Screening 101: 6 Danger Signs to Watch Out For in a Bad Resume and Cover Letter


How to speed up the process of finding the best person for the job?

If you receive hundreds of resumes and cover letters every time you advertise a new position, it can often be difficult to separate the standout resumes from those which don’t quite meet your standards.

Screening resumes takes a lot of time, but it’s possible to speed up the process with some simple rules regarding what to look for in a candidate and what not to look for in a candidate.

In this blog post, we’ll share six ‘danger signs’ – common resume mistakes that you should always be on the lookout for – to help you narrow down your pile of resumes and speed up the process of finding the best person for the job.

1. Several short-term jobs with little commitment. 

Are you searching for a loyal employee? If so, you should generally look for people with a history of long-term employment. Resumes with several jobs that lasted for just a few months or one year each generally indicate a lack of professional loyalty.

This rule isn’t concrete – many people are loyal, but haven’t had the chance to show it yet as they haven’t found the right company. However, if someone seems to leave jobs quickly, they could be a time-consuming disappointment for your business.

2. Endless buzzwords with very little information. 

One of the easiest ways to pad an otherwise unremarkable resume is by including a long list of buzzwords and technical jargon. Most resumes include some buzzwords, but the good ones show how these skills were used in the context of the job.

Be careful of resumes that are full of professional fluff – terms about a candidate’s technical abilities or attitude. Look for concrete skills that can’t be faked and make sure you test for them before or during the interview.

3. No (or outdated) references from employers. 

Highly competent, confident people know that employers look for references when choosing a candidate. If a resume and cover letter doesn’t include any references, or it includes outdated references, it could be hiding a poor career history.

Resumes that list several previous positions should include references or detailed information from previous employers. Make sure a candidate’s job history can be double-checked and verified before you get excited about a ‘perfect’ application.

4. Large blank periods without career history. 

Have you found someone who’s career history was perfect from 2006 until 2009 but completely blank from 2010 until 2012? Long periods without any information can indicate that an applicant was out of the job market for several years.

There are many legitimate reasons to take a break from work, ranging from medical issues to a desire for professional change. However, long periods without any detail can be a danger sign when an applicant doesn’t explain them.

5. A focus on everything with few special skills. 

Some resumes can seem a little too perfect. When a candidate lists hundreds of skills on their resume, it often cheapens the value of each skill and makes their abilities in each area a little doubtful.

No one is an expert in every subject, and a resume that’s padded with endless skills may not be entirely accurate. Look for concrete skills and a job history that indicates that they were put to use before being impressed by a long list of capabilities.

6. A generic, cookie cutter design and content. 

The best cover letters and resumes are those that are specifically tailored to target your job posting. If a resume and cover letter feels too generic, it’s might have been sent out en masse to hundreds of different employers.

Personalized cover letters that specifically address the qualifications and abilities you’ve listed in your job posting are worth prioritizing, and those that feel like they have been sent out to every employer in the area are often worth avoiding.