Hiring Manager Resume Pet Peeves, Must-Haves, and Red Flags

What do hiring managers look for in a resume? 

We asked and they answered.

In October 2016, Lisa Stephen and I conducted a survey of 60 hiring managers across a variety of sectors, asking them about what their pet peeves, must-haves, and red flags were when it came to resumes. 

Pet Peeves

What do employers find most frustrating about the resumes that come across their desk?

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Spelling and grammatical mistakes topped the list. One employer shared that communication skills are critical in any job. The resume is the first indicator of whether a candidate has those vital communication skills. It’s also about respect – employers want to see that the candidate has put in an effort.

Secondly, our survey respondents wanted to see resumes that were specifically targeted to the job they were applying for.  Resist the temptation to simply apply to everything without changing your resume!

And third, organization is key - content needs to be easy to understand and get through.

We have such a short time to make a good impression. Employers are often scanning resumes for about 5-10 seconds. If we can capture their attention – show the connection to the work they are hiring for, they will take more time to dig into the content. If your resume is too hard to get through, it will get chucked.

The Rise of the Indeed Resume

Do you use Indeed to apply for jobs? On the Indeed platform, users can upload their resumes and when they see a position they like, they can simply apply with the click of a button. The problem with this approach is:

  1. Resumes are not tailored to positions – which is one of HR’s pet peeves.  Inundating HR with resumes that don’t show how you fit their role, is simply spamming. 

  2. They all look the same. The Indeed format strips away formatting and design that can help you stand out.

  3. Indeed doesn’t give the option of using a targeted cover letter which is an important element in the application process.

Instead of applying through Indeed, try alternative methods of applying like through the company’s website or via email.

Red Flags

What causes the most amount of concerns for hiring managers?

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59% of the employers we surveyed were most concerned when someone had a pattern of short-term employment.

If that is you, it would be wise to indicate why.  Perhaps companies closed, or the positions were contract positions. Anticipate what concerns the reviewer might have about your past work history and then ensure you address those in your application package.  

Because resume targeting is so important, it makes sense that 49% of employers get worried when they see unrelated experience to the job that you are applying for. You may have your reasons for applying to this position, but you need to clearly evidence why you are a good fit for the job.

Gaps in employment or no recent employment are less of a concern than many people think. If you can provide a rationale, many employers are willing to still consider you as a viable candidate. You can put a short note on your resume and then also address it in your cover letter.

Standout Elements

What, then, is the key to an amazing resume? Having a beautifully designed resume can make a difference, but what do employers really want to see?

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Evidence of past work experience related to the job!  No big surprise here.

Your resume needs strong content MORE than it needs a sleek design or layout.  Consider using bold font to help important information stand out.

Resume Advice

Other important insights from our employers regarding resume content and design.

  • Show personality!  People hire people they like. “Let me see your personality shine through - don't just provide technical details.”
  • Including keywords is key! “Include keywords from the job posting when relevant to experience.”
  • Design and readability do matter (though not as much as content.) “Add a splash of color and leave blank space”


Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace. 

Connect with Kristin at kristin@careerstory.ca or sign up to get her monthly career and job search tips straight to your inbox.