Resume Red Flags to Watch For

By Robert Half April 25, 2017 at 11:42pm

Resume red flags are important factors when assessing job candidates. They provide warning signs of potential problems that may counterbalance a candidate's abilities and experience. Here are five resume red flags that small business owners should check for during the hiring process.

The candidate chose a functional format

Observe the resume format. Most hiring managers prefer a chronological resume that lists the most recent work history first, rather than a resume that presents job functions and skills. Functional resumes are often used to conceal large employment gaps or lack of experience, and they can also make it harder to pinpoint the attributes you're looking for.

Some career experts, on the other hand, recommend the format for workers with extensive freelance or contract experience rather than full-time positions. So keep an open mind. It also works well for those who are changing career paths, because it allows a job seeker to highlight transferable skills rather than a lack of industry-specific experience.

When assessing functional resumes, it can be helpful to start reading from the bottom — where problematic information is usually buried — and work your way up. By noting employment dates, you can determine whether there's a progression in the job titles provided.

The resume is disorganized or has typos

This is one of the easiest resume red flags to spot. Given all the online resources and books now devoted to resume writing, there's no excuse for a resume that's difficult to read, poorly organized or filled with typographical errors. Candidates who submit messy documents demonstrate a lack of attention to detail, and this can overshadow an otherwise stellar background.

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A history of job hopping is evident

Hiring managers understand that people may be out of work through no fault of their own. But when a candidate has held a series of jobs for short periods of time, that's a resume red flag. It can indicate a troublesome or unstable employee — or a chronic job hopper. If you're going to invest time and money in recruiting and training new hires, you want them to have long-term ambitions at your organization and not be eager to leap at the next promising job opportunity.

The wording is vague

Ambiguous language is one of the easiest to spot resume red flags because it's often used to disguise a lack of experience or knowledge in a particular area. The resume should provide a logical, concise narrative of an individual's skills and work history. So be careful if you see wording such as "familiar with" and "participated in" that leaves you with more questions than answers. 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 specific contributions included in the resume?

If you decide to call this type of candidate for an interview, formulate your questions carefully and by all means do not skip the reference check.

Too much personal information is included

Pay attention to sections of the resume devoted to personal interests. It's a resume red flag when an applicant overemphasizes hobbies and special activities. That job seeker could be looking to fill space in the resume or view the job itself as a side activity.

In some cases, it may be hard to tell whether certain items are actually resume red flags. For instance, an applicant may have short tenures with employers that have gone out of business. In that case, you may wonder whether to rule out that candidate — or give the person a chance. One way to handle these situations is to clarify your concerns through a brief email or phone conversation.

Ask questions that get to the meat of the matter, check references, and if you feel candidates show strong potential, ask other key players in your office to speak with them. Then you can be confident that you're not eliminating promising job applicants who would make ideal employees.

Now that we've covered resume red flags, here's some advice on identifying qualities of a strong candidate resume.

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