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July 15, 2021

Behind the CV: Red herrings you need to watch out for

In the world of CVs, there are many good and obvious reasons to reject a candidate. However, sometimes a CV doesn’t tell the whole story and requires some probing questions to really fish out the details the CV does not disclose. There are many ways in which candidates may (purposefully or inadvertently) hide information by the way they present their CV: these are red herrings that you need to be watching out for.

The red herrings may come up in a variety of different forms and may require unique approaches to get behind the façade. Below follows a short list of red herrings and how they may appear in your applicants’ CVs.

The puffed-up pufferfish

Some candidates try to embellish their CV with grand claims and purport to be capable of much more than they truly are. This is often evident in a CV that boasts big claims with little experience. Just like the pufferfish, these candidates look impressive on the outside, but their real ability and true form are hidden behind their adornments. Their CV may also be littered with repetition just like their name suggests. If you are not careful, these candidates may prove their inaptitude once hired.

The red herring here? Don’t be fooled by the claims that do not quite fit the facts.
Probing interview question: It says here, (list questionable claim(s)); how have you built these skills in such a short amount of time?

The careless clownfish

Unprofessional language shows a lot about a person’s character. If your candidate provides an email address like hotstuffbob@*.com or attaches a shirtless photo to their CV, it should only concern you if you are not a modelling agency. Extremities aside, lack of professionalism is often evident from a CV, which may also be littered with typos or casual work-experience with quick rotation times.

The red herring here? Don’t be fooled by impressive qualifications/skills if the CV is unprofessional.
Probing interview question: Are you aware that your CV comes across as unprofessional?

The goldfish

Just like a goldfish, this candidate is waiting for you to do the work for them, so much so that they don’t even get a complete epithet here. It’s one thing to be thorough, it’s an entirely different thing to submit a first draft of a Doctoral thesis as a CV. A poorly truncated CV or a CV with numerous little attachments only point to the fact that the candidate did not have enough diligence to do the work that they expect from all their potential employers. This does not bode well for their potential attitude in the workplace.

The red herring here? Don’t be fooled by a long CV or long lists.
Probing CV question: This job may require a lot of teamwork, how have you experienced collaborative work in the workplace environment before?

The electric eel

Erraticism is one of the most dangerous qualities that a candidate can possess and could lead to unnecessary conflict and inconsistencies in work ethic. This candidate can often be spotted as the one jumping from job to job, meaning wasted resources in developing the talent and ability of the individual in their previous positions. If the applicant has a multitude of different jobs in a short space of time, the warning signs should be lighting up.

The red herring here? Don’t be fooled by a lot of diverse work experiences.
Probing interview question: You seem to have quite a diverse work history, tell us a little bit about the transitions between jobs.

The predatory piranha

While it may not necessarily reflect on their CV, these candidates will often badmouth their previous employers and have a retaliatory stance on relationships of authority. How will it reflect on their CV? Look for a lack of references or missing references from the most relevant previous employers. This reference mismatch could be an indication that the applicant left the job in bad blood.

The red herring here? Don’t be fooled by a good-looking CV without sensible references.
Probing interview question: Your CV seems to be missing a reference from [previous employer]; could you please provide us with a contact person?

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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