Job Doc

What resume crimes can be forgiven? Elaine Varelas discusses

Resume crimes, or red flags, can include overlapping experience, a series of short-term roles, or role progression that doesn't make sense. Is the resume disorganized? Is it badly formatted or missing information? Elaine Varelas discusses hiring processes and whether or not the skillset displayed on the resume matches the role you want to fill.

Ask the Job Doc.

Q: Am I being too harsh when I judge resumes? When they’re badly organized, say too much, or say too little, I want to wrinkle them up and throw them away. Are there some “resume crimes” I should be more lenient on?

A: Trying to identify the important experience that you’re looking for in a potential hire on a resume is not easy. As a hiring manager or an HR representative, your role is to be critical about the resume, but in different ways – screening candidates in or screening them out can have very different processes.

If you think one resume is badly organized and the role you’re filling is that of a project manager or some other role that requires significant attention to detail, then, yes. You can wrinkle it up and throw it away. However, if the information in the resume shows the experience that you’re looking for, then take into account that people writing resumes are not expert resume writers. If they are supposed to be, then you can dismiss that resume, but that’s probably not the role you’re filling.


The key is, does it include information about the skillset that you’re most interested in? And do you, looking at the resume, see the skillset this person has as what’s needed for the future in your organization? A poorly formatted resume won’t cut it for someone in design or advertising and marketing, but it might not be a skill someone in another role needs to know. Try to recognize the skillset for the job when you’re looking at the quality of the resume. You want to see the skills they’re trying to exhibit reflected on the resume. You can be less harsh on people applying for roles that are not in public relations, marketing, or anything with heavy organizational skills.


“Resume crimes,” or resume red flags, would include inconsistent and overlapping dates and that may not match the dates on their LinkedIn profile. That’s undoubtedly a resume red flag. Significant leaps in title and responsibility that don’t make sense as someone would grow through an organization, as well. Most often, an entry-level worker’s next job title won’t be senior vice-president. Those are the kinds of red flags to pay attention to. Multiple short-term jobs are red flags, unless the person was in a series of some kind of a contract or independent work.

Stay focused on the content of the previous roles and the previous jobs, pay attention to the dates, and recognize that a screening phone call can be the first step in the process rather than an hour-long interview. A clarifying phone call or email might be all you need to determine that this person should move ahead in the process, or if you can simply end it.


As far as a resume saying too little, if the only thing on the resume are job titles and dates with no descriptions and turning to their LinkedIn profile offers no more information, but the experience does line up with what you would expect for someone in the role – maybe that’s when you say you might decide to do a screening phone call as the first step in the process.

For all the resume writers, red alert. Does your resume show your skillset? If you say that you are detail-oriented, have you completed a thorough spell check? Does your resume display messages that are consistent with the kind of role that you’re looking for? And most importantly, have you made it easy for the reader? Thick blocks of narrative are not easy for a reader who’s been scanning resume after resume. And for the people trying to write your resume to get through the Applicant Tracking System, your ultimate goal is to reach real human beings who have to read what you’ve sent in.

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