How to Tackle Your Resume Red Flags

Young job hunter in an interview talking through her resume.

How to Overcome the Red Flags on your Resume and Score your Dream Job

Are you applying for jobs but not landing interviews? Are you submitting resume after resume and getting absolutely nowhere?

As a job hunter you can’t afford to have a bad resume, let alone one that’s riddled with red flags.

But writing a good CV is hard. I read hundreds of them every day as part of my job and the thought of writing my own is still stressful!

That’s because we’re never really shown what employers want to read. We don’t know what works, so we trial and error our way into months of job hunting with no success.

But as I work in recruitment I thought I’d share the secrets of the trade: what employers actually want to see on your CV.

And I know you don’t want to go back to the drawing board again to re-write your resume. But when your CV is stopping you from scoring interviews and landing a job, you’ve got to bite the bullet, open that cringey Word doc and get editing!

What are resume red flags?

Your resume is probably full of red flags… but what does that mean for you?

A red flag on your CV means a swift rejection. An employer only needs to see one red flag to reject your CV – and trust me when I say that these employers can get trigger happy!

So even half a red flag could mean being rejected.

Here are the red flags you need to watch out for:

  • Bad spelling and grammar
  • Shoddy formatting
  • Employment gaps
  • Frequent employment jumps
  • Bad writing
Job hunter at interview holding a resume in front of recruiters

1 – Bad spelling and grammar

It’s easy to leave a typo in your work, but in your resume it’s just not acceptable.

This is especially true if you’re applying to jobs that require attention to detail and writing skills, like those in marketing, sales and even development!

Typos and bad grammar stand out like a sore thumb, so you need to make sure that you’re not leaving anything incorrect in your resume.

I’d recommend downloading Grammarly if you struggle with spelling and grammar. Then once Grammarly is happy, show your friends and family your CV just to be on the safe side.

2 – Shoddy formatting

Let me tell you a secret: the CV you see on Word is a lie.

Microsoft Word documents never look the same once saved and submitted for a job. So if your resume has any tables, floating text boxes or images you need to pay attention to this tip.

Export your CV as a pdf file.

A pdf file is so much safer because it’s basically an image of your document. Where a .doc or .docx file can get funky, a pdf always looks professional.

If you already know about the pdf trick I recommend implementing some basic design principles too. Be sure that there is plenty of blank space around each section of your CV so it’s easy to read and don’t try to cram too much onto one page.

And finally, keep the top section of your CV relevant to the exact role that you’re applying for. This is where employer’s eyes will first be drawn to, so make sure to hook them in!

3 – Employment gaps

Even though it’s hard to find a job, you can still get penalised for having employment gaps on your resume.

A gap of a month or two here or there won’t be an issue but if you’ve been hunting for a job through, say, a pandemic and now have over a year not accounted for on your CV, you might be in trouble.

But don’t worry, there is still something you can do!

Instead of separating your CV into different sections for your learning and experience, combine them! This is especially effective if you put a relevant experience section at the top.

In chronological order, mesh your recent related courses with your experience and your resume will automatically look fuller.

Interviewer holding a resume.

4 – Frequent employment jumps

Have you jumped from job to job recently? Maybe you were struggling to score your dream role so you took on some retail work?

If your last few jobs have been very short-term roles across different companies and even industries, this could be a big red flag to employers.

A quick way to get around this one is to change the way you’re writing your experience section. Here’s an example:

March 2020 – Present

Various customer – facing roles

I’ve recently been taking on various customer service roles to supplement my job search. In my most recent role at Tesco I was a Customer Support Rep, dealing with conflict and working to tight deadlines through the pandemic.

5 – Unimpressive writing

Now I know we aren’t all writers, but the writing on your CV has to impress.

Simply saying the responsibilities of your last role isn’t enough and it isn’t impressive. It doesn’t show what you can bring to the company you’re applying to, it just shows that you had to do certain things.

Instead of writing:

  • I managed 5 social media accounts, email newsletters and company blogs.

Write something like this:

  • I managed 5 social media accounts, boosting LinkedIn followers by 86% and Twitter engagement by 48% in one year.
  • I owned email marketing, boosting open rates by 55% and doubled the click-through rate in 6 months.
  • Planned, created, optimised and promoted the content of two company blogs, boosting organic sign-ups by 200% and traffic by 300% in two years.

The rewrite is better for so many reasons:

  1. It uses numbers to demonstrate impact and effectiveness in the role.
  2. It gets specific and demonstrates an awareness of the role’s needs.
  3. The use of active verbs to demonstrate role ownership and responsibility.
  4. The numbers and specificity allow the employer to imagine how you will perform in their role!

I hope that these tips help you to overcome the red flags on your resume and score some interviews!

If you need help finding exciting entry-level jobs to apply to, check out our exclusive hiring platform.