Are there good candidates behind bad resumes?

Reviewing resumes can be a time-consuming task. With so much time dedicated to appraising candidates, employers and recruiters often look for red flags that signal a candidate is not a good fit for a role. But which, if any, resume mistakes are forgivable and when should you move on to the next candidate?

For Genevieve Ward, a career coach with The Good Life Careers, there are a number of resume mistakes that hiring managers should look past.

“When a person uses the same resume for every application rather than tailor their resume towards the advertised role, that can be forgiven as long as their resume is fairly strong to begin with,” she says. 

Ward has also seen candidates include a professional headshot on their resume – something that is not necessary given that many job seekers have professional profiles online.

“As a career coach I tell my clients to ditch the photo,” she says. “But it’s not a deal breaker when candidates can clearly demonstrate their skills, experience and knowledge in their resume.”

Candidates who use templates with bright colours, fancy fonts and infographics also don’t deter Ward. While she acknowledges these additions can make a resume look busy, she advises employers to look for content.

“If the information is relevant and set out so it’s easy to read and the candidate has the skills for the role, that’s all that matters,” she says.

Spelling and grammar

Grammatical and spelling mistakes regularly cause resumes to end up in the ‘no’ pile.

Leah Lambart, a career consultant at Relaunch Me, recommends recruiters exercise caution in this area.

“Spelling and grammar are not always essential and often these candidates excel in other areas that are far more relevant to the role they are applying for, such as problem solving and analytical skills,” she says.

“Poor spelling and grammar will always be a red flag for positions requiring regular email communication or report writing, but perhaps could be overlooked for more technical or numerical based roles requiring limited written communication.”

Poor formatting

Poorly formatted resumes tend to look unprofessional and messy, and Lambart says these applications rarely get a second look. However, Lambart, says a recent experience has encouraged her to look beyond “messy” resumes.

“I assisted a friend with recruiting a bookkeeper for his business,” she says.

“The majority of resumes that I reviewed were very poorly formatted despite these candidates having years and years of experience working as a bookkeeper.”

As part of the review process Lambart specifically looked past the inferior formatting and found two strong candidates with outstanding bookkeeping skills.

“Unfortunately, I expect that very strong candidates are often overlooked as a result of poor resume presentation despite meeting all the key selection criteria,” she says.

Not achievement focused

While recruiters tend to look for candidates who can list their achievements under each role on their resume, Lambart says some entry-level roles are very process driven and do not allow for much innovation.

“For these roles it can be very difficult for candidates to clearly define key achievements,” she says.

“In my opinion, these candidates may be successfully fulfilling all the requirements of the role and should not be discounted for failing to come up with substantial achievements on their resume.”

Frequent job change

Employers can be quick to dismiss a resume when the candidate doesn’t have a record of staying in a role for any length of time.

“This sends alarm bells to recruiters that the candidate is flighty or cannot hold down a job, when often there are very good reasons behind the moves, such as company restructure, toxic work environment or a short-term contract role,” says Lambart.

Does the resume match the industry?

Ultimately, for Ward, the resume mistakes that candidates make and whether they are forgivable comes down to the industry.

“If a copywriter submitted their CV with typing mistakes and grammatical errors this would guarantee their application not progressing,” she says.

Lambart agrees, saying, “For candidates such as personal assistants, executive assistants or administrators, it is vital that the resume is presented as a professionally formatted document.”

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