Top Resume Red Flags Every Hiring Manager Should Look Out For

Checking for resume red flags - Hiring manager reading a candidate’s resume during an interview.

When it comes to hiring, a resume is often your first point of contact with a candidate. The resume provides a wealth of information about who the candidate is and how well they have the potential to perform in their role with your company. However, all too often, hiring managers miss huge red flags on those resumes. There are many subtle warning signs that could indicate potential issues down the road. Overlooking those resume red flags could lead to costly hiring mistakes. 

Take a look at some of the common, and not-so-common, resume red flags that could signal trouble ahead. 

Red Flag #1: Failure to Follow Directions

One of the biggest resume red flags is failure to follow directions. As a hiring manager, you may have clear, specific processes for candidates to take as they connect with your brand. You may want them to take those clear steps in order to ensure that they provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision or to get every candidate's information in the same format.

If you receive a resume and cover letter in the wrong format, or if a candidate attempts to bypass your traditional hiring portal in order to reach out to you directly, it could be a major red flag about the candidate. Candidates who fail to follow directions may be used to going their own way. They may struggle to follow directions when they're actually in the position. Furthermore, they may have an attitude of entitlement that suggests that they should be the exception to a rule that everyone else has to follow.

Focus, instead, on candidates who follow your hiring process. Check the ones who submit the required information in the proper format, through the proper channels. 

Red Flag #2: Lack of Personalisation

Creating customised resumes and cover letters for jobs is a key part of the advice given to many job seekers. Many candidates, when looking for a job, will simply send out their resume to anyone who seems to be hiring. Many of them will not take the time to consider whether they really match the position—or, equally important, whether the job will fit their needs. If you receive resumes and cover letters customised to your business, it tells you several key things about the applicants.

  • They have done their research. 
  • They are willing to put in effort for the position. 
  • They are more likely to genuinely want to join your company. 

Many people struggle with resume formatting and customisation. However, if you receive a resume that seems to focus on things that are irrelevant to your company and your open position alongside a generic cover letter that could be sent to any company, it could indicate that the candidate is not really interested in your company. This could translate to an employee who is not fully invested in the position or who does not really understand what the position entails. 

Red Flag #3: A Messy, Disorganised Resume Riddled With Errors

Resume formatting can feel complicated. However, thanks to technology, there are many templates that make it easier for candidates to showcase their experience in a clear, professional manner.

When checking for resume red flags, look out for clearly disorganised resumes and ones filled with mistakes (especially when the candidate claims himself as "detail-oriented" or to "excel in design"). It could indicate several things about a candidate: that they do not have sufficient familiarisation with the technology needed to create a resume (which can serve as an essential part of many business operations); they do not have the qualities of a detail-oriented candidate; or that they have put their resume together on the fly, without taking the time to look it over for errors. These could indicate a candidate who will show the same lack of care and attention to your processes and requirements. 

Red Flag #4: Obvious Job Hopping

It has become standard, in many industries, for employees to change jobs every 1-3 years. Many companies no longer reward loyalty the way they once did. To achieve promotions or raises, employees may have to leave their jobs and move on to a new company. However, staying for at least a year—and, in most cases, two—is still standard for most employees. 

When dealing with resume red flags, seeing a candidate that has hopped jobs before a year has passed once or twice could simply indicate that the employee or employer recognised that there was not a good fit and that moving jobs was a natural progression toward better employment. On the other hand, if you see a candidate who is a chronic job-hopper, it could show that the employee will show an equal lack of commitment to your business. If you hire job hoppers, you may find yourself looking for candidates to fill positions sooner than you had hoped.

Red Flag #5: Unexplained Employment Gaps

There are a number of reasons why employees might choose to take some time off work. Some of them are due to personal circumstances. This can include spending time caring for an elderly family member or child, or dealing with a serious illness. Other employees may have taken time off work to travel or to recover mental health following a period of burnout. Still, others may have fallen victim to circumstance. Many employees, for example, may have considerable resume gaps due to unemployment during the COVID-19 health crisis.

Unexplained employment gaps could be a red flag that an employee is unreliable, or that they left a job unexpectedly. Employment gaps could also indicate that the candidate is leaving jobs off their resume. Sometimes because they do not want you to contact a former employer. When dealing with resume red flags, ask about these gaps to get a better idea of why potential employees spent so long out of the workforce and whether they will be likely to leave again quickly. 

Red Flag #6: Lack of Relevant Experience

Candidates often attempt to stretch for positions that are beyond their current experience or ability level. However, in order to make that leap, they need to have a solid understanding of what those positions will entail and what working in them will mean. If you notice that a candidate's resume contains no relevant experience, including experience that could be used to make the jump to your industry or open position, it could indicate that the candidate has a poor understanding of the job and would not be a good fit for your company.

When you see an otherwise good resume with a lack of relevant experience, talk to the candidate about why they feel they would fit and what skills they can bring to the table. Often, it will reveal that the candidate might have achieved experience in unexpected places. It may also reveal that the candidate may need additional support or training to be an asset to your organisation. 

Red Flag #7: Stagnation

Lastly, stagnation is one of the most common resume red flags hiring managers should look out for. There are some employees who are content to stay in their current positions unless there is a problem that pushes them to another level. However, even employees who have no interest in, for example, management roles should show some progression through their careers. They should at least show movements to new positions, take on stretch projects, or develop new skills, for example.

If you receive a resume that does not show growth in the candidate, especially over the course of an extensive career, it could indicate that the employee will be difficult to train or resistant to using new tools or taking on new roles within your organisation. Consider whether the candidate's current assets will match your open position or if you will end up struggling to onboard a candidate who does not seem interested in expanding their knowledge. 

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Responding to Resume Red Flags in the Interview Process

Sometimes, resume red flags may be enough for you to pass that candidate by. This is especially true if you have others in the hiring pool who appear to be a much better fit. On the other hand, sometimes, you may have a shortage of candidates with the necessary skills. You may feel that a candidate has other assets that could fit the position despite the clear red flags. 

Red flags don't always mean that hiring managers should immediately set aside the candidate's resume. Rather, it means that you should proceed with caution. You have several options for dealing with any potential issues before you move a candidate through your hiring process

  • Talk to the candidate. Ask questions about any potential red flags you see. Sometimes, the candidate will have a clear explanation for them. In other cases, the candidate's explanation may allow you to disqualify them more easily. 
  • Connect with the candidate's references. Ask questions about any obvious problems you may have spotted. Keep in mind that former employers may have specific processes for how they must respond when asked about a candidate. 
  • Conduct a more in-depth evaluation of the candidate's skills, especially in cases of long resume gaps or lack of experience. 

A candidate's resume is a critical first step in getting to know them. By carefully evaluating potential red flags and responding effectively, you can often improve your ability to hire high-quality employees who will ultimately benefit your organisation.

Topic: HRM / Resume Red Flags