What you can learn from reading between the lines of a resume

Hiring Advice Human Resources Manager looking at a resume with candidate across the table

Going through resume after resume to fill a position can be exhausting.

They’ve all listed variations on the same skills. They’ve all listed variations on the same experience. Their cover letters all explained why they’re the perfect fit. But you know that some of them will actually turn out to be completely unsuitable.

It’s important to know how to read between the lines. Here are a few things shared by hiring managers that you can see in the resume that the candidate doesn’t know they’ve revealed.

One easy one is how to tell when someone is lazy. Career coach Jacqueline Twillie points out that using the same wording under each job description on a resume says that the candidate doesn’t show attention to detail. Even if each job suits your requirements, you might want to watch out.

Inconsistent fonts are another indicator. “It shows that the work may also be inconsistent,” says Twillie.

A silly email address is another indicator, of terrible judgment. It’s always a surprise to learn that there are still people out there with addresses like sexytime69@whateveremail.com.

“Lookingfordate@someemail.com or grumpyone@someemail.com doesn’t show that one is serious about one’s personal brand,” says Twillie. You could rightfully question this person’s judgment.

Then there’s the oversell. A candidate might think they’re adding value and colour to their accomplishments with fancy adverbs, but the team at Resume Genius doesn’t agree. “‘Quickly learned how to… Happily engaged with customers… Politely informed customers of new promotions…’ Somehow, one gets the impression that these people are overselling themselves. It’s just a bit too much.”

You can also spot when someone might be hiding something, like their age.

Marilyn Santiesteban, Assistant Director of Graduate and Alumni Career Services at Bentley University, says, “Resumes with an AOL email address make it seem the person is older.” So does Times New Roman font, she says. Who knew! The same can probably be said for family email addresses, like TheHendersons@whateveremail.com.

(Of course, it’s illegal to make hiring decisions based on age in Canada, but it’s ridiculous to think people don’t do it anyway and that candidates don’t try to appear younger or older. And, regardless, you might wonder why someone is trying to hide something.)

Recruiter Sandy Charet, adds, “Some people don’t want the reader to get a certain impression so they leave things off. For example, date of graduation will give your age, so they leave it off. The minute I see no date of graduation I know that this person thinks they are too young or too old.”

Charet also points out that it can be hard to hide a downward career trajectory by omission. “Leaving off a title clearly indicates it was a lower title than the one they had before,” she says. And, of course, “Leaving out MA or BA means they didn’t get a degree,” though this doesn’t necessarily mean the candidate is hiding the fact. You’re not going to put “I didn’t get a degree,” on your resume, so it makes sense not to bring it up at all.

Functional resumes are another red flag for Charet. She says, “When I see a functional resume, I know the person is either working with a professional resume writer or an outplacement firm, or they have something to hide.” Like they’re not qualified for the job, or they spent the last five years in prison.

Of course, you still have to take all this with a grain of salt, as it’s largely guesswork.

For example, Billy Joe Cain, a recruiter in the video game industry, says “Untailored resumes and fill-in templates are huge indicators. If someone isn’t going to take the time to customize for the job I’m offering, they’re either apathetic or on a desperate job blitz. During the interview, if they don’t come off as desperate, then I’ve already prejudged them as apathetic, simply based on their resume.”

But consider the following comment from Sandy Charet: “When I see a resume that uses a very unusual font and special design, unless the person is in a creative field, I assume that they are actively looking for a job and putting a lot of attention to it. As a recruiter, I usually seek out people who are doing well in their current jobs, who are ‘passively’ looking. These people don’t have the time to make their resumes so attractive.”

So, are you looking for attention to detail? Or are you looking for someone who is too busy to pay attention to detail?

It’s up to you to decide. You also probably have your own ideas about things that you can read between the lines.