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5 Resume Red Flags that can Instantly Derail Your Job Search

Avoid Resume “Red Flags”

Don’t let your resume be the reason you get cut off at the gate from achieving your career goal. Recruiters and HR/hiring managers know exactly what they’re looking for in a job candidate. Since they receive hundreds of resumes from qualified applicants in response to a single job listing, they refer to their mental (and literal in some cases) “checklist” of job qualifications when reviewing resumes to determine which applicants they’d like to interview.

Any “red flag” on your resume can lead to an automatic disqualification so I’ve put together a list of some of the more common issues to avoid.

#1 Spelling and Grammatical Errors

Mistakes happen (boy, don’t I know it!). I’m the queen of transposing letters and numbers whenever my mind starts moving faster than my fingers across the keyboard. That’s why I have a professional proofreader for all of the career communications I create. Because after pouring over the document(s) for hours, a second set of “eyes” is a must.

You don’t need to invest in a professional proofreader. You can have someone you trust to read over the resume. If there’s no one is around to help you out, read it aloud – this makes it easier to catch mistakes you might otherwise overlook. Even better, start proofreading at the end of the resume and work your way back to the beginning.

On a serious note, you can’t afford to have those mistakes showing up on your resume and other career communications. These mistakes come across as sloppy and the reader may conclude that you aren’t capable of performing detail-oriented tasks. A resume is often your first line of communication with a prospective employer and is in a sense your representation until you meet face-to-face. You want to make a positive first impression.

#2 Using a Skills-Based (AKA Functional) Resume Format

In some instances, a skills-based resume makes sense. They can be used to spotlight specialized skills upfront. Unfortunately, these resumes also send up major red flags to recruiters and hiring managers because it’s the format most often used by job seekers attempting to hide something like gaps in your employment history. This format also makes it easy to inflate contributions and achievements beyond true results with no real context. Don’t just take my word for it. You can read all about Why Recruiters Hate Functional Resumes for yourself.

Another important fact about functional resumes is they are NOT compliant with ATS systems, the technology designed to score resumes based on job-specific keywords. This means if you submit a resume that does not comply with ATS guidelines, it will not be routed to the employer for further consideration.

#3 Listing Jobs Held More than 12 years ago

Most corporate/civilian employers focus primarily on your most recent 10-12 years of work experience when assessing your resume work history. Recruiters and hiring managers consider the work experience, skills, and technical proficiency performed during this period most pertinent. Any experience that goes back any further could “date” you and expose you to possible age bias and it keeps your resume from being too long.

#4 Employment Gaps with No Explanation

It’s not unusual at all to have periods of unemployment between jobs due to family obligations, illness/injury, education/training, etc. Even so, unexplained gaps between jobs can immediately raise red flags for employers.

I recommend inserting a short blurb in your work history that explains what you were doing between jobs. For example: “Full-Time Student, XYZ University: Completed B.S. Degree requirements in Industrial Psychology, 2014-2018.”

#5  An Unprofessional Email Address

Some recruiters and HR managers prefer job candidates within a specific age group for various reasons, and they know exactly how to analyze your resume to identify age-related clues like your email address.

Using emails like Yahoo!, Hotmail, MSN, AOL, Comcast, Bellsouth, etc. are commonly associated with job seekers ages 40 and up and could end up being skipped over, never making it to the interview stage.

The best email address to use (and also protect yourself from unfair age bias) is with a Gmail account or a self-hosted email (e.g. – and be sure to use a simple and professional email handle.

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Now be honest… is the resume and cover letter you’ve been submitting for jobs getting you noticed? What about your LinkedIn? Are you receiving invitations to interview? If not, we should talk! Contact me by phone: 1-866-562-0850, email:, or text: 256-733-0560 to schedule a NO COST, NO OBLIGATION 15-

Kimberly Ben is a multi-credentialed Professional Resume and LinkedIn Writer and Job Search Coach. She has written hundreds of resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, and other career communications for multiple career industries and professions. Kimberly’s extensive education, training, and experience have resulted in a clear understanding of current hiring best practices and the most effective job search techniques, branding strategies, and insight on what it takes to gain the competitive edge and impress employers in a challenging job market.

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