Resumé Red Flags – Advice from the Inside

by wpengine on April 29, 2014 in Job Search Tips, Workforce


This advice goes out to all the job seeking candidates out there that are wiping sweat from their brow as they work very hard creating the best resumé they can. All of you are unique and have a different story to tell. Each of you are using your wit, creativity, and Microsoft Office skills to format your career story into a one page resumé, with the hopes that it will catch the attention of a recruiter and/or hiring manager.

I’m here to give you some advice from the inside. I polled our team of recruiters, staffing specialists, and sourcers by asking, “what types of things do you see on a resumé that automatically raise a red flag for the candidate?” Read through the list below and take precautionary measures to prevent your resumé from being thrown directly into the NO pile. Most of these so-called red flags have nothing to do with you or your experience, to which you may say, that is unfair. But because the faults are there, they do say something about you and we are reading into them.

Keep in mind that recruiters and sourcers are people too, so not every one of them will agree with the opinions of others. But also note that many of these were brought forward more than once or twice.

  • Typos. Any kind of typo: Especially for senior level finance, accounting professionals, or roles that require strong attention to detail. “I had a client catch a typo on a resumé of a Controller, and he questioned not only the candidate’s attention to detail, but mine as well.”
  • Resumés that are more than two pages. Resumés that are too long: While academic resumés may be longer, business professionals should be able to narrow down the pertinent information onto one or two pages.
  • Resumés that are too short/have too much white space: This is your chance to sell yourself and blank space is not very impressive. If you don’t have much work experience, use the space to paint the picture of why experience doesn’t matter and your unique traits, skills, and personal accomplishments are a fit for the job.
  • Having no objective: Not including an objective implies that you “have no purpose or direction. Or worse, no care for the future. Not all people need an objective, but those that should need to do it well.” This person noted that their opinion is an old school one, but worth mentioning to share the different ways of looking at a resumé. Another trouble with no objective is that it leaves it up to us to guess what you’re looking for, and then to decide if you’re interested or qualified. Objective or not, be clear with your purpose, direction, or goal.
  • Someone who puts on every job since 1973: “I’m often explaining to candidates why jobs/work/accomplishments older than 10-15 years typically don’t matter to prospective employers. Of course it matters to you because you did it – but to a prospective boss, not so much.
  • Funky fonts or colors: While personality and being your true self is important, a resumé is not the place to use funky/wacky fonts and lots of colors. Keep it classic.
  • Gaps in jobs that are not well explained or messaged: There is always a reason why – you’ve been laid off, you stayed at home with the kids or a sick relative, or you took a lengthy sabbatical. Tell us the why, be brief and to the point, but don’t leave anything up for the imagination.
  • Wrong dates. Leaving off dates. When the dates the positions were held aren’t clear: We’ve seen it all – dates that don’t line up or obvious mistakes like saying you worked in a job since 1901. (I have actually seen this one.) Wrong dates are another example of a lack of attention to detail and calls attention to your resumé for the wrong reasons. As for not including dates, “this makes me think, what are they hiding?”
  • Not including a degree next to school: “My immediate question is, did they graduate or attend?” A degree is often required for jobs and full disclosure keeps us from guessing or tossing your resumé because we are unsure.
  • Including personal information: Some information should not be included on a resumé. Full disclosure on work and school experience is necessary, but sharing intimate personal details is not the kind of full disclosure we’re looking for. If you’re resumé looks like a script for a reality television show, it’s most likely going in the red flag pile.
  • Email addresses: Some companies/clients will not even review the resumé if the email is inappropriate.
  • Small font size or margins: It’s frustrating when a resumé is hard to read because of the font or they have crammed in too much information by adjusting the margins and line spacing. Impressive use of your word processing application, but unfortunately this creativity is not in your favor.
  • Inconsistent formatting & formatting error: “Fonts, font sizes, spacing… this list goes on.” This is another example of a lack of attention to detail.
  • Spelling mistakes (back to typos): This one came up frequently, each time with the reason that spelling mistakes show a lack of attention to detail. Read your resumé back to yourself. Use Spell Check. Have your third grade English teacher review it. Whatever it takes, avoid spelling errors at all costs. Do you really want your first impression to be ruined by a small spelling mistake? Unfortunately, those small errors have a rather large effect.

There you have it – these are the things that recruiters will spot immediately and will create a negative impression. They are easy enough to fix so I encourage you to heed this warning from the inside and avoid a red flag being raised with your name on it. Also, I don’t want you to take these suggestions the wrong way. There are many times when our clients (the hiring managers) raise a red flag and we coach them through reasons they should ignore such resume prejudices. Come back next week to hear about the common ways we fight for your candidacy.

Up next: Fighting Resumé Prejudices

3 responses to “Resumé Red Flags – Advice from the Inside”

  1. […] nerve-racking. Every recruiter has stories of common mistakes such as candidates forgetting resumes or not dressing properly, however; few and far between are bizarre, hilarious, and even scary […]

  2. […] and frustrating to decide how to represent both the employer and the staffing industry on a resume. Here we have outlined several different scenarios with examples to help set you up for success […]

  3. […] and making contacts with all manner of professionals in your industry. You’ve gone through your resumé a dozen times with a fine-toothed comb and determined that it is subjectively and objectively […]

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