How to Spot Red Flags on Candidates’ CVs

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Most hiring begins with screening that simple document, a candidate CV, which acts almost as an advertisement for why a job candidate should be hired. But is there truth in advertising?

Hiring is a time-consuming and costly process, so it is always preferable to recognize as soon as possible—before too great an investment—when a candidate is not up to your company’s standards. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) surveyed 2,048 company respondents and determined a general cost for every hire in terms of money and time. They calculated that the average cost-per-hire is $4,129. It takes, on average, 42 days to fill a position. The cost of a “bad hire” is far greater.

So smart employers do everything they can from the front end to weed out weak candidates. This cheat sheet provides an easy guide to identify red flags that should make employers hesitate before taking the next steps with a job candidate.

1. Employment gaps

This is the most obvious red flag. A standard approach should include scanning employment dates to identify if there are huge periods of unemployment. Now, there may be a need for compassion in considering unemployment periods. Certainly, a qualified, talented candidate may have had a setback in his or her work history. Particularly in certain industries or regions with downturns or in timeframes that are recessionary, potential employers should keep an open mind. A candidate shouldn’t be forever blacklisted simply because he or she was a victim of an economic downturn beyond his or her control. And occasionally there is an important life reason (being a caregiver for a loved one who is seriously ill, for example) for unemployment.

However, frequent and/or long gaps of unemployment (perhaps greater than 4 months, as a general rule) could indicate a number of problems in a job candidate, including a difficult or combative personality, a lack of work ethic or motivation, physical or mental health issues that may impede a steady work presence, or a prima donna personality, who is rarely satisfied with what is offered. Employment gaps should give employers pause before they invest too much in a candidate’s hire.

2. Short employment periods

Another obvious one. Employers should scan CV dates to identify if there is a pattern of brief job tenure. What is brief tenure? This answer is largely dependent on field and industry. For some stable fields, a year is very short, while in another more volatile field, a year is a decent amount of tenure before moving to another opportunity.

Multiple periods of brief tenure could represent an unstable or difficult personality who is frequently dismissed. But sometimes prime talent with in-demand skills are recruited over and over out of their jobs simply because they’re so valuable. However, consider closely if you want a job candidate to leave before you’ve gotten much benefit, simply because a better opportunity comes along. Remember the expense of investing in a candidate and hire candidates who show staying power.

3. Activities, not achievements

Nice verbs without any proof. When a CV reads like a summary, this doesn’t tell an employer anything about performance. It shows that a job candidate held a certain job, with certain responsibilities, but it doesn’t demonstrate any evidence that the person actually did a good job. Perhaps this candidate had great responsibility, but failed spectacularly.

A strong CV should give some proof of a successful track record. It should list achievements, not just activities. This is particularly true in fields that are easy to quantify, like sales, marketing, ecommerce, finance, etc.

4. Taking all the credit

The flip side of the last point. Evidence of achievements is vital to present proof that an employee is worth the risk. But when the CV is packed with superlatives and impossible claims, it’s time to think again. Most companies need team players who can collaborate and compromise and don’t need all the credit. Make sure achievements don’t look like stealing credit from others. And for most jobs, make sure the CV shows evidence this person can not only be a star individual contributor, but part of a winning team.

5. No evidence of promotions

This one requires looking at job titles and progression. Another way to see evidence that this candidate did more than fill a chair for a period of time is to look and see if the candidate was promoted over that period of time. Some companies and industries are proactive and generous with their promotions and some are stingy and status quo. You can’t always understand the true situation. But seeing promotions on a resume is further evidence that this candidate could be a good bet when you see that she or he was promoted within a company.

6. Too long – can’t self-edit

Again, actual acceptable length varies by field and career stage. But generally speaking, a CV that is too long speaks volumes about a candidate’s inability to prioritize, to self-edit, and to be respectful of a hiring manager’s time. Few people want a co-worker who is so self-consumed that she or he requires long conversations and lengthy emails in order to communicate. The ability to be concise is valuable in both large groups and small groups, in formal and in informal settings. Evidence in a CV that there is no discipline or self-control to be concise could mean that this person will lack that ability in other settings, like during a presentation or as a team leader. A CV that is too long suggests that maybe it’s time to move along to a better CV and candidate.

With the cost and risk of hiring as high as it is, be sure to identify obvious red flags and proceed with caution before investing too much in a candidate. This list should help you in your CV screens.

Review Checklist of Red Flags to Watch Out for in Candidate CVs

  1. Employment Gaps
  2. Short Employment Periods
  3. Activities, Not Achievements
  4. Taking All the Credit
  5. No Evidence of Promotions
  6. Too Long—Can’t Self-Edit

For more great information about smart hiring practices and screens, contact Veremark at

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