Are You Giving Off Any of These Job Search Red Flags?
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If you’re consistently struggling to make progress in your job search, it's possible you're giving off a few job search red flags. It might be time to re-think your strategy! That means taking a good, honest look at yourself, and trying to figure out if you could be alienating potential employers.

Hiring managers need to be vigilant; the average cost of a bad hiring decision can be up to $15,000. And with nearly three-quarters of all employers saying they’ve hired the wrong person before, they know the cost of a mistake first-hand. Like it or not, it’s on you to prove that you won’t give them a reason to regret giving you a shot.

It’s time to get serious about your job search, and make sure you’re not throwing up red flags for hiring managers or interviewers. In this article, we’ll cover the following points:

  • How to avoid giving off red flags when applying for jobs
  • How to avoid giving off red flags on social media
  • How to avoid giving off red flags at the interview
  • Why employers need to be vigilant about red flags

Red Flags in Your Resume and Cover Letter

Your resume and cover letter should help you to stand out from the rest of the applicant pool. But are they setting you apart for all the wrong reasons?

Here are a few things that might make a hiring manager think twice about your initial application. Check everything over before you send, and you’ll boost your chances of further consideration!

Misrepresenting Yourself

In 2017, almost 90% of employers caught potential new hires lying on their resumes. Yes, embellishing the truth a little still counts as lying – and yes, you will probably get caught.

It should go without saying that fudging the truth during the hiring process will indicate to employers that you’re not trustworthy. As employers need to be able to trust their workers, getting caught in a lie can be an automatic disqualification from the hiring process – and potentially a black mark against you if you apply to the same company again.

So don’t claim to have skills or qualifications you don’t actually have, or to have earned more than you actually earned in previous roles. Don’t fudge your employment dates or job titles. It’s not worth it, and it’s basically guaranteed not to work.

Poor or No References

Employers use references to learn about your performance in a previous workplace. That’s important information for them as they consider how you might fit into a new role. An application with no references is going to leave them concerned that you have something to hide.

Keep in mind, though, that listing people who are likely to give you poor references can be just as bad. Employers want to know that you can present yourself well, and that includes providing contact details for people who will speak well of you. If you list a former manager who has complaints about your conduct on the job, a prospective employer will take that complaint seriously.

Your references should also be people you worked for – not people you worked with. Listing coworkers rather than managers as references will raise some questions. And while it should go without saying, asking friends or coworkers to pose as managers on your behalf absolutely counts as lying on your resume.

Missed Directions

It’s not unheard of for employers to ask applicants to follow specific directions when making an application. They’ll usually sneak those instructions into the job description, somewhere you wouldn’t expect them, to test whether or not you’ve read the whole thing. They might include using a specific subject line in your email when you send your application, or including a particular phrase in your cover letter.

If you don’t follow these instructions when applying, it will show a hiring manager that you lack attention to detail, or that you can’t follow instructions. Neither one is a great quality for a new hire.

Fortunately, this red flag is easy to avoid! Just read the job description carefully, and make sure you follow through on everything you’re asked to do.

Red Flags on Social Media

We’ve written elsewhere about how maintaining a personal brand can help you find a job. The dark side of employers checking in on your social media presence, though, is that any bad behavior online can count against you.

Here are some things to keep an eye on as you tidy up your social media presence.

Discriminatory Comments or Hate Speech

It should go without saying that if an employer sees you using discriminatory or hateful language online, they are unlikely to take your application further.

Whether or not you would behave this way at work isn’t the point. What you do under the guise of anonymity – or at least with the freedom you have on the internet – reflects your character, and no employer will want to take the risk on someone who believes discriminatory behavior is acceptable. If your social media shows something that would prompt a HR complaint if it did happen in the workplace, you need to reconsider how you use social media.

Hint: Most employers will have policies about acceptable social media conduct for their employees. If you’re worried, check the policy of the company where you’re applying to work, and tidy up your web presence accordingly.

Bad Mouthing Past Employers

If you’ve spent time publicly complaining about past employers or workplaces online, you should be aware that it could give a prospective employer some cause for concern. Excessive negativity looks unprofessional, and can leave employers wondering whether you will bring that bad attitude to a new role.

It’s also important to remember that most social media – unless you’ve taken care to lock down your account and tighten up your privacy settings – is inherently public. Writing about your workplace’s internal business where anyone can read it shows that you don’t respect workplace confidentiality. Even employers with very little to hide will worry that you’ll continue in this behavior while working for them.

There are exceptions: if you’ve spoken up publicly about abusive, hateful or discriminatory behavior in a former workplace, that’s very different from public negativity for its own sake. In fact, employers should respect your integrity, as well as your commitment to improving the health of your work environment.

Unprofessional Behavior – Sometimes

As the line between social media and real life becomes increasingly blurry, evidence of excessive partying or alcohol use online may not be the job search death sentence it has been in the past. But while employers have a responsibility to treat what they see on social media thoughtfully, you can help them by being smart about how you present yourself online.

Different social media platforms have different purposes. If your LinkedIn profile picture shows you drunk at the club, that’s a bigger red flag than a Facebook profile picture showing the same! It’s not about what you do in your off hours; it’s about how you present yourself in public, professional contexts.

So make sure your public-facing social media keeps it professional, and keep those messy vacation pictures safely friends-only on Facebook. Being able to separate your personal and professional lives online will help potential employers to do the same thing.

Interview Red Flags for Job Seekers

You’ve made it to the interview stage – congratulations! Here are the red flags you need to avoid to make it across the finish line and land that dream job.

Punctuality Issues

You need to make a strong first impression at your interview, and lateness is the easiest way to undermine yourself before you start. Make every effort to show up for your interview in good time. Not only will you feel calmer and more relaxed when you arrive; your interviewer will see that you respect their time, and worry less about the likelihood of timeliness issues if they take you on.

Of course, sometimes delays are genuinely unavoidable. If you find yourself stuck in traffic or on public transit, or subject to another delay you can’t control, call the company as soon as possible to explain the situation and apologize. It may be possible to reschedule the interview, or to start later to accommodate you – but either way, calling ahead shows that you take punctuality seriously, and will make a better impression than showing up late.

Not Being Prepared

Do you know the ins and outs of the role you’re applying for? What about the company, and the work it does? Do you have clear, well-researched expectations for compensation? Can you tell your own work story in a clear and concise way?

These are all things you should think about well in advance of your interview. Put in some time to learn about the role, the company, and what you can expect from both. That research will inform your answers in the interview, and show your interviewers that you care enough to research and prepare ahead of time.

You should also think about how to answer common interview questions about your skills and past experience. If you’re able to give prompt, clear answers, you’ll leave your hiring manager impressed.

Keeping a career journal is a fantastic way to track your professional highlights. That way, when an interviewer asks you about recent wins, you'll have perfect answers ready to go.

Wondering how else a career journal can help you out? Check out our introduction article here!

On the other hand, a lack of preparation could indicate that you don’t care about the role you’re interviewing for. It might also raise questions about your willingness to put in the work for important occasions. All in all, showing up unprepared will put a real dent in your chances of getting an offer.

No Questions

Job interviews are a two-way street. Your interviewers are trying to appraise your fitness for the role, but it’s also up to you to assess how well the company suits you. Part of that involves asking questions when prompted at interview – it’s useful for you, and it shows interviewers that you’re engaged in the interview process.

If you don’t have questions, you can look disinterested or disengaged. Employers might wonder whether you’re really interested in the position – after all, if you aren’t participating in an important part of the interview, do you really want the job that badly?

It’s worth noting, though, that not all questions are created equal. If you jump right in with a barrage of questions about compensation, you risk leaving an employer worried that you’re only in it for the money. Asking about salary and benefits is usually fine, provided the interview is going well – but lead with some other, softer questions first!

Not Listening

A job interview can be stressful, and you can usually be forgiven for seeming a little anxious or distracted. But if you’re consistently failing to pay attention to what your interviewers are saying, your interviewers are going to worry that you won’t listen on the job, either.

Make sure you’re answering the questions your interviewers are actually asking you, and try to do so as specifically as you can. This won’t just show that you’re actively listening to what’s going on; it will show that you’re engaged and responsive.

Asking questions is also a great way to demonstrate that you’re paying attention – particularly if your questions respond to things your interviewers have said during the process. Don’t be afraid to take notes, either!

Unprofessional Appearance

We don’t necessarily mean tattoos, piercings, or dyed hair – speaking from experience, it’s totally possible to look professional, poised and approachable with all three. But if you’re showing up to your interviews disheveled, unclean, or dressed too casually, you need to start cleaning up your act.

Interviewers want to see that you can put your best foot forward and make a good impression. It’s not just for them, but for the benefit of any customers or clients you might have to deal with in the role. Hiring managers need to know that you can tell when you need to present yourself at your best – and with a job on the line, why wouldn’t you make that effort for them?

Freshen up, tidy your hair, and dig out your best officewear for the occasion. This is an easy way to eliminate a potential candidate for a job; don’t let it be the thing that trips you up.

Job searching is already grueling enough. Don’t make it harder for yourself – pay attention to how you present yourself, whether online, in person, or on your resume. You’ll find that the process gets a lot easier when you make an active effort to leave the right impression!

If you’re struggling to get your resume into shape, check out our range of free resume samples. With our help, you’ll be on your way to that dream job in no time!

Waverly March

Written By

Waverly March

Content Writer + Resume Expert

Waverly is a freelance writer, former HR officer and current international traveller. They believe in doing your research, showing up prepared, and bringing your passions with you to work. They've helped countless job seekers create better resumes and cover letters to improve and grow their careers.

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