Bad grammar and a limp handshake: are these the signs you’ve picked the wrong applicant?

What do recruiters really want?

Whatever your area of expertise, when it comes to job applications and interviews, it seems some ‘pet peeves’ are universal.

Whether it’s a stock CV phrase or an interview bugbear, most hiring managers know exactly what they like and what they don’t like.

We recently asked over 300 recruiters to tell us about their biggest recruitment turn-offs and exactly what they’re looking out for when considering a candidate.

Is poor spelling and grammar and a weak handshake really the recipe for candidate rejection?


1. Bad presentation

Aside from the obvious (i.e. qualifications and previous experience), most recruiters indicated that presentation should take precedence. In fact, nearly half of those surveyed selected a logical order for presentation as the most important thing to consider on a CV.

Good formatting and appropriate length were also underlined by most hiring managers as pre-requisites, suggesting that even the best-written CV can be let down by poor presentation.

And if you’re wondering how long is too long, an overwhelming 91% of recruiters see a word document of two to three pages as the right way to go. Although obviously, it’s what you do with it that counts…


2. Poor spelling and grammar

Over 50% of recruiters highlighted poor spelling and grammar as their number one application turn-off.

These are common bugbears for recruiters as not only do they demonstrate a lack of time and effort spent re-reading a CV, they’re also relatively easily fixed.

In comparison, only one in four of those surveyed stated that an obvious lack of qualifications specific to the role was their main CV gripe.


3. ‘Socialising with friends’

For many hiring managers, there’s nothing worse than a generic CV.

With that in mind, one in three recruiters stated that their biggest pet-hate phrase is ‘I enjoy socialising with friends’.

This was closely followed by the similarly stock-statement ‘Good team player/good working in a team or as an individual’, with 28% of hiring managers surveyed identifying it as their own pet-peeve phrase.


4. Arriving late

42% of recruiters highlighted arriving late as their number one interview irritation.

Although it can’t always be helped, candidates arriving late can start their interview on the wrong foot and one in five hiring managers indicated experiencing this at some point during their career. For many, it’s those candidates nonchalantly arriving late without an apology which really gets their goat. Interviewees who have the courtesy to call ahead could just set themselves apart.

Aside from tardiness, an obvious lack of preparation for the interview came in second place, with one in four voting it their biggest interview faux-pas.


5. Weak handshake

Finally, the importance placed on positive body language and a good handshake should never be overlooked. They may seem like old-fashioned ideas but, for many recruiters, the right body language still rings true and sends out a positive message about an interviewee.

And if you’re wondering, 80% of you said you like it firm. The handshake. Obviously…


Think we’ve missed any or don’t agree with our choices? Let us know in the comments below, or tell us on Twitter.

Bad grammar and a limp handshake: are these the signs you've picked the wrong applicant? by


  • Julie ramsay says:

    Recent complaints from our clients who are mainly in business finance !
    Brown shoes with dark suits
    Brown suits
    Ties not done up properly
    Visible tattoos
    The all time faux par though is late arrival for interview!

  • Anon says:

    sorry 50% of recruiters moan..

  • Helen Franks says:

    Many thanks for printing the feedback about pet hates – it made such interesting reading and I’m so glad I’m in the majority!
    I also hate to read unprepared CV’s and have even viewed CV’s with only the candidate’s name and email address on! A few other pet hates below:
    Sweat smelling candidates
    Smoke smelling candidates
    I interviewed a candidate once (for a healthcare related position) that was such a heavy smoker, she arrived with filthy yellow fingers, dirty fingernails and gums that bled as I interviewed her.
    I have read cover letters that have said, “I don’t need any further training cos I pretty much know it all”
    Another candidate if she was going to work there, she “wanted a 10 minute fag break”
    One candidate spelled Curriculum Vitae incorrectly and also spelled the title of her occupation incorrectly too!
    Putting a lower case i instead of a capital I
    Writing in lazy abbreviated ‘text talk’
    They are a dynamic individual
    Looking for a challenge
    They can go that extra mile
    Copy and pasting the same job description for each employer
    Not placing the earliest employment first
    Not adjusting their CV for the applied position or the placing of totally irrelevant information

  • 1. Artistically-posed headshots – we are not recruiting models.
    2. CV-blah along the lines of ‘I believe I would make an excellent member of your team’ prior to an interview.
    3. Misspelled company or people names.
    4. Unexplained career gaps.

  • Pet hates for me include:

    No contact details on CV

    Stupid email address which can reflect badly on the applicant

    Use of words describing duties in the present tense when they have left that post

    Applying for temporary posts due to start within a week when their CV indicates they are still in permanent employment

    Lack of CV layout continuity

    I agree with many of the other recruiter gripes !!!

  • Kerry Mikeli says:

    For me, as well as all mentioned above, sending C.V’s through that show no relevant experience and no cover letter explaining why they feel they are appropriate for the role, as well as no customization for the particular job role.

  • Anon says:

    You can add “bubbly personality” to the list of annoying stock phrases!

  • Caroline T says:

    agree with most of the above but also don’t like
    – visible body piercings (apart from ears) or tattoos.
    – CV’s which don’t state where a candidate lives (even if its just a town).
    – Also cv’s and cover letters which use American English eg realize, specialize, color

  • Rozzi says:

    you could spell faux pas correctly too.

  • Jake king says:

    The phrase that turns me off a candidate most quickly is “fast learner”. I have been reading CV’s for over 25 years and no one has ever said “I am a slow learner”.

  • I agree with most of the previous comments, I think that first impressions really count. Good eye contact, firm handshake, smile, and being 5-10 minutes early are all very important. Enthusiasm about the company and the role is important, as well as doing your homework.

  • I always give very specific instructions for applicants to contact me (by name) directly and request an application form to complete, based upon very specific job related questions. It astonishes me how many people still address me as “Dear Sir/ Madam, please see attached my C.V” and have obviously copied and pasted the same covering letter and attached their C.V to hundred’s of jobs. I have had up to 5 identical covering letter making the same mistake from some applicants. One of the main parts of the job is that candidates pay attention to detail and can read and follow instructions correctly. If they can’t even follow the simple instructions requested on a job advert, they have already ensured they will go no further in the process. I would say about only 25% of applicants get as far as being considered to be short listed for an interview, which is shocking.

  • I am surprised at the low rate of complaints in regards to lack of actual qualifications. This is the biggest problem for self-applying people as well as external recruiters who are trigger happy playing the numbers game.

  • James Chase says:

    Not showing up for the interview.

    James Chase

  • Jen Wilson says:

    Brown suits can be exactly the right colour to wear depending on your own colouring…

    But … regarding the hand shake. As a woman job applicant, I guess I sort of am not that comfortable shaking hands with a man … is it even the norm to do that ? Would be interesting to hear.

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