Recruiter Question #2: Resume Red Flags

Question courtesy of ChrisS (thanks Chris!)...

What are common red flags on a resume? What will make you stop reading it?



Comments (17)

  1. Heather’s getting into recruiters’ heads to help jobseekers. You’ll want to look at their answers to her questions. What is the first thing you look at on a candidate’s resume? What are common red flags on a resume? What will…

  2. eR0CK says:

    I’m not a recruiter, but I’d probably get irked by several mis-spellings. (not that I’m a spelling perfectionist, but c’mon it’s your resume!)


  3. Ok, I’m not officially a recruiter, but I do go through resumes and hire in the technical field.

    I’ll stop reading a resume if they have a picture attached, hobbies listed near the top, or they have a really sappy "goals" section that’s used as filler. One other thing that bothers me is when they list obvious skills such as Proficient in Word and Excel. If they list Frontpage I stop reading. 🙂

  4. Two things: First, if a person can’t write well – if they can’t seem to string two sentences together to make a coherent thought, I generally don’t seriously consider them for a position.  And second, if they describe their job experience more in terms of what the job was rather than what they accomplished, I’m less likely to consider them for a role.  Many resumes are written with job experience that appears to be lifted right out of a job description.

  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    For me, it’s tenure in each position. I love to see start-up experience on a resume but a succession of failed dotcoms aren’t a substitute for experience in a business that has been successful. So part of it is about the experience (only there 6months and you miss out on what comes next) and part is about their own career decision making. I know there are reasons why tenure in a particular position may be short, but I am talking about habitual hoppers. If they have a bunch of one year stints at larger companies, I definitely wonder if something went wrong.  

  6. Christine says:

    Brett–what proficiencies do you think are worth listing?  Photoshop, Studio 8 package, second languages, or what?  Or, perhaps, should that section be entirely deleted?

    Heather–this is a great series.  Since I’m now in my first full-time job (well, second, if you count my having switched departments), I’m avidly reading the responses to learn what to do in the future.

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Christine-I’m glad this series is helping! Figured this would be something of value : )

  8. Dave says:

    As a tech recruiter, here are the things that make me move to the next resume:

    – Misspellings

    – Poor grammar

    – Any lie

    – Obvious arrogance & ‘tude

    Things that are cautions, but not enough in themselves to 86 the resume:

    – Goal statements that are all about the applicant, and not about the job

    – Five years in the work world and a resume that’s at least three pages long

    – The words ‘strategic’ and ‘value-add’ appearing anywhere

    – Lots of jobs of 12 months or less in duration

    – ‘C++ – Five years’ without an adequate descripition of what you did for those five years.

  9. Bad_Brad says:

    I confess I did not read all of the above comments, so I will probably echo some of what has been said, but the following are red flags for me:

    – Misspellings or poor grammar (signals that you either don’t care or you have a tendency to miss details)

    – Excessive use of buzzwords (signals that you favor style over substance)

    – Use of a goal statement.  Incidentally, most goal statements I’ve read also break the buzzword rule (i.e. "find a position where my cross-functional experience working in fast-paced roles can add value").  We can talk about goals during the interview, on the resume, I’m just looking for someone who meets a certain threshold in terms of education and experience.  A goal statement is a waste of space on a resume

    – Resumes that are over a page in length.  Even if the candidate has extensive years of work experience and has had many employers, the candidate should do me the courtesy of filtering it down to what is most relevant for the position I am hiring.  Chances are, I have a stack of resumes to go through, I probably won’t give any one resume more than 30 seconds.  Don’t force me to turn the page

    – Divide the number of employers they have had by the number of years they have been out of school.  If that number is less than about 1.5, this is the job-hopper red flag.  I won’t usually rule this person out, but I will pry into each of the prior jobs and why the person left.  On the other hand, if the person has a valid reason for each and can articulate that to me, that can even be a bonus (could be indicative of someone who is ready to move up before his/her company is ready and is not afraid to take a chance to move up, also could indicate someone who simply doesn’t put up with crap)

  10. vicki70 says:

    What are some GOOD buzz words? The market constantly shifts and the word ‘strategic’ appears on my resume since, well, I was part of the Strategic Planning Committee for our company… it was important! Should it be re-named to Forward-Thinkers Anonymous?


    No, seriously… how about some positive words that make a recruiter smile?

  11. HeatherLeigh says:

    Dave-good list.

    Bad_Brad, interesting. I don’t have a problem with resumes over a page if it’s warranted but will at least agree that the good stuff needs to be on the first page, preferrably above the fold.

    vicki70- great questions…it’s almost as if you are teeing it up for me…thanks. don’t rename the committee ; ) Seriously, I encourage people to look at the description of the position that they are interested in to get the hang for the accepted lingo. The words that make a recruiter smile are the ones closest to what the hiring manager told the recruiter they wanted to see on the resume. Most of them should be in the job description. I don’t personally have a problem with strategic but the candidate better be able to defend themselves when I ask them how they define strategic and why that particular project was (oooh, I’m a tough interviewer…)

  12. Drea says:

    Red Flags:

    – Pictures

    – Personal information (beyond hobbies/interests)

    – Lack of dates on employment

    – Lack of location information on employment

    – Lack of information (it’s amazing how many people include little to zero information beyond their title)

    – Reasons for leaving jobs (sounds like an excuse, more appropriate in a cover letter if it’s an issue)

    – Constant relocation

    – Using the Objective section to make up for a lack of information in a resume, or lack of relevant experience. (i.e. "Seeking a position as an Art Director" where all of your experience is in another field with no formal training or anything else that fits)

    – 9 page resumes. 1 page is great, 2 is okay, 3 you can get away with, but 9??

    Good Things

    – Accomplishment statements

    – Explanations of what the company does (industry, size) if it’s not a well known name

    – Months and Years on employment

    – Relevant info

    – Easy to read formatting

  13. HeatherLeigh says:

    Oh, the pictures…THE PICTURES! I think it’s a standard practice in Europe so I try to be culturally sensitive but still think that the candidate should try to observe the resume customs of the country in which the position resides (which is also why I don’t need to know parents ethnicity, DOB, etc).

    The picture can’t be scanned into most applicant tracking systems first of all. Also, I don’t need the resume to look back at me.

  14. 1.  Job instability:  12 months here, 14 months there, 11 months over there, …

    2.  Industry instability:  Aerospace to retail to insurance to banking to manufacturing to …

    3.  Channel instability; particularly when B2B players hop into B2C and back again … and again …

    As a third party recruiter, my 20-25% search fee must be lost in the ROUNDING of the value that my candidates will create for my clients.

    I am looking for humble rock-stars who can plug and play into a client’s organization.  They are a rare breed, as you can imagine.

  15. L. Rubin says:

    The answer maybe different depending on the level of search and years experience the recruiter has. Junior recruiters and HR usually tend to “screen out” candidates for various reasons usually looking for any knockout.  I’ve been doing IT Executive Search for individual contributors and middle management (90-200K) for 12 years. Senior recruiters and accomplished Hiring Managers generally look to “screen in” candidates. Their paper work needs to show the right skills and gives you a parameter to have a discussion with them and only that discussion will give you red flags.

    We all make occasional grammar and spelling mistakes, some jobs don’t work out,  post a picture on there resume – big deal. When any of these are knockouts by themselves, the screener is usually making a big mistake.

    Hiring Manager have told me over the years that they would rather do their own screening of candidates because their internal people who do that task usually are uncertain as to which 90% they should be screening out.

    L. Rubin

  16. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, this is a bit OT.  I was googling around to add some input on the opposite of this situation, a recruiter with poor grammar.  

    I receive approximately five emails/phone calls from recruiters per day.  It is very difficult to discern exactly what they want with sentences like this:

    "Kindly do send me the required skill matrix below the job description with the word document resume."

    "Please go through the project description and respond the mail as soon as possible with your consultants resume in word format. "

    I assume that sometimes it is the agency that gives the recruiter a "canned" entry for the email as I have received the same line (word for word) but from different recruiters in the same agency.

    I guess, I’d just like to point out to not be so quick to throw that resume in the trash over an un-dotted i or un-crossed t before reviewing your own grammar.  

  17. HeatherLeigh says:

    Off topic is OK.

    It probably is a canned template. Also, I wonder if some of it is offshore recruiting where there is a language barrier.

    Still, I think that a resume is a more important document than an e-mail. Not making excuses for poor grammar (though I have looked at mails I have sent in the past and wondered how some of it slipped through…darn that itchy spell check trigger finger). Trust me, there’s room for improvement all around. The post was just intended to help job seekers think about their resumes.

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