Job Applications & Resumes – What Recruiters DON’T Want to See

The job of a recruiter is not only to look for information in your application and resume that proves a match between you and the job in question but also to look for what I call ‘red flags’. These are things that are of potential concern to the recruiter or at least off-putting. If you present more than one red flag, good recruiters will join the dots. Instead of viewing each red flag in isolation, they will connect them and draw conclusions about you and whether you’re the right fit for the role. Listed below are what I consider to be the biggest red flags for recruiters based on my own experience as a recruiter and then career consultant.

Fluff – Recruiters HATE fluff. I’m talking ridiculous sentences with fancy, ‘big picture’ words that leave you wondering what is meant. If you’re not sure what I mean, think politician’s speech – seemingly powerful due to the big words but very low in meaning and very much open to interpretation. My tips: get to the point, be specific and clear.

Gaps – Unexplained gaps in your resume look suspicious and give recruiters an opportunity to draw a nasty conclusion about what you’re hiding. If you were made redundant, say so and put it into context with information about the circumstances your employer was in at the time. If you were unwell, say so but if you were able to do anything during that period, like part time or voluntary work, say so. If you were in between jobs, tell the reader what you did with your time that proves you stayed productive and focused on your career development. If you went travelling, be honest and talk about how this grew you as a person.

Date inconsistencies – Date inconsistencies, like gaps, are annoying to recruiters. They demonstrate either a lack of attention to detail or an attempt to hide something. Either way, it’s not good. So please check your dates to make sure they flow nicely.

Contradictory behaviour – The way you behave throughout the job application process is a huge indicator of the way you will behave in the role. Smart recruiters are watching you and sometimes even creating situations to test you. They want to see whether you actually exhibit the qualities they are looking for. For instance, if you are a sales executive whose job is to build relationships and persuade and influence people yet you don’t bother calling the recruiter/employer to talk about the job before you submit your application or don’t follow up the recruiter or employer after you submit your application you are demonstrating you don’t naturally have the qualities you profess to have in your resume.

Exaggerations – Humans like to exaggerate. We do it in conversation and very often resumes contain a spattering of exaggerations in an attempt to impress prospective employers. Please don’t. You will be found out eventually and the results can be disastrous. By all means talk about your achievements in your resume but don’t say you did something if you didn’t. Be clear on your involvement in and control over projects and results. Don’t lie about job titles or responsibilities.

Long resumes – Recruiters have neither the time nor the inclination to read chapter and verse about your career history. A lengthy resume is off-putting and may be set side in the ‘too hard’ pile. The key is to be concise and make it relevant (to the job in question). Keep your resume to two to four pages as a general rule. If you have additional information (like lists of projects or publications), create appendices and offer to supply these upon request. Exceptions to the general rule of two to four pages exist in certain industries where it is the norm to have a longer resume. Even in these industries however, the expectation is to have a much shorter resume than would have been provided, say 10 years ago.

Personal information – On the whole, recruiters no longer want to know your personal information – that you play green bowls every Saturday or like scrap booking. The only personal information you need to provide on your resume is your contact information and any roles, responsibilities or voluntary positions you hold outside of your employment. As always, there are exceptions to this guidance. If you do something outside of work that is very relevant to your job application, then you may want to include it in your application but perhaps talk about it in your cover letter rather than your resume. If you are a school leaver or graduate with little or no work experience, then employers do want to know about you as a person so in these circumstances it is appropriate to provide information about your hobbies and sporting interests.

Writing in the first person – Does writing in the first person reduce the impact your resume has? Some people believe readers feel like they are reading an opinion rather than fact.  It also makes the document longer and repetitive with all the references to ‘I’.  Recruiters also don’t like resumes written in the third person. Generally the favoured form is to write as if you are listing facts – “Degree qualified sales executive with 15 years’ experience growing product sales for ABC Ltd and XYZ Ltd.” or “Proven ability to persuade and influence key stakeholders by ……”  However, a great resume needs to tell a bit of a story and if this can’t be done so well in facts then perhaps there is room for writing in the first person in the Career Profile section of a resume.  This is where you make it personal.  Bring on the ‘I’s.

Mixed up tenses – There is nothing more annoying than mixed tenses. It makes a document much more difficult to read and interrupts the flow of the narrative. Mixed tenses are most commonly found in job responsibility lists. For example:


  • Develop and maintain relationships with potential product consumers

  • Training sales team members in sales techniques

  • Maintenance of customer and sales leads information database

Personally I prefer ‘Develop and maintain…..’, ‘Train sales team….’ and ‘Maintain customer database…’ but what matters most is that you are consistent all the way through your resume. Don’t make the job of the recruiter harder than it already is!

Personal objectives or goals – I haven’t met a recruiter yet that likes seeing a personal objective at the top of a resume, particularly if the objective is ‘fluffy’ or too wide. Do yourself a favour and leave it out. If you want to let the recruiter know how the job in question fits with your career goals, do this in your cover letter.