t show attention to detail when applying for your position, it’s not likely he will on the job either.

The same goes for resume appearance. A sloppy resume is another fairly reliable sign that the candidate is lacking in professionalism or business experience.

2. Using a cookie-cutter resume

You can spot this deal-breaker a mile away: a work summary so bland and generic that it’s clear the applicant copied and pasted it for every job application without changing even one detail.

A resume with no references to the specifics of your job description indicates a candidate who couldn’t be bothered to get to know your company or the position. So why should you be bothered to interview her?

3. Unaddressed gaps in employment

This is a tricky one because you can sometimes include it among the list of resume red flags, but not in all cases. Employment gaps aren’t always bad. Sometimes gaps have a solid explanation. Self-employment, travel, raising children, a death in the immediate family, serious illness or starting a business are all valid reasons to be out of the full-time workforce for a while. Good candidates with employment gaps will make a point of explaining them in the resume (or in the cover letter). 

It’s the unexplained gaps that you want to be wary of. A candidate who gives his employment history with years only, and fails to list the months, may be trying to hide something.

4. Job hopping, static career pattern or regression

Sometimes during the recruitment process, you’ll run into candidates whose resumes consist of half a dozen full-time jobs that lasted no more than a few months each. Even if they are solid potential hires who’ve fallen on hard times, this trend raises questions about their commitment and dedication, their ability to get along with coworkers, and whether they can perform as well as they say they can.

Although shorter tenures are much more common today than they used to be, you should remain wary of candidates who have repeatedly bounced from one company to the next. If his career trajectory shows signs of stagnation or regression, proceed with caution. An applicant’s work history should demonstrate a steady progression into greater responsibility and more important positions. But don’t go by job titles alone; look at what the candidate actually did and what skills he acquired. Assess how important the work was to the company involved.

5. Fishy resume formats

In the past, the general rule was that candidates trying to hide something, such as gaps in their work history, wrote functional resumes. But because a well-rounded background (in conjunction with one’s specialty area) can prove an asset, the functional resume is now more accepted.

Don’t automatically become suspicious about either the functional or chronological type of resume. Some professionals use a combination of the two formats, presenting a capsule of what they believe are their most important qualifications and accomplishments, together with a chronological work history. 

If you receive a combination resume, pay close attention to dates in the applicant’s work history. Are they listed? If not, that’s one of the biggest resume red flags. If they’re there, are they consistent with the career narrative presented in the functional section of the resume?

6. Discrepancies

It might take a bit more research to uncover, but one of the resume red flags that's hardest to spot is a lack of consistency between the prospective employee’s resume and her other forms of communication. In other words, if the candidate’s cover letter, application or LinkedIn profile isn’t consistent with what’s on the resume, you should be wary.

7. Vaguely worded job summaries and resume padding

Phrasing such as participated in, familiar with, and in association may indicate the applicant doesn't have the experience he’s claiming. Did the applicant actually work on that vital project, or did he merely assist in some small way? A sentence doesn’t need to be untruthful to be misleading.

If anything strikes you as questionable, you’ll want to ask the job candidate — and her references — what she actually did in her previous roles. 

8. Failure to quantify accomplishments

Although applicants are generally advised to avoid wordiness, the more detailed they are in their descriptions of what they did and accomplished in previous jobs, the more reliable (as a general rule) the information is. 

Recruiters and hiring managers have to process dozens of resumes daily. That means they have to skim in a matter of seconds. Companies are looking for candidates who are effective at stating what they've accomplished and the specific outcomes of their efforts. If this can be quantified, all the better. If this is absent from the applicant's resume, add it to your list of resume red flags because it should give you pause.

9. Excessive length, or overly personal focus

With few exceptions, a resume should be kept to one or two pages. Detail-packed descriptions of professional accomplishments are good; unnecessary filler is not. 

Overemphasis on hobbies or interests outside of work may indicate an applicant who’s trying to pad his resume because he doesn’t have enough relevant experience. Again, though, don’t overreact. An applicant with a broad array of outside interests doesn’t necessarily mean the worker isn’t just as enthusiastic about his job.

10. A lack of professionalism online

No job applicant in his right mind is going to put derogatory or unflattering information in his own resume. But many managers today also look at candidates’ social media profile to find out more about them. A positive social media presentation showcasing career accomplishments and industry involvement conveys the attitude of a big thinker; a profile that includes unflattering content does the opposite.

The starting point in the resume evaluation process is eliminating those with too many resume red flags. Once you do that, you can focus on candidates who are more likely to excel with your organization. 

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