When Should Hiring Managers Overlook a Resume Red Flag?

Jun 24, 2024

For hiring managers, the process of recruiting, interviewing, and hiring a candidate can be long and expensive. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates that between hard and soft costs, hiring for a position can cost employers up to three times the salary for that position. For example, if a management role is budgeted to pay $60K, it can cost employers up to $180K to recruit, hire, and onboard an employee for that role. That’s an enormous investment of time and financial resources, so it makes sense that hiring managers want to avoid repeating the process any time soon — when they hire someone, they want that employee to stick around for the long term.

So, when a hiring manager looks at a prospective candidate’s resume and sees a history of “job hopping” — consistently making career changes every year or two — that can be a red flag. It can give the impression that the candidate is a risky investment, and that within a year or two, the company could be starting the search process all over again.

However, while frequent job changes can be a valid reason for a hiring manager to pause when evaluating a candidate, they shouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker in every case. Below, three of Kimmel & Associates’ executive search specialists offer their insights on why a candidate with a spotty work history might not be as big a risk as they appear on paper, and what “green flag” hiring managers should look for to understand and overcome the possible risk.

Why might great candidates make frequent job changes?

  1. “Black Swan” Events
    “Black swan” events are major disruptions to global markets that most employees and companies never see coming. For example, Associate Max Gunther says, “When there is a major downturn, supply chain issues, a pandemic, political changes, or disturbances in the economy, things can get shaky and not every company can ride out these types of storms. Some very good people get caught in the middle of those external factors and tough decisions need to be made.” So when a candidate has shown a lot of career movement, consider the broader market circumstances that might have caused those changes.
  2. Company Failures
    Even when the global market is free of economic or “black swan” disruptors, a candidate might have been forced into making changes based on specific company failures or shortcomings. “Think about how many companies are lacking in training and support, have a poor culture, don’t have a backlog of work, and things like that,” Max says. These situations can be a little more difficult to read, especially when a candidate doesn’t want to speak poorly about past employers during the hiring process.

    Max suggests that hiring managers “ask questions to best understand a candidate’s character and allow them the opportunity to prove they are a cultural fit” and a strong investment. Managers can also check with named and unnamed references to get a full picture of the candidate’s background, which might help ease concerns about their commitment and work ethic.
  3. Changes in Life Circumstances
    Sometimes, the circumstances of a candidate’s life have to take priority over their career decisions for a period of time. Vice President Billy Doubraski has worked with an exceptionally skilled candidate who had a few short stays on his resume. While Billy knew that might be concerning to his clients, he believed that the candidate was a strong investment. “He had to make some decisions to remain based in the local market for his family,” Billy explains. “When his kids left the area, he made a plan to move south and had already communicated his intention to his current employer.”

    For that candidate, and for many others like him, family or other responsibilities had to take precedence. When those limited circumstances change, the same candidate may be ready to invest fully in their career again.

What “green flag” should hiring managers look for when evaluating these candidates?

For Market Leader Mike Frosaker, it comes down to honesty. “If a candidate has a short stay or another issue on their resume, that obviously needs to be addressed,” Mike says. “A great candidate will be more than willing to have an honest and upfront discussion about the issue with you.” If a candidate is open to that conversation, it can demonstrate their commitment to honesty, integrity, and communication — all of which are strong green flags in a prospective employee.

Longevity is an important factor to consider when evaluating a candidate — but it’s not the only quality that matters in a top-tier candidate. Not every candidate with a spotty work history is able or willing to walk through their resume and provide reasonable explanations for potential red flags. However, some candidates will have strong explanations that can ease a hiring manager’s concerns about investing in them — and those candidates deserve a chance.

***We are grateful to Billy Doubraski, Mike Frosaker, and Max Gunther for contributing their unique perspectives to this article.

Contact Kimmel and Get Started Today
Let Us Help