Talent Acquisition

3 Resume Red Flags That Don’t Matter for Recruiting in 2020

By Carli Kozik

Overcoming resume red flags concept image

If you’ve ever been involved in hiring a new employee, chances are you’ve eliminated candidates based on red flags you find in their resume.

And why not? It’s easy for recruiters, hiring managers, and HR professionals to be overwhelmed by the number of applicants they receive for job openings, so it makes sense that they would want a system to quickly disqualify candidates. It would make sense to disqualify those who have “undesirable” traits in their background, in order to narrow down the number of candidates they have to screen to find their new employee.

Today’s work environment is evolving, though, and we need to re-evaluate the way we look at resume red flags to keep up with that evolution.

After all, what happens when you narrow down your list of applicants so far that you’re only left with a handful of people whose resumes pass your initial screening? You may start conversations with them only to realize their backgrounds weren’t what they seemed, or their personality wouldn’t be a fit in your working environment.

At that point, you’re left with a ton of rejected resumes, no new hire, and you’re starting the process over from the beginning – a frustration for everyone involved.

While some resume red flags continue to be relevant (grammatical and spelling errors, for instance), there are a few things we need to move past seeing as automatic disqualifiers.

Red Flag #1: Job Titles That Don’t Match the Role a Candidate is Applying For

If one of the only things you’re looking at on someone’s resume is their job titles, you’re missing out on quality candidates. Job titles vary so widely between organizations and industries, that it should basically be a non-factor in deciding if you would like to speak with someone about a job they’ve applied for.

Job titles for sales professionals are a perfect example of this. Variations of the “Sales Director” title have been used for entry-level sales representatives, seasoned sales professionals, and those responsible for overseeing a sales team who aren’t directly involved in the sales process.

Job titles are just that – a title. They are determined completely by individual organizations depending on the number of employees, the organization’s hierarchy, and the impression they want an employee to have on their customers. There are no standardizations or guidelines for those at the leadership level to follow when creating job titles. To truly understand what someone’s job title entails, you have to take the time to read through some of their responsibilities and accomplishments, rather than assume you know what they’re doing and disqualify them based on your assumptions.

Red Flag #2: Short Terms of Employment

In today’s working world, there are A LOT of reasons why people might have some short stays at companies. People leave their jobs for many reasons, especially now that it’s easier than ever to find a new job.

Candidates may also have short roles on their resume due to a layoff, restructure, merger, or acquisition eliminating their position. Depending on the field the candidate works in, they might have a lot of short-term contracts in their work history because those roles are easier to come by than full-time roles.

You cannot assume anything about a candidate just because of how long they’ve been employed with different organizations. As you’re scanning their resume, make a point of asking yourself, “Do I see anything  – other than some short terms of employment – that would prevent me from talking to them?” If the answer is no, then you should probably give them a call!

Red Flag #3: Gaps in Employment

Gaps in employment are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, red flag that people will use to disqualify candidates. The underlying assumption when people have a longer period of time between employers is that the candidate couldn’t find a job, and so they must be an undesirable candidate.

The reason that you should look past employment gaps as a red flag is similar to why you should look past short terms of employment: there are a lot of reasons why someone may have a gap in their employment history.

Gaps in employment can, of course, occur because someone unexpectedly loses a job and they need some time to get back on their feet, but people take time off work for other reasons, as well.

People can leave their jobs to move, to raise children, or to care for family members that need help. If it’s financially viable, people may even take off work just because they need a break from the corporate world. Regardless of the reason, someone having time off work shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a bad thing – many times, those candidates are even more eager to get in and hit the ground running than a candidate transitioning from one job to another.

Every candidate has a story, but sometimes it’s hard to get that story across in the format of a standard resume.

As you’re evaluating resumes, make sure that first and foremost you’re checking for comparable or transferable experience. After that, let the candidate tell you their story and explain the red flags you saw on their resume.

Nobody’s background is perfect, and most people’s career paths are paved with twists and turns. When it comes to evaluating someone’s background, making assumptions is never the way to go, and if you start looking past the typical resume red flags, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that a lot more people are qualified for the job than you originally thought.

Learn more ways to make better hiring decisions in our on-demand webinar with Dr. Patrick Hauenstein and John Reynolds of OMNIview:


As the BizLibrary recruiter, Carli Kozik is responsible for attracting and hiring top quality candidates to join the BizLibrary team. Carli stepped into this role with BizLibrary in November 2016 with about a year and a half of recruiting experience, and she loves having the opportunity to hear about the diverse backgrounds that each candidate brings to the table.