Watch Out For These Resume Red Flags

Watch Out For These Resume Red Flags

Resumes have always been considered to be a staple in the hiring process. Recruiters and hiring managers alike use them as way to sort through their piles of applicants. And resumes are chock full of information. They shed light on each candidate’s qualifications, including past career experiences, achievements, and educational pursuits. Outside of the application, the resume (and accompanying cover letter) is often the first impression a candidate makes with an employer when looking for a new job. It’s a job seekers go-to tool and the foundation of our current hiring strategy without a doubt. But, as they say, one should never take anything at face value. As helpful as resumes can be, there are are a few resume red flags that hiring managers should be mindful of when considering candidates.

The problems with job resumes 

Certain drawbacks exist with resumes, such as the ease at which candidates can falsify information. A CareerBuilder survey from 2017 indicated that 75 percent of hiring managers have caught a lie on a resume at some point. Add to this the time that it takes to review stacks of resumes and it’s a recipe for disaster. Most hiring managers spend less than one-minute browsing through resumes initially, which means some info gets overlooked during the first pass.

Then there is the growing consensus that resumes are not a true representation of an individual’s talents and what they can bring to the table. Consider that the resume is filled with information about past performance. No matter how well someone performed in a past role, it is not an accurate indicator of their future performance with your company. Each job is a unique experience with its own set of factors.

Other problems with resumes involve technical matters. This can include the inability of applicant tracking systems to parse the data into forms, meaning candidates have to go through the tedious process of entering all their information again. Or ATS that ask the same screener questions as information found on the resume. As many as 40 percent of candidates will abandon a job application if they encounter this kind of issue, according to Another issue seen often is a resume becoming detached or corrupted when sent via email. Not to mention, resumes are also awkward to carry around at job fairs and equally so for employers who have to carry them back to the office after each event. When taken all together, this over-reliance on resumes likely needs to change though that shift might be a long time coming.

Read more: Look beyond the resume with these tips

Better ways to manage resumes for hiring accuracy

While it may not be the best time to suggest a no-resume hiring policy, there are some ways to make this a more efficient process. It’s also possible to have a better way of screening resumes to spot red flags that indicate a candidate is not exactly whom he or she is representing. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Use a better applicant tracking system – If the ATS is not accurately scanning resumes, it’s time for your vendor to either correct the problems or move onto a vendor with a better project. Today’s AI-enabled ATS have far greater accuracy and can make corrections automatically. This saves you time as the proper resumes end up being allocated to the right jobs.
  • Borrow a second set of human eyes – Instead of running through all the resumes yourself, have an assistant review resumes looking for certain criteria for each job, highlighting them for ease in review later on.
  • Screen all candidates via Skype – Set up a brief screening interview using Skype or another similar program. This should be brief and will alert you to any candidates who don’t seem to be what they claim to be. Read body language for signs of lying, poor eye contact, and other indicators. Now the caveat here is, of course, that as soon as your candidate numbers start climbing, this approach becomes less viable.
  • Do background checks for final candidates – If you have a candidate of interest, be sure to call some of their former employers and personal references to verify the information furnished on the resume. Check colleges to confirm degrees. 

Pro-tip: Checking references? Make sure you ask these critical questions

Resume red flags for hiring managers

There are some notable red flags that all hiring managers should pay attention to when reviewing resumes. They can indicate that a candidate has falsified information, omitted information, or has altered their resume in order to appear better to the hiring manager.

Red Flag #1 – Obviously incorrect information

Candidates often boast about their achievements, which is fine if they are true. But when one claim is obviously so incorrect it borders on hilarity, watch out. An example of this is a candidate who said he worked at Microsoft and yet he was unable to name the CEO of the company (Bill Gates) during a job interview.

Red Flag #2 – Dates of employment make no sense

Sometimes (and it can be unintentional) candidates will play around with their dates of employment to make it look like they worked at one employer longer than they did. This is because some hiring managers still value longevity on jobs. If the dates are out of sync, missing, or not making sense, kindly ask the candidate to clarify and verify that tenure with their former employers.

Red Flag #3 – Inflated job titles and responsibilities

Candidates may be looking for upward mobility and, therefore, they might fudge their job titles or the responsibilities they had at their former workplaces. A Customer Service representative may call themselves a Customer Service Manager, when in fact they had no real management experience. Responsibilities and even achievements may be inflated somewhat. Here’s an example,” I managed a team of 3 reps and we had sales of over $2M in the first quarter of 2018.” With a team that small, I doubt it.

Red Flag #4 – Employment gaps

Along with date challenges, there may be long gaps in employment. This is not uncommon when there are work shortages (from the 2017-2010 recession), but in the current job market, there are plenty of jobs. The candidate should be able to explain the reason for not working, such as looking for work, having a child, being a caregiver, going to college, or having an illness.

Red Flag #5 – Poor grammar, spelling, and attention to detail

All adults should know how to use that handy tool called “spell-checker” on their word processing program. If a resume is presented filled with spelling and grammatical errors or poor formatting, there is a good chance they are going to be as careless at work. This person needs a lesson on resume writing or needs to get someone else to do the job. That being said, there’s been some debate about whether one typo is acceptable or not so the threshold of when this red flag becomes a problem can change. 

Resumes are not the perfect solution for hiring people, but it’s the main option we have now. In the near future, resumes will likely be replaced by digital portfolios and candidate review websites but for now they’re here to stay. So make your peace with the ubiquitous resume and remember to keep an eye out for any of these pesky red flags.


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