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A candidate made it through our initial screening somehow with a terribly formatted resume. It seems the skills we are looking for are there, but it's been 30 minutes now and I still cannot figure out what his current job is, what level of college he finished, and what the projects are that he worked on. There are no project names either so I can't even ask him to explain one. Three are called "single page application for mobile devices."

There are also extensive grammatical errors, seemingly random line breaks, and very imaginative spacing. It's three pages, and the last line of page two is the header for page three.

I do not know how I should proceed. It's hard to approach this interview unbiased and not bring up his resume. Personally, I would like to tell him to fix it and apply again, but I am only one of several interviewers. Is it professional for me to tell him his resume needs to be proofread and fixed?

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    "It seems the skills we are looking for are there" - if one skill needed in the prospective job is effective written communication, then, based upon what you describe, your assessment is not quite correct. Apr 18, 2018 at 20:43
  • What is the job. I cannot imagine a job other than some manual labor that does not require better communication skills. Missing information is not just a formatting problem.
    – paparazzo
    Apr 18, 2018 at 20:52
  • is it a thematic (pitch) cv as opposed to a linear one Apr 19, 2018 at 10:28

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I reject them for those reasons alone, as if the candidate doesn't even have the presentation and attention to detail skills to create their own resume imagine what they would do with your tasks?

If you can't figure out key things like education and job experience, then there's also a chance that it is a fraudulent resume.

Some leeway can be granted if they went through a recruiter, as recruiters will often word-smith resumes to make them more attractive, but that does not include grammar and spelling errors.

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    If a recruiter sent me a resume like that, I would immediately reject every candidate they sent, not just this one. Great answer though. Apr 18, 2018 at 20:57
  • ^^^ Indeed. It's usually a given that recruiters are not that good in candidate technical screening, but if they totally missed format, grammar, and spelling errors that that begs the question what they are doing to earn their margin. +1
    – Jim Horn
    Apr 18, 2018 at 20:59
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    I've seen all kinds of garbled resumes come through tools like ZipRecruiter. The resume that came to your desk may or may not be the resume the candidate created and uploaded. You may be looking at some bug in the system that spat out some algorithm's resume parser results as the resume. Throwing out a candidate because a tool somewhere in the tool chain screwed up is ridiculous.
    – Chris G
    Apr 18, 2018 at 21:19
  • Also if the resume comes from some automated application system they can get mangled (from nice format word/pdf etc) into plain ascii text and look awful Apr 18, 2018 at 22:08
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    "Throwing out a candidate because a tool somewhere in the toolchain screwed up is ridiculous." - I would agree, but the grammatical and spelling mistakes indicate to me this was created by a human. If it was only a formatting problem that is a different story.
    – Donald
    Apr 18, 2018 at 22:49
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I would withhold immediate judgment. Much depends on the systems in place before a candidate gets to you.


Initial screening done by a machine/system/algorithm

Ask the candidate for an updated resume, with no additional prompting or description of your issues with the resume you're looking at.

It's possible that you're looking at the resume as created by the candidate, but somewhere in there are the appropriate buzz words to trigger the machine to push the resume through. If the candidate sends you the same bad resume, this is a clear no-hire. Move along.

It's also possible that the candidate uploaded his resume to a system (maybe your hiring portal, maybe something external, maybe to a recruiter who did things to it, etc... the specifics don't really matter), and somewhere in the processing his resume got garbled. If the candidate sends you a reasonable looking resume, proceed as if the bad resume never existed.


Initial screening is done by a human being

You need to communicate, through appropriate channels, that something went very wrong in the process, so you don't waste your time with other bad resumes in the future. It's the human screener's job to ensure only legitimate candidates come across the hiring manager's desk. (Whenever we make a no-hire decision on a candidate, our human screeners ask if there was something obvious they should have caught, so we don't waste time/money on bad interviews.)

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Since others will also be interviewing, which implies he gets an interview, then this is just one of the data points you evaluate. If he is applying for a job that has design or UI work, it's an important data point too. If the job requires good grammar and spelling, you have information on his qualifications. If the job requires attention to detail, you already know something about how well he will do.

And yes, you can ask about the formatting:

Frankly, the way your resume is formatted, it's hard to pick out the most important parts. For instance, what is your most recent job, and what are some projects you worked on? Do you have a degree, and if so, what is it?

You don't want to spend a lot of the interview asking questions that you should have gotten from the resume, but it's certainly a good idea to make sure that the poor formatting isn't trying to cover up bigger issues, like no recent job or no pertinent degree.

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It might be the viewer you are using, is different than the editor he built his resume with. This will mess the whole format of a file (and sometimes add junk text).

I would ask him to send his resume with a different file extension, or maybe as a screenshot from his viewer?

This at least will help you learn about him and the issue.

Trick (Windows): Select the file, then press F2, change the file extension locally, try the popular ones (.doc, .docx.. etc) and then open the file and see if you get a good format.

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    It's a pdf, and that doesn't excuse the lack of dates, names and grammar.
    – Manager33
    Apr 18, 2018 at 20:33
  • @Manager33 - It also does not excuse actual details, relevant to "sell themselves as a potential candidate", if whats been provided isn't even enough to formulate questions about the candidates experience then the resume author has failed to understand the reason for a resume in the first place
    – Donald
    Apr 18, 2018 at 22:51
  • Unless the software is completely borked (which admittedly does happen), the file extension shouldn't really matter. The document will either open and appear as intended, or it will open and appear like garbage (far worse than OP describes; try opening a Word document in Notepad to get an idea of what I mean here), or it won't open at all. Word processors are notorious for shifting things around if the environments differ in any way (different fonts, printers, etc.), but a PDF really shouldn't have that particular problem at least.
    – user
    Apr 19, 2018 at 9:16
  • @manager33 Are you hiring a grammar teacher? While I could agree with you on the dates and names missing, I don't see why someone's writing skill should be such a deal-breaker. You are free to hire whoever you want to, of course, but you would potentially miss out on good candidates who are not that good at writing.
    – Masked Man
    Apr 19, 2018 at 11:57
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I'm sure the other interviewers have similar concerns. Why don't you suggest to everyone else that you email the candidate, asking for a fixed resume?

As a side note, while I personally think people read far too deeply into resumes and interview answers (I honestly think much of the process is random and totally unscientific), if the resume is that bad, that's a red flag. If the candidate doesn't take the time to write a clear resume, what hope is there of them writing a clear email?

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