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5 red flags in a job résumé

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in The Savvy Office Manager

A résumé is a peculiar document.

The writer bares his professional soul, bullet-points his life, and fusses over verbs and gerunds, though he’s not sure what gerunds are. He checks and rechecks links, addresses, phone numbers and hyphenation rules. He embellishes skills, accomplishments and his ideals. And sometimes he outright lies.

The reader (that would be you) spends 11 seconds on it. Next!

You know what you’re looking for when it comes to experience and education. But sometimes you’re fooled.

Here are five common things to look for on a résumé that might lead to a shoddy hire:

“I’m stuck in neutral.” In the employment history section, a quick glance will tell you whether you have a climber or ledge-sitter. Good job candidates will show a path that has an upward trajectory. It need not be steep or glamorous, but you’ll be able to see that he or she has a sense of self-improvement. On the other hand, beware of the candidate whose past string of jobs, duties and accomplishments is stagnant. That type will give you what you’re looking for and not much more. So don’t expect a person who will step out of his comfort zone and grow with your organization, if that’s what you’re seeking. He ain’t it.

Serial helper. One entry of “I helped organize …” is enough. Any more sentences that start with “I helped …”, steer clear. The helper is the person who lacks creativity, ingenuity and a sense of autonomy—key ingredients of a good hire. What you want is someone who did the organizing and knew how to recruit the helpers. But if what you want is a helper—someone to do what you tell her to do—go for it. Just make sure the salary isn’t too high.

Whitman’s job sampler. So you’re looking to hire a graphic artist. The candidate’s résumé says the majority of his last job involved graphic design. But the job before that, he was an insurance adjuster, and the job before that, he was assistant sales manager at a Kawasaki motorcycle dealership. Before that, he was a self-employed drywall hanger. Don’t confuse him with the candidate who shows upward trajectory. His career path is about as erratic as a moth in a lamp store. He’ll serve a short stint as your graphic artist, and then he’s off to teach rock climbing.

“Righting’s not my thing.” There are many hiring managers who will not consider hiring anyone who flubs some grammar, misspells a word, or uses “then” when it should be “than.” Résumés should be error-free and pay respect to the English language. But if a job-seeker dangled a modifier or split an infinitive, you might want to let it slide, unless they claim they are “detail-oriented” or “meticulous to a fault.” What you’re really looking for here is sheer disregard and laziness; you know, the person who misspells your name or the job title sought.

Fun facts. These bits of information are serious stuff to the job candidate, but you know better. They’re filler for lack of real awards and achievements. If a person includes a day-long seminar on “Organizing Your Time Management,” what is she telling you? Or if the candidate includes a first-place photography award won in junior high, what is he telling you? A person who has a rich background of experience and accolades won’t have room on his or her résumé for such throwaway trivia.


Cal Butera is the editor of Business Management Daily’s Office Manager Today, Manager’s Legal Bulletin, Managing People at Work and Communication Briefings newsletters. He has been with Business Management Daily since 2007 and worked 22 years for midsize daily newspapers as sports writer, news reporter, layout and design editor, copy editor and city editor.

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