5 Resume Red Flags – How To Select for Exceptional Candidates

Resumes for Professionals

Sifting through resumes can be time-consuming for recruiters. Starting with the obvious no-gos is a must, so you have time to dig deeper into the more promising candidates. But what makes an obvious “no”?

Decision-makers know to look out for typos and lack of experience. Let’s explore some lesser-discussed red flags.

1. Failure to follow instructions

We recommend including a specific request in the job listing, such as making sure to title the submitted resume in a particular format (e.g., title your file submission “[First and last name CV for x position].”

Failure to follow the application instructions as given indicates lack of attention to detail. It also indicates the candidate may not have even read the job listing in full. If a candidate hasn’t read and understood the full parameters of the job, incompatibilities could surface further along into the hiring process, so that both candidate and company have sunk time into a lost cause.

2. Unexplained employment gaps

Some will caution recruiters to toss any resumes with employment gaps. But there are plenty of valid reasons for a candidate to have a gap – parental leave, for instance, or caring for a sick relative. In fact, gaps of these sorts can sometimes indicate a willingness to sacrifice comfort or consistency in order to rise to a challenge: a quality that can make for a real team player. Unexplained gaps, however, can be cause for concern, and should be taken into consideration when filtering candidates.

3. A generic resume or cover letter

Both resume and cover letter should, ideally, be tailored to the particular position. Job listings spell out the contours of a role. Both resume and cover letter should mirror the listing’s parameters, with supporting details.

An untailored cover letter or resume may point to deficient understanding of a role, or a less-than-enthusiastic applicant. Selecting for tailored resumes can help bolster the odds of a successful hire.

4. Resume gimmicks

Goofy headshots, cover letter puns, over-the-top graphical additions, physical resumes with props – most recruiters have received resumes from gimmick-inclined applicants. While not the reddest of red flags, gimmicks may serve as smokescreen for an otherwise substandard resume. For creativity-based roles, especially, an unusual resume may not be a dealbreaker – but still verify that the gimmick isn’t meant to distract. For a stricter, more professional role, a gimmicky resume may indicate an inability to read tone.

5. Lack of specific achievements

Exceptional candidates will have made an impact in previous roles, and will find ways to highlight their specific achievements within their resumes. 

Awards, specific workplace successes, promotions, departmental initiatives – if these sorts of details are absent, you can’t really gauge an employee’s level of performance. 

Specific achievements are key to finding a motivated, driven employee.

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