When you’re reviewing hundreds of resumes a week, you need to be able to spot the bad ones quickly. Not knowing which red flags signal possible bad hires can lead to a lot of wasted time and money.
But, depending on the position and the candidate, some resume mistakes are forgivable. So how do you know when to give a job seeker another chance or just move on?
These are the resume signs that hiring experts use to help them weed out the wrong candidates:
1. Confusing flow
First, make sure the resume is chronological and not confusing to read. I have seen job seekers passed over because of this. The resume should also highlight why the job seeker is a fit for the specific role they are applying for, not just an overview of their experience and skills.
Also, grammar mistakes or not following established parameters will knock a resume out, but being underqualified isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. If the person is underqualified but a rockstar in other ways (intangible qualities, technical skills, etc.), a company could still hire them because of their potential.
Carly Tansil, former Executive Recruiter, Betts Recruiting
With all that’s on your plate, you don’t need to worry about giving candidates the benefit of the doubt. You put a ton of work into cultivating a positive candidate experience. If they aren’t willing to return the favor by taking time to customize and proofread their resume before submitting, have no hesitation in moving them to the “no” pile.
2. Bad formatting
Many resumes experience death by bullet point, poor formatting, tiny font, and including out-of-date resume sections, like an “Objective” or “References.” Bad resume formatting is a big deal breaker.
For hiring managers who care about good writing, they can’t look past the mistakes to even consider the rest of a candidate’s qualifications. This includes seemingly small things like inconsistent use of punctuation and poor page breaks. I’ve also moved past many a “detail-oriented” and “quick learning” resume because, well, buzzwords.
Aaron Cleavinger, Managing Partner and Executive Recruiter, Murdoch Mason Executive Search Group
It is always valuable to look beyond the relevancy of a candidate’s work experience. If you detect top soft skills such as organization, attention to detail, and written communication expertise in the formatting of the resume itself, that’s a good sign to move forward with the candidate.
3. Generic resumes
The first trash can is for resumes that significantly underrepresented the job posting’s requirements. Those people typically are just spamming, using the shotgun approach, rather than tailoring their resume to the opportunity or going after opportunities that fit their skill set and work history. It is rare that a hiring manager will take a risk with an obviously unproven candidate.
The second group to get tossed are those resumes that you can’t decipher. A resume should at least indicate that your experience qualifies you for the posted role. And it should be clear, clean, and focused. If it takes too long to figure it out, it’s out.
Mike McRitchie, Career and Small Business Strategist, MikeMcRitchie.com
When you have a plethora of candidates to choose from, there is no need to take unnecessary risks. It is possible that job seekers can present their qualifications better in one-way video interviews than in the intimidating resume format. But adopting that mentality means wasting a lot of your time, and 99% of the time, it won’t be worth it.
4. Unwarranted overconfidence
A big resume deal breaker is when a candidate appears to be full of themselves or not humble. For example: “I am sure I can make a positive impact on your bottom line” or “I will be a great addition to your team.” Those things are for me, as the employer, to decide — not for them to presume.
Rocco Baldassarre, Founder and CEO, Zebra Advertisement
There’s no denying that it’s attractive when job applicants know their value. But you must learn to see through it when that confidence is ill-founded. If a candidate claims they’re the best problem-solver your team could ask for, but they crumble under work-related stress, that’s not a gain for the company. You must find the truth early on.
5. Lack of true interest
For me, being underqualified generally isn’t a deal breaker, but a lack of effort is. A lack of spelling and grammar errors on a resume certainly isn’t reason alone to hire someone, but too many errors shows that the candidate isn’t serious about the position.
This goes beyond the resume itself, and has to come out most notably in the short questionnaire we ask applicants to fill out. If someone wants to answer with one-word responses, that tells us all we need to know about their interest in the position.
Marc Prosser, CEO and Co-founder, Choosing Therapy
If someone can’t put in that effort to shine on a resume, what does that mean for their effort in the workplace? As we enter the hybrid work model, it is crucial that each employee is prepared to carry their own weight to make remote collaboration and genuine team-building successful.
6. Too many cliches
Resumes that use vague cliches like ‘team player’ or ‘hard worker’ indicate a lack of specific qualifications and no unique qualities. Think about what you need for the job — if it’s technical skills, be sure that is stated on the resume and there is relevant experience to back it up. If you need an innovator, look for experience and skills that are big picture, developing and creating work.
Laura MacLeod, Creator, From the Inside Out Project
Candidates who stuff their resumes full of cliches clearly do not know how to market themselves. Rather than settling for subpar resumes, consider dipping into social media recruiting to discover candidates who know how to feature their strengths.
7. Excessive job hopping
The biggest issue that I see is having many jobs in a short period of time. I once saw a resume that listed 12 different jobs in 12 months. I was decently impressed at the candidate’s ability to actually get a new job so quickly. However, the number of different positions that this person had was enough to elevate my heart rate.
Did the person quit or were they fired? Either way, the answer is NOT good! Will our business just be another notch in the candidate’s belt? There needs to be some continuity in the resume. I absolutely need to see some loyalty to a certain business, even if it’s just a few months.
Pierre Tremblay, Director of Human Resources, Dupray
With all the transitions employees have experienced in the past couple years, relentless turnover in a vital position is the last thing they need. To look out for their mental health in the changing workplace, you must prioritize evidence of loyalty from top talent.