Watch Out for These Five CV Warning Signs

Even with the help of ATS, going through candidate CVs is a time-consuming process. Knowing what to look for in a CV can help you get a good sense of who might be right (and wrong) for any given role before you even get to the interview stage, and thus save you valuable time. This saved time can then be spent going over the most promising looking candidates.

The following warning signs can be more or less of a potential issue depending on what kind of role you’re advertising, but will generally give you enough reliable information to decide whether it’s worth contacting a candidate for the next stage of the process. If you need additional tips on spotting the best candidates, and your overall recruitment strategy, then make sure to read through our Ultimate Hiring Guide too.


A female employee falling alseep at her messy desk


1: Bad Spelling and Grammar

If you’re reading a CV with bad spelling and grammar, then you should immediately start to hear a warning klaxon in your head. A CV riddled with these kinds of problems is a pretty reliable way of identifying an unsuitable applicant. It normally means they haven’t bothered to check their CV before sending it, which means:

  • Lack of attention to detail – a big no no for pretty much any job out there.
  • No real interest in the role.

Some HR managers have gone on the record saying that even one or two typos are enough to hammer the final nail in the coffin of an application. Given that we live in the age of spell check as well, there’s really no excuse (even though you should still check everything twice, of course!).


2: Job Hopping

This can be a tricky one – it could be that someone simply hasn’t found the kind of job they want yet. Moving jobs or changing career is also a lot more common these days than it used to be. That said, you can normally tell quite quickly if a candidate has a problem with commitment to a role, or could be unreliable or problematic in the future.

If a candidate has spent short periods in previous full-time roles, and those roles don’t seem to fall into any kind of pattern, it could be a warning sign (freelancers and contractors are a different story of course, as this is the nature of their work more often than not).  Perhaps they were a gardener for two months, a retail assistant for a month, then a chef for three weeks. If so, then they’re probably not going to stay much longer at your role either. It’s fairly safe to say they won’t make an ideal applicant.

A bad chef coughing at work while holding some raw meat


3: Employment Gaps

Gaps in employment could be perfectly innocent. Taking time off to travel, raise children, or study is perfectly normal and fairly common. If the candidate hasn’t really explained what happened in any large gaps, or if there are a number of large gaps, on the other hand, then it could be a warning sign, and raises a number of questions: Why were they out of work for so long? Were they actively seeking employment during those periods or not? If they were, why were they unable to find any?

If you can’t find any indication of what was going on during their employment gaps, it’s probably safer to move on to the next candidate, rather than potentially wasting time contacting them for clarification.


4: Far Too Long

No one wants to read a CV that’s the same length as the Lord of the Rings – even academic recruiters put a soft limit on two pages in most cases. If a CV is excessively lengthy, then it can indicate a few things:

  • The candidate doesn’t know how to prioritise information.
  • They have terrible formatting, which probably comes down to a lack of care and attention.
  • They’ve just added to the same CV they made when they were 18, and haven’t tailored it for the role.

None of these present an appealing picture. Unless it’s a CV for a niche, technical, or academic role, more than two pages is generally way too too much.


5: Terrible Presentation

Bad presentation isn’t just about lacking a designer’s flair for the aesthetic (we’re not all designers after all), it can also be a sign of other issues. It’s understandable that candidates want their CVs to stand out, but if it’s too bright, intelligible due to overly inflated (or microscopic) font size, or so badly laid out you have no idea what’s going on, then this could man a few things:

  • They don’t have good software skills – which could be a major issue if the role requires use of MS Office or other packages, for example.
  • They don’t have good organisational skills.
  • They haven’t taken the application seriously.

If you keep an eye out for these five red flags, then it should make the whole process of finding that perfect candidate much easier. Don’t forget to check out the latest employer related news, and see what else JobLookup could do for you as a recruiter and employer.


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