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Addressing resume red flags


Resume red flags aren’t necessarily grounds for instantly disqualifying candidates. However, they may give you more insight into your candidate and whether they would be a good fit for your company. When you encounter one of these red flags, consider having a conversation with your candidate.

Addressing problems head on can prevent you from making a bad hire. Opening up conversations with candidates can give you the opportunity to learn more about the strengths they can bring to your company.

Here are some ways to breach the most common resume red flags. By asking candidates candid questions you can gather all the information you need.

Short job tenures and long gaps between jobs

Many short stints at (or long periods between) jobs can mean many things. Your candidate could have moved, been in poor health, had a change in their family situation or explored educational opportunities. However, it can also mean that your candidate didn’t work out at a previous company for any number of reasons. When addressing these gaps, be curious instead of accusatory. Candidates could have had an experience during their gap that could make them a better fit for your job.

Sample questions:

  • Can you tell me more about what you did during this time?
  • What was your most interesting experience?
  • What new job skills did you learn?
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Vague resume wording

Writing a resume can be tough. Your candidates are often distilling thousands of hours of work at a company into a few short lines. And it’s almost impossible to capture job commitment in words. However, it’s important to note the word choices your candidates make to describe their work. Did they ‘oversee’ or ‘manage’? Did they ‘strategize’ or ‘execute’? Does your candidate list any concrete results from their initiatives or projects? If action-oriented verbs and measurable results are missing, it’s worth asking your candidate what their responsibilities actually were and whether they line up with what you’re looking for.

Sample questions:

  • What were your exact responsibilities on this project?
  • What were the results you expected for this project and what were the results you saw?
  • Who were the other stakeholders and what were their responsibilities?

Lack of attention to detail

Some interviewers consider resume spelling mistakes inexcusable. However, throwing out a candidate’s resume because of a small oversight could cost you a good hire. Is their error understandable or does it indicate a pattern of inattention to detail? If a candidate is a fit, minus a spelling hiccup, it’s best to use a multi-pronged approach to assess their attention to detail. Skills assessments and assignments can give you a much better idea of how your candidate approaches their work and give you a larger body of examples to determine whether carelessness is a pattern for them. Explore candidates’ mistakes during interviews and use your time together to learn more about their tendency to pay attention to details.

Sample questions

  • Can you describe a time where you made a mistake and had to correct it?
  • Can you describe a time when you found a mistake someone else made? How did you approach them?
  • How do you approach situations where the directions are unclear?

Related: How to source on job boards and resume databases

Unprofessional language or design

Especially common when hiring interns or recent graduates, resumes with unprofessional language or design may detract from candidates’ strengths. Common mistakes include childish email addresses, overly-aggrandized job descriptions, too many highlights from hobbies and student positions, irrelevant portfolio items and anything else that doesn’t explain why your candidate is qualified. Other common resume blunders include adding a second page, including a photo or writing in the first-person. Though it may take extra time to sift through an unprofessional resume to get to the meat of a candidate’s qualifications, it’s worth noting their accomplishments and skills before deciding whether to invite them to interview. Such candidates are often qualified but may not have had access to resources or training opportunities to learn how to create a professional resume. If a candidate impresses you beyond their unscrupulous resume, invite them to an interview or phone screen to determine if their unprofessional behavior is the result of inadequate job training or whether it’s a personality trait.

Sample questions

  • What is a challenging professional problem you’ve encountered and how did you find with a solution?
  • Give an example of a professional decision you’ve had to make without anyone else’s input.
  • Describe a time where you saw a project through from beginning to end and presented your results.

Irrelevant references

A good reference list is crucial. Though active job-seekers may not include their current manager or colleagues in their reference list, candidates should provide references who can vouch for their current work style. It’s a red flag if a candidate’s references are unrelated to the job they’ve applied for or have little experience working closely with them. Because self-selected references are nearly always positive, it’s important to assess the value of each reference to see if they’re illustrative. Ask your candidate about their relationship with each reference to get a better sense of how relevant their references are.

Sample questions

  • In what capacity did you work with this reference, and how would you describe your working relationship?
  • What projects did you work on together?
  • What specific job qualifications will this reference be relevant for?
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