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Readers Respond: Share Your Resume and Cover Letter Red Flags

Responses: 36


Employers need to pay attention to certain resume and cover letter red flags on the application materials they receive from job applicants. These resume and cover letter red flags tell you a lot about the habits, work ethic, enthusiasm, and accomplishments of your job candidates. Resume and cover letter red flags should affect your employment decisions. Won't you share examples of red flags that get your attention when reviewing resumes, cover letters, and job applications?

Share Your Experiences


I respectfully disagree with number one. Cover letters are becoming increasingly irrelevant with the younger generation. In fact, many employers automated websites no longer even have a place to upload them! That has at least been my experience with big tech companies for their core business positions (technical roles). I've written cover letters before but I honestly think my customized résumé speaks for itself. I have spoken to dozens of others in my field who have had similar experience. If you don't have the background, you don't get the interview. Simple as that. However, If you are recruiting a business major for an HR, marketing, finance, etc position, then I can understand because the employees experience may be too generic to really stick out.
—Guest Tay

Regarding Spelling, Grammar and More

Alas, alas, spell check is not always correct. There are those times when spell check cannot find the error: is it too or to, roll or role, etc.? Software has not yet been created that can distinguish between these choices, "the homonym/homophone problem". If words are missing, spell check misses that as well. If the grammar is wrong but the spelling is accurate, spell check is no help. Sometimes spell check considers a perfectly correct word as erroneous, but I always check independently before overriding the error indicator. (Some of the spell checks have their own errors!) Most of the professional world has (for decades) required a decent, well-crafted cover letter showing awareness of the organization and just exactly how the applicant's skills would be an effective asset to said organization. The resume' must be particularized accordingly, with the department head's or owner's name, etc. But in the end, the organizations offering openings hold most of the cards.
—Guest Amber Ladeira


I've gotten jobs without cover letters, even without resumes...I bet you are this picky, and still make hiring mistakes.
—Guest Christie

Red flag or just old fashioned sexism

I agree with some of the comments above, a plateau and even gap in employment is not necessarily a problem. Women, and to a lesser extent, men will choose to plateau careers to focus on other responsibilities. They may choose to upgrade the career later. The advice to perceive this as a negative, instead of as good life planning, can actually lead to some quite sexist decisions!
—Guest Guest


Wow. It seems as though employers really ARE out of touch, especially this one. Yes she raised a few points which are relevant to employers, but there are a hell of a lot of things she said which just go to prove that the vast majority of HR professionals are from another planet. Perhaps not even one that resides in this reality. If you had the misfortune of filling out your 3 hundredth application form, you would also have a distinct lack of interest in writing out yet another cover letter. Especially as you've probably also been asked to fill out your details (all of them, including your full work history and education which takes an hour in most cases) for every other application as well. Job-seekers are seeking jobs, and for that they must apply wherever and whenever they can. If I spent 8 hours filling out 8 application forms a day, I would get nowhere except perhaps depressed and downtrodden. Perhaps the OP would like to see what the boot is like on the other foot?
—Guest Mois Aussie

Red flags in resumes

Yes. Absolutely true. Hiring mistakes are irreversible and each and every employer must pay heed to the red flags in resumes.
—Guest MadhuMitha Purushothaman

Who has the time?

So what you're saying is that you're willing to pass up a potentially fantastic employee because they didn't personalize their cover letter? Have any of these people tried job hunting before? Who has the time to personalize 20+ letters a week on top of filling out the 10 to 15 page online applications that ask for all of the same questions that are ALREADY IN MY RESUME? I can understand expecting personalization and attention to all the minutia if the employee is simply applying to ONE job, but in this day and age I am personally very lax about cover letters.
—Guest Barefoot

Contradiction is the result of ageism

The author cautions that "over qualified" job candidates may not be long for the job if hired, but then she contradicts herself by stating "I respect employees who quickly decide that a company, a job, or an industry may not fit their interests and aspirations." So she is uneasy hiring over qualified candidates because they may not stay at the job long, but she admires "those who quickly leave the job" as a result of the employee not knowing what he/she wants. How is that not covert ageism? Over qualified candidates tend to be older, and those who do not know what they want tend to be younger.
—Guest Robert


Not a single one of these "red flags" is a reason for me to circular file a candidate's resume. In fact, during my 35-years as HR Director for a Fortune 100 firm, I have hired dozens of superb candidates whose resume raised several of these flags. Only the most inexperience HR professional would think any of the items on this list really matter. I look at dozens of metrics when evaluating potential hires, and the most useful ones never make their way onto a resume.
—Guest Ben

Spelling and Grammar Do Matter

I have been on both sides of the resume issue and can tell you that no matter what position you are applying for, spelling and grammar do matter. Even if you are applying for an entry level position, your resume will be pushed aside in favor of those that are spelled properly and grammatically correct because those candidates come across as caring enough to use their spell checker. Employers do not want to hire someone who does not appear to care enough to put out a good product, so please spell check or have someone else proofread before sending resumes out. Also, I had an 8 year gap in my employment history when I took time off to stay home with my children. This does not have to be a career killer. I put my education and professional experience to work volunteering in my community. When I was ready to go back to work, I had credible work experience and references handy from the volunteer work that I had done. Volunteer work does matter!
—Guest Mary

Very indecisive

I am speechless when it comes to the hiring process. I am not an HR expert by the way, I am just an average drop out from college due to financial issues that I could no longer afford to finish. I had to pay a very big price in my childhood for the lack of parental guidance needed for a child to grow. But despite all the pain, I continue to read, write and study hoping that one day I could actually land a decent job. This might sound like a vent to everyone who is sitting on their throne of the academic ivory tower. But it is not. I am actually sick and tired of reading "resume tips" that repeatedly bash poor presentation and grammars. We have developed a mentality of searching for human deficiency rather than talents. We called textbook plagiarism on exams an A+ and Mars Exploration a farfetched fantasy. Perhaps that is the reason why HR won't find their ideal candidate. As long as HR continues to burn down the forest, they will never find the trees.
—Guest FLOW


I disagaree with the point of watching out for applicants who seem to have 'plateaued' or even regressed. This is symptomatic of a lack of ambition, not an indicator of a poor work ethic. In particular, someone at a change point in their life may want to shed responsibilities. At one point in my life I left a 70,000 per year job for one that paid 40,000 per year. But the latter: * replaced a 75 minute commute with a 10 minute commute. * Had 10 weeks of holiday per year instead of 3. * Paid me to spend 5 weeks a year canoeing, hiking and snowshoeing. Some considered this a step backward. I didn't.
—Guest Sherwood

Red flags

Only problem I see among the red flags listed is the time stamp for internet applications. If they are employed, the job they hold may have odd hours or days. For example I'm looking for a job but my days off from my current employer are wednesday and thursday. Due to this odd working days it would be normal for an employer to receive an online application at 2:30 on one of the days I have off. (You might want to comment in your cover letter or in a phone screen.)
—Guest steve

Fear Factor

I am 41 and have been around the block enough to have made observations on HR tactics. HR needs THEIR jobs, and often end up behaving like cut throat hot shots, up to the brim in bureaucratic masterbation. We live in a slave society basically, hello? Cover letters = People's lives? A misspelled word, nervous on interviews, pettiness over disclosure to list pay or not to....No wonder our society is such a mess, we need to gain MORE humanity in all of our hiring practices. I personally respect an HR officer who will be genuine with the applicant if they see errors and list their concerns, to at least help the person later. I am starting my own business, and the only thing that will surely mark someone off for me, is sociopathic intentional deception. Sometimes people are so TERRIFIED about an imperfect work history that they do alter and fabricate. This is understandable when possible homelessness might come into play, or young kids at home. No excuses, just humanity. Please.
—Guest Danielle

Time holes in construction / bad clients

I'm 57, started construction at 22, now GC with 95% of my work just not out there. I'm shifting to an insurance adjuster job search having spent 4000k in school/training to qualify. I have almost no to zero clients that I would ask for a reference as 99% of clients equal my having to chase my money with them. All of them would say roughly things like: "You didn't tell me." "I thought you wanted to be paid on the 1st of the month." "Wow Rick, I thought you'd just go ahead and take care of it." The rest I couldn't trust to not think out loud. So I have some business references, like an architect, my part time bookkeeper, where I buy my materials, etc. I'm not sure what to do when I'm asked, "Don't you have any clients that would say that you did great work?" I don't because of the above and for the last 3 years I have taken what equals to $20-25k per year when 10 years ago it was 100-125k. The concern is that I look like I'm lying and working for zero because I did bad work. Direction? (Why are you even discussing this in interviews or applications. You are making a career change. You got tired of having to bill clients.)
—Guest Rick S

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Share Your Resume and Cover Letter Red Flags

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