When your company has an open position available, you’re probably going to receive dozens (if not hundreds) of resumes from interested job seekers. While this makes it easy to find a highly qualified person for the position, it also puts stress on you to quickly sort through and find a handful of candidates to talk with, in further depth, about the role.
One way to narrow the group down is to look for red flags on the resumes you receive. These warning signs can let you know that the applicant is probably not the best fit for the job before too much time is invested. Some of the major resume mistakes to be aware of as you go through the hiring process include:
Quirky email addresses
Identifying yourself as [email protected] is cute when you’re in 8th grade and are corresponding mostly with your friends or your social studies crush. When you’re applying for a job, it’s time to send that email address into retirement and adopt a new, professional internet moniker.
It’s widely seen as professional to use some variation of your first and last name, though it’s not necessarily a disqualifier if the candidate does not. A good rule of thumb is to make sure the email is workplace appropriate and something that sounds like it would come from an adult (i.e. no 4lyfes allowed).
Vague descriptions that lack real substance
If the resume is peppered with generic descriptions about past jobs with no real, hard facts about what the person did in this position, you have to question what really went on during their time at this company. Sure, they said they “acquired new business” or “developed existing customer relationships,” but if they’re not providing stats and figures, what does this really mean? In some cases, it could mean that they played on Facebook and tried to look busy while doing the bare minimum to squeak by.
Lack of dates
If a candidate can describe the companies they worked for and the positions they held, but doesn’t identify the dates during which this happened on their resume, you should proceed with caution. They might be trying to cover up lengthy employment gaps or other situations that could indicate that they’re a less-than-stellar team member.
The word “attended”
If a candidate’s resume states that they “attended” a particular educational institution, keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily mean that they graduated. While they may have honest intentions about the statement, some people try to use this to trick hiring managers into thinking they have achieved a more significant level of education than they actually have. This is especially important to bear in mind if you require new employees to have a certain level of education or training.
Mentions of basic Microsoft programs
If a person is using precious resume space to tell you that they know programs like Microsoft Word and Excel, you might want to question whether they have the depth of skills necessary to excel in the role.
If the position is a more entry-level role, then this can be overlooked. But if you’re hiring for a more advanced position, you should question why they’re wasting this valuable real estate to specify the obvious, rather than elaborating on other, more unusual, skills that they might have in their arsenal.
Cliché terms like “guru”
It’s valuable to know about the role an individual held within a particular organization, but dubbing oneself a “guru” or “expert” on a resume feels unnecessary. Applicants should use real-life successes to illustrate why they’re an expert in the field; not just state that they’ve earned this reputation. Carefree usage of these terms can make you wonder whether this person will come equipped with an unpleasantly large ego.
Beyond these red-flag phrases and words, there are several other resume mistakes that should have you on high alert as you’re looking to add to your team. These include:
Spelling and grammatical errors
With the creation of spellcheck, it should be nearly impossible for a job seeker to submit a resume with spelling errors. While not everyone is a grammar guru (see what we did there?), it’s safe to say that they should have passed their materials on to an eagle-eyed friend or family member to edit before submitting.
If you’re seeing “your” when you should see “you’re” or “there” in place of “their,” it’s cause for concern. Either this person just doesn’t care about the position, or they truly don’t have a strong command over the English language. This can become problematic should they join your team and need to interface via written communication with clients or other employees.
Strange fonts or graphics
Showing personality on a resume is ideal, but it should be done with creative wording, not with rainbow fonts, pictures, or other graphics. Ultimately, a resume is a professional document, and a person who infuses it with too much cheeky flare fails to recognize it as such. Unless the job calls for creativity or design skills, if a resume could pass as an art project, it might be best to move on to the next candidate.
While some people will wait for you to ask for references before they provide them, other job seekers are still in the habit of listing names and contact information right on their materials as they submit them to you. If their references include a colleague who was a peer at their last job, their former English teacher, and their aunt, you might want to proceed with caution.
This can indicate that they had trouble getting along with their supervisor, and they are well aware that this individual wouldn’t say good things should they get called for a reference check. If the person is new to the workforce and hasn’t had time to build up a long list of references, that’s one thing, but a professional with enough experience should be able to provide references beyond just peers or the friendly receptionist at their last job.
Long paragraphs filled with fluff
While it may initially seem as though the job seeker is so experienced that they have to go on and on to cover everything they know about the industry, in reality, resumes that extend for pages and pages can actually be a red flag. A candidate who has truly produced results can sum up their experience using a few simple sentences because these sentences are filled with powerful statistics about their awards and accomplishments. Those who have to elaborate beyond what’s reasonable are typically trying to cover up the fact that they don’t have significant data to illustrate past successes.
Too much information about personal life or hobbies
It’s terrific if the individual applying for a sales job also has a thriving DJ business, but the resume and cover letter you receive should be focused on why they’d be a great fit for the role they applying for, not why you should book them for your wedding. If the materials are heavy on personal information or details about hobbies or side businesses, it should be a warning sign.
Is the resume unfocused because the person doesn’t have information to contribute that’s relevant to the job? Is it getting off track because the person doesn’t actually care about the job, and would rather give their attention toward their hobby or side project? These are things to consider before you make a hiring move.
Continual lateral moves
As an individual gets more and more experienced in their field, their job progression should reflect this. If this person is 35 years old and still in an entry-level position, you need to wonder why this might be.
Are they not applying themselves and therefore not throwing their hat in the ring when upper level jobs become available? Are they not prepared for more senior level roles and are therefore stuck in an entry-level track? A few lateral moves can be acceptable if the person is changing cities or working to get into a well-known organization, but you want to see that the candidate has continued to grow, take on more responsibility, and learn new skills as they develop as a professional.
Associating projects they weren’t closely involved with
Be aware of a candidate’s wording, especially when it comes to projects that sound impressive. If they’re talking about how they were “associated with” something, “participated in” a major project, or that they were “familiar with” it, be wary. This could mean they worked on this project daily. On the other hand, it could also mean that they fetched coffee or filed papers for the people who were actually involved with it.
A document that’s obviously generic
While there’s no harm in applying to several jobs at once, a candidate should take the time to customize each resume for the position they’re hoping to obtain. If you’re reading over a resume and it obviously could have been sent to 15 other companies that are also hiring in the field, you have to wonder whether the individual is actually interested in your business, or whether they just want to go anywhere that will offer them a steady paycheck.
Materials that seem demanding
Unless you specify, take heed if you receive documents that hit you with salary expectations, requests for days off, and other demands. In an interview, you’ll end up discussing these elements of the job with the candidate, so someone who is firing off their wishes right off the bat should give you pause. They’re basically implying that they’re so excited about receiving an offer that they are already thinking about taking time away from the office, which is never a good sign.
Inability to follow directions
If your job posting asks interested applicants to follow certain steps (attach these documents and send them in this order to this email address, and then complete this form) you would assume that people who truly want to be considered for the job would carefully read these directions before proceeding. However, you’ll find that many people just breeze through the instructions and fire off whatever materials they feel like in the order that feels right to them.
Seek out candidates who see the value in following directions and are able to do so without a problem. Even if they don’t understand exactly why these steps are necessary, they should do it because it was asked of them. This is an important trait to have should they join your team. They may not always know why their manager asks for something a certain way, but they need to follow the rules.
Submits their materials from another company’s email address
Not only is that just foolish from a professional standpoint, it also shows that they’re job hunting on company time. If this individual gets hired and then eventually decides to leave your organization, do you want them doing this while you’re paying them?
A pattern of job hopping
Career trajectories are different now than they were in past decades. Employees aren’t expected to land a job after college and stay with that company through retirement. However, job hopping can still be a red flag when you’re looking to hire a new team member.
If their resume shows them heading to a new company every six months, you have to wonder what’s going on. Do they get bored and move on? Are they being fired due to poor work ethic or bad job performance? Turnover is highly disruptive to a company, costing both time, money, and resources, so if you know someone is a job hopper, it’s best to steer clear.
While it’s important to take note of red flags that appear as you screen resumes and cover letters, it’s also essential to keep an open mind as you review these documents. If you’re on the fence about whether a person is a chronic job-hopper or just got caught in a string of bad luck with company lay-offs, it’s worth bringing them in for a conversation or having them answer questions via video interview.
Getting a chance to hear a candidate speak to the main points of their resume and cover letter can often provide the clarity you need to decide whether you should proceed with further discussions with this person.
What are some other resume mistakes you need to look out for? Share in the comments below!