Continuing our series on using the start to the new year as an opportunity to refresh your hiring process, we’re tackling one of the pillars of a job application: the résumé. In Part 2, we discussed how the cover letter is a somewhat outdated and irrelevant tool in the HR arsenal, which means that the résumé is more important than ever in vetting candidates.
Combing through an applicant’s résumé is key in gathering an understanding of their work history, contributions, and specific skills. In addition to revealing professional assets, résumés can also reveal warning signs. While there are many potential red flags on a résumé, we’ve chosen the top five you should know.
What Are the Top Résumé Red Flags?
1. Grammatical Errors and Spelling Mistakes
As shocking as it may seem, it’s estimated that more than 50% of U.S. adults struggle with spelling even simple words.1 That means one of the most identifiable red flags that can be found on a résumé is the presence of spelling mistakes or simple grammatical errors. Did the applicant spell the name of a previous employer incorrectly? Has punctuation been misused? Are words capitalized incorrectly?
Mistakes happen, but these kinds of errors can suggest the candidate typed up the résumé hastily and didn’t take time to proofread it to ensure quality.
2. Gaps in Employment History
Another important — and easily spotted — red flag is a gap between jobs on a résumé. A few weeks? It could simply mean they took time off before starting their new role. A few months? It’s worth inquiring about what led to that period away from work. A year-plus? That’s a large amount of time that, unless otherwise explained, should be seen as a legitimate red flag, because it may indicate a detachment from the pulse of the industry.
Short of contract work, which is becoming more common, employers expect to retain employees for more than a brief stint.2 While it’s not unlikely or unacceptable to make changes to your career path and job in order to find a more appropriate fit for your skills, a pattern of job-hopping is a red flag. Has the employee spent less than two years at multiple organizations back-to-back? Depending on the industry, that may indicate a lack of commitment. Considering the cost of onboarding a new hire, it’s in your best interest to choose a candidate who will stay long-term.
4. Inconsistent Information Compared to Other Sources
Résumés are no longer the only source of employment history available to the HR professional. Social media, and more specifically platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook, are popular places to keep up to date on where someone has worked. As a general rule, it’s advisable to cross-reference a résumé with a candidate’s social media to ensure that the dates, contributions, and other important details match up. To put it in perspective, one study found that 75% of HR managers have found a lie on a résumé before.3
5. Embellishment or Résumé Padding
How far back should a résumé go? How many jobs should be on a résumé? What jobs should be included to be industry-relevant? These are subjective questions, to say the least, but they’re important in differentiating a padded résumé from an unpadded résumé. Too few jobs, and an applicant might have a lack of relevant experience. Too many, conversely, may show that the candidate is either making up for a lack of experience with volume or unsure of which roles are most relevant to highlight.
How to Explain Red Flags in a Résumé
To put it plainly, red flags may come up in a résumé for many clear and understandable reasons. Specifically, disruptions related to COVID-19 are extremely common, with hundreds of millions of U.S. adults’ jobs affected over the course of the pandemic.4 As a hiring manager or HR specialist, it’s important to factor these nuances in when reviewing someone’s résumé, realizing that life may interrupt career trajectory.
Although certain red flags may point to a need to rule out a candidate, red flags are often just signals that further investigation is needed. Incorporating other evaluation methods into the talent acquisition process can help meet this need. While a résumé can provide an idea of what a candidate has done, well-validated personality tests offer an objective look at who a candidate is — their strengths, weaknesses, values, and unconscious biases. Using personality tests in tandem with a thorough résumé review and a structured interview, it’s even possible to predict how a person is likely to perform in a given role.
1. Castle, K. (2009, February 9). Study Shows More Than Half of Americans Are Bad Spellers. TimesNews. https://www.timesnews.net/news/local-news/study-shows-more-than-half-of-americans-are-bad-spellers/article_8022d115-0103-53aa-9673-d9e375ab49b5.html
2. Noguchi, Y. (2018, January 22). Freelanced: The Rise of Contract Work. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2018/01/22/578825135/rise-of-the-contract-workers-work-is-different-now
3. Employers Share Their Most Outrageous Resume Mistakes and Dealbreakers in a New CareerBuilder Study [Press release]. (2018, August 24). CareerBuilder. https://press.careerbuilder.com/2018-08-24-Employers-Share-Their-Most-Outrageous-Resume-Mistakes-and-Instant-Deal-Breakers-in-a-New-CareerBuilder-Study
4. Supplemental Data Measuring the Effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic on the Labor Market. (2022, January 24). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/cps/effects-of-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic.htm#:~:text=Of%20the%2016.9%20million%20people,the%20pandemic%20(78%20percent).