In this economy, your company may be flooded with hundreds of applicants for a single job opening.  Weeding through these resumes takes time, and if you don’t have a dedicated recruiter or HR professional on staff, this can be a very tedious task.  While it may be easy to eliminate a candidate that is obviously not qualified for the position, you may still have a large amount of applicants that, at first glance, appear to have relevant skills.  To help narrow down your candidates, there are certain “red flags,” or warning signs, we can look for in a resume.

1. Spelling, grammar and punctuation errors – In this day and age, where your word processing application and e-mail service can do your spelling and grammar check for you, it boggles my mind how many errors I still see.  A resume with multiple errors not only shows a lack of attention to detail and utilization of technology, but may also be indicative of a lazy employee and their work quality.

2. Gaps in employment – Not all employment gaps are a cause for alarm.  It could be that a candidate took time off from the workforce to be a full-time caregiver, or had a longer than expected job search in a tough economy after a layoff.  But, these can sometimes be a sign of something more significant, such as an incarceration, or an unmentioned job that ended badly.

When it comes to hiring, you cannot be too careful.  If the applicant fails to explain the gap in a cover letter, but their experience looks good otherwise, it’s extremely important that you address your concerns during the initial telephone conversation.

3. Short tenure – A work history consisting of short tenures can be a sign of instability, a problem employee or a chronic “job hopper.”   Again, the economy and job market should be taken into account, but if a candidate has had a series of jobs throughout their career where they have spent less than two years, this is a huge red flag.  It takes a lot of time and money to recruit and train new employees.  Why invest the time if the candidate won’t be with your company long-term?

4. Overqualified applicants – In a difficult economy, applicants will apply for jobs for which they are overqualified because they are anxious for a job – any job.  While your company may benefit from the experience they bring to the table, it’s unlikely that they will stay in the position long-term.

If you hire someone who is overqualified, you take the chance that they may leave when a higher level or better paying opportunity comes their way.  There may be exceptions to the rule, such as a candidate wanting to take a different direction in their career due to life or family circumstances.  But, if that information is not divulged in a cover letter, it is definitely something you will want to address.

5. Lack of professionalism – It’s important that a resume not bridge the gap between a candidate’s personal and professional life.  A candidate that includes too much personal information, such as a multitude of hobbies, may not take their career seriously.  In addition, keep an eye out for unprofessional e-mail addresses.  A candidate using a cutesy or racy e-mail handle to send a professional resume is not using good judgment.

Keep in mind these red flags are just warning signs for potential problems.  If an applicant appears to be a good fit for your position, I would urge you to clarify your concerns during a telephone conversation.  Speaking with someone over the phone is also an excellent opportunity for you to access communication skills, further question their skills as it relates to the position, and ultimately decide if that person is someone you should bring in for an in-person interview.   Sifting through large numbers of resumes may seem daunting, but using these warning signs as a guide can help you find the top tier of candidates for interviews.


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