Common Red Flags on a Resume

We spend a lot of time talking about what to put on your resume, but what should you avoid putting on your resume? After all, a resume is usually the first introduction an employer or hiring manager has of you and if you don’t know how to not give a bad impression you’ll probably step in something by accident. And many of these things are very fixable, so long as you are aware of them and then take the time to address them. With that in mind, what are the common red flags on a resume, and how can you repair them?

Red Flag: Typos and Errors

This should even need to be said, but we’ll get it out of the way first: if your resume is riddled with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes, it’s going to hit the bin faster than a jug of sour milk. Resumes that are full of errors show both a lack of attention to detail and an inability to communicate coherently. Since attention to detail and communication are both fairly critical skills for just about everyone in just about any industry, you really don’t want to come off not knowing what you’re doing.

This is also an easy red flag to fix: do a spelling and grammar check on your word processor and then get someone you trust to look at it again for errors that the computer missed, plus any awkward phrasing or things you might have missed. It’s always good to get a second set of eyes on something as important as a resume because it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees when you’re entrenched in something this important, and this personal.

Red Flag: Employment Gaps and Weird Dates

Unexplained employment gaps are a problem – most employers want to imagine that people are doing something with their time. And if you’re hiding what you were doing, what else are you hiding? This goes hand in hand with inconsistent or weird dates – for example, strange overlap in full time job start and end dates or having a job stretch over a span of time with no real change in what you did or what skills you picked up.

The inconsistent dates are easy enough to fix: check and double check! Make sure you can account for what you did over that span of time and don’t forget to note what you accomplished and did.

The employment gap can be a bit trickier because it depends on what the gap was and what you did with it. For example, if you have an employment gap because you had a child, talk about what you did: for example, learning a skill, doing something crafty, going back to school, volunteering, etc. Own up to what the gap was, why there was a gap, and what you did with your time, and they become easier to smooth out.

Another way to deal with the employment gap is to switch the type of resume you’re doing. Instead of doing a job based, chronological one, do a more skills and achievements-based resume instead and skirt the whole employment history issue altogether. (This can also handle weirdly inconsistent dates because there won’t be any).

Red Flag: Unprofessional Email Address

It’s a little thing, but it matters! An unprofessional email like hotstuff69@gmail.com (don’t email that – I have no idea where it goes) can get you binned quickly because it comes off as immature.

Email accounts are free to set up and easy to set up, so if you don’t have a professional sounding email account, set one up. Setting one up with Outlook or Gmail holds a little more weight compared to Hotmail or yahoo or use one that is provided from your internet provider. Then make sure to use an account name that is professional and mature: first name and last initial (or vice versa) works well. You can also use things like your name combined with your education, city, job position, or associations (like alma maters or schools). For example, MarieS@unbc.ca sounds a lot better (don’t email that either – there will be a confused Marie S somewhere!)

Red Flag: Being Vague

Is your descriptions of what you did at work vague? Does your career path meander and show no real progression? Is your persona profile full of fluff and no substance? Then you probably won’t get anywhere. Hiring managers have a nose for buzzwords, vague writing, and fluff, and they will bin a resume that is full of it.

Instead, be concrete in what you want, and what you have accomplished in your past jobs. Give concrete years of experience and proof of your accomplishments. For example: Saved the company $10,000 a month by streamlining meeting times from four hours a week to two hours. 15 years of experience working in customer service, including 8 years of managerial experience. Managed million-dollar portfolios.

You get the picture.

Be proud of what you have accomplished and concrete in how you say it. That’s how you get employers interested in you.

Red Flag: Too Much Personal Information

Sharing your life story is not what your prospective employer is after. They don’t need to know about your last spat with your employer (in fact, that by itself is a big red flag), they don’t need to know about your married life or your kids (in fact, it’s illegal for them to ask), and they don’t need to know your favorite food, all on your resume.

Now during the interview, you may want to discuss some things – if they have a bearing your ability to work – but you don’t have to share your entire life’s story. Doing that often makes people uncomfortable and less willing to hire someone who makes them uncomfortable. And you may end up shooting your prospects in the foot if you start going off about your period or marital troubles.

This is fixable: stick to the needs of the job and the skills you bring to the table. Leave the rest at home where it belongs.

These red flags are easy to fall into if you’re not careful and any one of them are enough to torpedo your chances of getting hired. Be aware of them, do what you can to dodge them, and for goodness sake, use a spell check and a professional email account!

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