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Resume Red Flags: 9 Signs of a Bad Resume That Recruiters Need to Know

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According to the Department of Labor, whenever you hire a bad employee, it will cost your organization at least 30% of that recruit’s first-year earnings. 

Bringing the wrong employee on board can be potentially fatal financially to an organization. In addition, hiring the wrong person can harm your company culture, and that might be difficult to undo. 

To avoid such mistakes, you need to identify the tricks, errors, and even fraudulent claims to look for when analyzing a resume. Spying out a bad resume will help your organization be more preventative in light of bad hires than always dealing with it after the fact. 

Here are some red flags in a resume that you should pay attention to when hiring. 

1. Indicators That a Career Has Taken a Step Back

The simple goal for any company that’s recruiting new staff is to bring on board excellent workers. One thing that you should look for to help you identify that ideal hire is the career progression their resume portrays.

If, when looking at a resume, you notice that the job description and title spell a reduction in responsibility, then that can be a problem. It is not just a pattern of decreasing responsibility that can be alarming but also if the career seems to be at a standstill. 

However, it is essential to differentiate between a weak resume and one where the applicant had to navigate extenuating circumstances. For example, an employee who becomes a new parent might opt to take on less responsibility until their children start going to school full-time.

Before you make a judgment call on what looks like a declining career trajectory, investigate the red flags further. You do not want to dismiss a qualified recruit due to extenuating circumstances. 

2. A Bad Resume Does Not Speak to the Job Posting

A significant difference between a good vs bad resume is that it does not speak to the particular job opening in question. Whenever a candidate who is not qualified for a position you advertise puts together an application, they will not customize it to fit the situation. Instead, such applicants tend to send in a copy-and-paste kind of resume. 

When someone applying for the job position overlooks customizing their cover letter, it shows you they lack paying attention to detail. The cover letter is a critical opportunity for applicants to differentiate themselves. Not taking that seriously can imply an employee who might become lax once you hire them.

A well-written resume is one that clearly connects the applicant's relevant skills with your requirements. 

3. The Wrong Tone

A thoughtful applicant will always craft their resume in the tone they need to come in at. For example, if one is applying for a chief operating officer's position, the tone they have to use to convey their point of view is unique to that position. Thus, their resume can't have the same tone as an application for an operations manager opening. 

How an applicant frames their resume speaks to their communication skills. Furthermore, if a candidate can't deliver their thinking clearly in an appropriate tone, it may indicate they lack the aptitude you're looking for. 

4. Spelling, Grammar and Formatting Mistakes

Few things are as big a turn off for recruiters as when a resume that touts the applicant's attention to detail coming with spelling errors. Whenever you come across grammatical or spelling errors, you should take it as a reflection of the applicant’s actual ability to pay attention to detail.

5. An Unorthodox Employment History

A resume that indicates an unusual career path is something you should not ignore. Specifically, it is the response the applicant will give concerning the unusual job that you must pay attention to. 

Digging deeper into the atypical job history can help you uncover past behavior that would pose a problem to you. With that said, you need to consider any mitigating circumstances carefully. The explanations for the unorthodox history can help you avoid making inaccurate conclusions that could rob you of a high-value recruit. 

6. An Unclear Graduation History

While not every applicant might graduate from university, a resume that does not clearly state the graduation history is a red flag. 

Regardless of their graduation status, if an applicant is vague with such vital information, then it might portray a habit of stretching information. Such an employee could put your organization at risk if you were to hire them.

7. Inability to Follow Directions

Bad resumes will often not follow the directions stipulated in the job advertisement. If you identify a resume that does not feature all the requirements you asked potential applicants for, you should disregard it. 

Such a resume implies that the applicant either isn't qualified and is just trying their luck or that they are lazy. Either way, these are traits you definitely don't want.

8. An Application Taking Advantage of an Employer

When you receive an application sent in through a current employer's address, then that is a bad sign. Such a candidate is not only not being very thoughtful but is looking for another job on her current employer's time.

The same goes for any resumes that come in printed on the current employer's stationery. If the applicant can misuse their current employer's time and resources, then they will most likely do the same to you. 

9. A Lot Red Flag Qualifiers

Spotting a resume that relies on too many negative qualifiers is an indicator that the applicant is not your ideal candidate. Some examples of these undesirable qualifiers include terms such as ‘gained exposure to’ and ‘with knowledge of.’ 

If a resume relies on such ambiguous qualifiers, chances are that the applicant will also use vague descriptions of their achievements. Disregard such a resume as it depicts an applicant who either lacks the relevant on-the-job experience or has little ability to communicate concisely. 

Learn How to Zero in on the Right Recruits

Hiring the wrong employee can adversely affect your firm’s finances and culture, which is hard to rectify. To prevent such a scenario, you need to learn how to identify a bad resume during your recruitment process. That will help you keep bad hires away before they join your firm, rather than dealing with them once they come on board. 

SCOPE Recruiting possesses a comprehensive supply chain and operations recruiting experience. Contact us today to find the right talent for your organization. 


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