Your resume is the first impression you make on a potential employer, usually well before you even meet them. (And if you blow that first on-paper impression, you won’t get the chance for a face to face at all.)
That is why it is so important to make sure that your resume doesn’t turn employers off right at the first reading. Here are the five most common resume red flags that make employers question your candidacy, and how you can avoid them.
Concern # 1 – Your resume isn’t customized to the job
Employer question: Did this candidate even apply to the right job?
If you don’t customize your application specifically for the job you are targeting, employers might not see your resume as relevant. As a very basic example, if the title at the top of your resume doesn’t match the position, it can look like you’re applying for the wrong job. So, if your last role was as a Communications Specialist, but the job you’re applying for is as a Public Relations Coordinator, PR Coordinator should be the new title of your resume. Use the intro paragraph and descriptions of your on-the-job wins to demonstrate how your Communications Specialist experience will make you a great at the PR role.
Concern# 2 – Grammar and spelling mistakes
Employer question: Does this person care about the job, or can they just not write?
If your application has spelling or grammatical errors, it says one of two things to potential employers, and neither one is good. One possibility is that you don’t know how to write an error-free document – and this is even when you were working on your own time, from home – which isn’t good. The other option is worse. That is that you do know how to write without mistakes, it’s just that you didn’t care enough about the job to put the effort into writing clean copy or properly proofreading.
Either way, you don’t look like a great candidate.
Concern # 3 – Job hopping
Employer question: Can this candidate hold down a job?
If you have lots of short-term work experience on your resume, it can give the impression that you are a job hopper and might not stick around long enough to make it worth hiring and training you. Now, the pace of work has changed in recent years. In many private-sector industries, the average length of tenure in any one position is just about two years. So anywhere you’ve worked for a year or two shouldn’t even raise eyebrows anymore. If you’ve done contract positions, you can indicate that on your resume.
The real red flag is when you’ve only worked for a period of months at a job. This can give the impression that you were hired, it didn’t work out, and either left or were let go. That process can be costly for employers, so they actively try to avoid a wrong hire.
If you have one such short stint in your work history, consider leaving it off your resume altogether. It isn’t necessary to list everything you’ve done. Your resume is your marketing document. Use it to highlight the stuff that sells your candidacy. Cut the rest.
Concern # 4 – Gaps in your resume
Employer question: This person hasn’t worked in a while – are their skills up to date?
If there’s a gap on your resume between jobs, employers might worry that you could be out of touch or don’t have the latest skills. If you have only been off work for a few months, I wouldn’t sweat it. It usually takes people several months to land a new job.
If you’ve been off for longer than that, simply explain in a line what you were doing at the time.
- 2016-2017 Stay-at-home parent with newborn – now in full-time daycare.
- September 2015 – May 2016 Went back to school full time, acquired a certificate in Media Studies from Queen’s College.
See our complete tips for how to cover gaps in your resume.
Concern # 5 – Lack of achievement
Employer question: Why would I take the time to meet with this candidate in particular?
Employers receive so many resumes for most of the jobs they advertise, that they cannot possibly have time to meet with all of them. So, they’re not necessarily rejecting candidates, they simply have to select the ones who stand out enough to interview.
You can become one of these by highlighting accomplishments on your resume.
There’s not a lot of mystery in job titles. So, when you list your work experience as an accountant or a sales rep, employers generally already know the basic tasks that go along with those jobs. Still, people too often spend a lot of valuable resume real estate describing their day-to-day job duties. What employers really want to see, what will make you stand out, is demonstrating how you stood out in the role. What did you accomplish that others might not have? What were your significant achievements? Use numbers whenever possible.
- Landed the year’s largest new business contract – exceeding quote by 23 per cent.
- Found 12 per cent cost savings with no reduced output.
The absence of accomplishments can give the impression that you are not a stand-out candidate or a stellar employee, causing employers to move on to the next application in the pile.
A customized, error-free resume that summarizes your relevant work history and highlights your accomplishments will go a long way towards answering employers’ initial questions about your candidacy for the job, and get them wanting to ask you the more in-depth ones… in an interview.