Resume Red Flags

While abilities and experience provide a solid foundation for assessment criteria for job candidates, it's also critical to watch out for warning signs of potential problems. Here are five resume red flags small business owners should be aware of as they evaluate candidates:

  1. The resume is in a functional format. Three out of four hiring managers surveyed by Robert Half said they prefer a chronological resume that lists the most recent work history first over those presented by job function and skills. Functional resumes often are used to conceal undesirable aspects of a candidate's background, such as large employment gaps or lack of experience, and also can make it more difficult to pinpoint the attributes you are looking for.

When assessing functional resumes, it can be helpful to start reading from the bottom – where problematic information usually is buried – and working your way up. Take note of employment dates and determine if there is a pattern of progression in job titles given.

  1. The resume is sloppy or confusing. With so many online resources and books devoted to resume-writing today, there's no excuse for resumes that are difficult to read, poorly organized or filled with typographical errors – this is one of the easiest resume red flags to spot. Candidates who submit messy documents demonstrate a lack of attention to detail, and this can overshadow even a stellar background.
  2. A work history consisting of short tenures. Hiring managers understand that people may be out of work through no fault of their own. However, a series of many jobs held for short periods of time can indicate an unstable or problem employee or a chronic job hopper. If you are going to invest time and money into recruiting and training new hires, you want them to have long-term ambitions at your organization and not be open to leaping at the next promising job opportunity.
  3. The wording is vague. Ambiguous language is one of the most notable resume red flags because it is often used to disguise a lack of extensive experience or knowledge in a particular area. The resume should give you a solid understanding of an individual's skills and work history. Be careful about wording such as "familiar with" and "participated in" that leaves you with more questions than answers. For instance, someone who was "involved in" a team devoted to identifying cost-savings opportunities may have played a key role in the effort or simply showed up at meetings. Did the person really make a meaningful contribution? If so, why aren't those contributions cited on the resume?
  4. Excessive personal information is included. Pay attention to sections on the resume devoted to personal interests. Someone who overemphasizes a multitude of hobbies and special activities could be looking to fill space or view his or her career as a side objective. In some cases, it may not be clear whether certain items are resume red flags or not. For instance, if an applicant has short tenures at companies that have gone out of business at some point, you may wonder whether you should rule out the candidate or give the person a chance. In these situations, consider clarifying any concerns through a brief email or phone conversation with the individual. You can be confident you are making a thorough assessment and not eliminating promising job applicants who could make ideal employees.