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Do not ignore interview and resume red flags. Can you spot them?

Finally, the budget was approved for the position you’ve been begging to open because your team and you are overworked. A lot of time was spent crafting the ideal job description to attract your perfect candidate. Excitement builds – maybe, just maybe, your staff and you can take a few days off this summer with the brilliant mind you hope to bring in over the next two weeks. Sure, training will take a few months, but the right candidate will know the basics. And, wow, within the first few hours of posting the position, your inbox (or your recruiter's) is flooded with resumes. There is no doubt in your mind that your next superstar has found you.


Then, you begin to read the resumes. Frustration and disappointment ensue. There are resumes submitted for positions that have no relevant skills and qualifications or are littered with mistakes.


After reading thousands of resumes and interviewing thousands of individuals throughout my career, I’ve identified some red or yellow flags you need to be aware of before hiring someone. For me, a red flag indicates a no-go decision. A couple of yellow flags may result in a positive hiring decision; but, typically a few yellow flags equals a red flag. The cost of hiring, onboarding, and training individuals is substantial and should not be taken lightly. A poor choice can be more demoralizing and disruptive for your team than not filling the position. 


In our post on May 22nd, we discussed key hiring factors and concepts to consider to ensure a diverse workforce. In this article, we offer cautionary guidance: Do not ignore these red flags, no matter how desperate you are to fill a position. 


Errors, and typos, and sloppy presentation - OH MY!

Pro tip: A resume is a static document, and the candidate has every opportunity to review their work, correct mistakes, utilize free grammar and punctuation tools, and make their document an exemplary representation of their workmanship. Consider again that a candidate should be putting their best foot forward upon applying; if the resume is sloppy, can you imagine what a rushed presentation may look like?

Everyone makes mistakes, especially after you stare at a document for too long. However, more than one mistake or typo demonstrates lacking attention to detail or carelessness. A mistake is a yellow flag 🟡 but more than two mistakes are a red flag. 🔴

Recommended next steps: Proceed with caution. I have managed this situation in two ways. If the candidate truly appears to have potential, skills, or experience that meet your needs, point out the need to make corrections to determine if they are willing to go the extra mile and have the capability to make the corrections. Alternatively, if the errors are gross, for example, misusing the name of the software that they have communicated they are an expert in, then you should pass on the candidate.


The stated objective on the resume does not align with the job posting.

Pro tip: This one always baffles me. Candidates who state their objective as “Seeking a position in a computer science role that will utilize my skills in programming” and then apply for a marketing position clearly are hitting Quick Reply to every job posting.

Recommended next steps: Do not pursue this candidate. They are not interested in your position and have not taken the time to understand your skills and needs. Often, these candidates will leave your position as soon as they find an opening for a computer science position. 🔴


Information is inconsistent between LinkedIn and the resume.

Pro tip: This lack of consistency can mean two things. First, information could be fabricated on the resume or LinkedIn due to false information or poor memory recall. The alternative is a lack of attention to detail on one or the other. In either case, there is a concern.

Recommended next steps: Ask the candidate to explain the differences and listen carefully to the answers. Differences can have legitimate explanations, but dishonesty at the beginning of any relationship is never a good sign. This is a definite yellow flag. 🟡


Unexplained gaps on the resume.

Pro tip: Gaps are not immediate concerns, but they do need to be explained. I always recommend individuals tackle gaps head-on with explanations—parental care, child care, illness, world travel, military spouse support, volunteer work, etc. As long as gaps have not precluded an individual from keeping abreast of the technology needed to perform their job, skills, and research associated with successful performance, gaps are not an issue. 

Recommended next steps: Ask the candidate to explain the gaps. Enquire what they learned during that time, and ask for examples of how they stayed informed about changes in the industry. Gaps are a yellow flag that can be easily mitigated with an honest and open conversation. 🟡


Short tenures or ambiguous dates:

Pro tip: Short tenures occur. Individuals take their dream job only to be laid off a few months later. It happens. However, several instances of short tenure typically indicate a person’s inability to adapt to a workplace, get along with others, or meet expectations, which could be as simple as tardiness or absenteeism. Sometimes, candidates try to “hide” short periods by eliminating months and entering years only.

Recommended next steps: More than one short tenure will cause me to put that resume at the bottom of the pile or pass altogether. That said, times have changed, and industries differ. It’s not uncommon to see (particularly in government contracting) one-year engagements. Be aware of the industry and common tenure for your role. As I advised, if you believe the candidate has potential, have an open and honest conversation to understand. I have met terrific candidates with a series of layoffs that impacted their lives and the tenures documented on their resumes. Many short-tenure positions or vague dates are a red flag.🔴


Inability to follow directions or fully complete application through submission.

Pro tip: If there is one takeaway from this article, allow it to be this one. When a candidate demonstrates the inability to follow directions during the application process, you can be assured that as an employee, they will be unable to follow directions and work independently. Not following directions demonstrates a lack of reading comprehension, inability to comprehend the request, or unwillingness to perform the task as requested.

Recommended next steps: Pass on this candidate. The lack of following directions is a double red flag. 🔴🔴


Delayed response or reply after verbal or written offer.

Pro tip: I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you are not their first choice when a candidate delays scheduling interviews or pauses in accepting the verbal or written offer. Top performers have choices, and they are often weighing multiple options at one time.

Recommended next steps: Proceed cautiously, and do not get your hopes up. After the interview process, extend a verbal offer. If there is a lack of affirmative reply, this is a yellow flag. It is reasonable for a person to want to review an offer with a significant other, so don’t be dismayed. Provide a deadline for a response. In these situations, a delayed verbal acceptance will often be followed by an additional delay in signing the written offer or a request for an extension. Again, provide a deadline for response. Trust me, even if the person returns this acceptance, 9 out of 10 times, this person will never start. This is a huge red flag. 🔴

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