Red Flag or Asset? 3 Ways You Could Be Misjudging Candidates

Woman hitting a ball in a softball game.

I spent 17 years in higher education as a professor and softball coach before taking my experience to the corporate world. While on the surface they may seem like divergent careers with nothing in common, the reality is quite the opposite. In both the education and recruiting worlds, two words come to mind: potential and opportunity. 

As an educator and coach, my role was to help students and athletes realize their full potential and seek out new opportunities to better themselves and be successful. As a recruiter, I help job seekers find professional opportunities that will advance their careers, as well as work with my clients to connect them with the right people who will help them achieve their full business potential.

One of the most important lessons I’ve brought with me over to my recruiting career is that you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Yes, it’s a cliche, but it is the single biggest mistake you can make. 

With students, grades alone don’t tell the full story. They might be overcoming a learning disability or dealing with a family crisis or health issue. An athlete who has a bad game might be coming back from an injury or working through a mental block. 

Now consider how this applies to job seekers. Their “cover” – whether it’s their cover letter, resume, LinkedIn profile or job application – only tells part of the story. It’s the recruiter’s job to find out more about the person behind the words on the paper or screen, and whether or not they’re a good fit for their clients’ roles.

Here’s three red flags you might find on a job seeker’s “cover” that can actually demonstrate how they could be an asset to your team.

Career changes.

This is a big one, and one I feel uniquely qualified to discuss. Having been in these shoes myself as both a candidate and a recruiter, I can understand how a major industry change mid-career can be confusing to an employer. 

Yes, that candidate will likely be lacking the experience you expect for their particular career stage, and that is a solid reason to be hesitant to hire them. On the flip side, what they do bring to the table might be even more important – things like expertise within parallel industries (like moving from sales to marketing), management experience, or unique knowledge of your target buyer (such as someone moving from the supplier side to the buyer side of a particular industry).

Many candidates are changing careers for valid, positive reasons. For example, women respondents to an InHerSight survey switched their careers for more pay (32%) or to find a career with a mission aligned to their own (16%).

A recruiter’s advice: Every career should be fulfilling and worthy of your time away from friends and family. When assessing candidates from other industries, it is critical to get a good sense of the soft skills they’ll bring to a role. Their outside perspective could actually be a huge asset, if they’re growth minded and willing to put in the work.

Job hopping. 

Let’s say a candidate has the right skills and experience, but hasn’t lasted with a single employer for more than one year. Red flag, right? Maybe not. Tenure doesn’t automatically prove loyalty, and in fact, it could potentially signal a candidate isn’t ambitious or a top performer. Here’s why.

Ambitious professionals who aren’t getting development opportunities or who don’t see a clear career path at a company will leave for a growth-minded employer. And, a long tenure without many promotions or new responsibilities gained over time might actually indicate a candidate is just looking for a paycheck and not invested in their own or their employer’s success. 

A recruiter’s advice: Yes, some job hoppers might have short attention spans or are difficult to keep engaged and productive. Yet others leave roles in order to gain new experiences and advance their careers. On paper, job hopping shouldn’t be a red flag. Give candidates a chance to explain their decisions during interviews to decide for yourself if their winding career path is warranted. 

Employment gaps. 

Periods of unemployment or years of otherwise unaccounted for time on a resume can indicate a candidate’s instability, but it’s more common than you might think. In reality, 59% of Americans have been unemployed or had some kind of gap in their career, according to Monster’s 2019 State of the Candidate Report. Here’s more stats from the report explaining this time away from work:

  • 48% were unemployed for a family-related reason (parents, caregivers, etc.)
  • 37% were laid off from their job
  • 13% went back to school 

The report also shared that the average gap in employment is 25 months. Admittedly, this can be tricky for candidates to document in their work history. Employers might fear that a candidate is out of touch from the industry or worse, unreliable as an employee.

A recruiter’s advice: Give candidates the opportunity to briefly explain any employment gaps, and how that time away could be an asset. For example, a candidate might share how going back to school demonstrates their passion for learning and developing new skills, or how time as a caregiver helped them to become a more empathetic person and co-worker.

It’s an exciting time to be in the recruiting industry, especially for a former educator. We’re operating in an incredibly tight labor market where avoiding candidates with red flags isn’t feasible. It’s your recruiter’s job to develop relationships with their candidates and bring forth the best person – not resume – for the role. 

Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) solutions from Advanced RPO can help you evaluate and improve your hiring processes to get the talent you need to succeed. Contact us today to learn more about our high-touch solutions.