When hiring managers are sorting through dozens – if not hundreds – of resumes, you can be sure they’re on the hunt for any reason to toss the bad ones into the recycle bin.
Each hiring manager has his or her own set of red flags, but some are simply universal. Job hunting is tough enough already! Don’t let these nine red flags bin your resume before it even gets read.
1. It’s not tailored to the job
Yes, rewriting your resume for every job takes time. Yes, you’re applying for dozens of positions. But taking that extra time to tailor your resume to the skills a particular job is looking for will help you rise above the pack.
Rewrite your past job descriptions to highlight how they helped you prepare for this position. Swap in relevant volunteer experience, professional organizations, or coursework. And for heaven’s sake make sure you remember to change the name of the company you’re applying to!
2. It’s riddled with errors
You really, really need to proofread your resume. Preferably, you need to have someone else give it a once-over, too, since it can be hard to catch your own spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. Keep an eye out for commonly confused or commonly misused words, and also check for odd formatting errors.
Hiring managers (rightfully) expect that you’ll take more time to polish your resume than you will most of your work, so if they see simple mistakes they’ll make assumptions about your everyday work quality.
3. It’s too dense
A good resume is scannable – if you make the hiring manager work too hard to decipher your work history, he’ll probably give your resume a pass.
If your work history is written up in thick paragraphs, it’s time to take a different tactic. Pull out your best achievements and skills into bullet points, so that a hiring manager can see at a glance whether or not you’re a good fit for the position.
4. It stands out … in a bad way
You printed your resume on glitter paper, or taped it to the back of a live turtle, or included Starbucks gift cards. Or maybe you simply used a weird font, or added images.
Unless you’re applying for a job where it makes sense to try something crazy with your resume (um, to a theater company, maybe?), try to keep your resume looking professional. It’s your work history and skills that should stand out, not your font choice.
5. It’s all duties and no impact
When writing your resume, shift the focus from listing your duties and roles to explaining how you benefited your old company. What did you achieve? How did you make a difference?
If you have actual data to back it up, then by all means put it in! “I grew my sales territory by 25%, from 2 million to 2.5 million” is way more impressive than, “Duties included making daily sales calls.”
6. It makes you look arrogant
Steer clear of giving yourself glowing reviews. Calling yourself an “exemplary employee” or “visionary leader” brings up red flags. These are things that – ideally! – your references will say about you. Stick to the facts, and leave the editorializing to others.
7. It doesn’t tell a story
It’s the new normal to have multiple jobs in unrelated fields, especially if you’re just starting out. Changing jobs every few years isn’t the red flag it used to be – particularly if you’ve crafted your resume to tell the story of how they build on one another.
Write your work history in such a way that one job seems to build on the last job’s skills, even if they’re not in the same field. Your cover letter is a great place to flesh out the details.
8. It’s unprofessional
Don’t use your current work email address on your resume – and please don’t list your email address as [email protected]. Email addresses are free, so set up a professional one for job hunting – ideally a variation of your name at a respectable email provider like Gmail.
Keep your resume focused on work, education, and volunteer experience. You may have some leeway to be more personal in your cover letter, but your resume isn’t the place to talk about hobbies or family.
9. It’s full of unexplained employment gaps
Gaps in employment still raise red flags for hiring managers, even though in this economy they’re more and more common. Try to fill your employment gaps in with volunteer experience or other relevant roles – like sitting on the PTA, taking a course, or spearheading a neighborhood committee.
Your cover letter is another great place to explain how you used those gaps to your advantage. Whatever you do, don’t just ignore the gaps – if you do, the hiring manager may wonder.
What red flags do you see in resumes? Leave your ideas in the comments.
10. Because the agency already had someone grandfathered into the job but had to put out the announcement as a standard protocol. The ones you see that give you three days to hand in a resume.
11. Because your resume shows you may know more than the current manager of that office = you are looked at as a threat, or potential competition.
12. Because you live in Alaska or some remote place, and it’s clear you simply want to move from the area.
13. Because the job description was so carefully crafted to cater to the one individual that management has already pegged for the job, they had no idea that HR could actually find someone remotely comparable.
14. Through your resume, you come off as someone who is good at problem-solving, being proactive, taking initiative, new ideas, and a strong work ethic. Some agencies don’t want this, as it messes up the “culture” already set in place.