Imagine you’ve spent the last two weeks screening candidates and have found someone who seems perfect for the job. You bring them in to interview and they blow your expectations out of the water. Then, as they’re leaving, they punch someone in the hallway for absolutely no reason.

In that highly improbable scenario, no one would question your decision to immediately reject the candidate, no matter how well they’d performed throughout the rest of the hiring process. But often, when talent professionals go viral for sharing their automatic dealbreakers, the reasons for the rejections seem a little more … trivial. A candidate didn’t send a thank-you note. Didn’t bring a notebook, pen, or printed copy of their resume. Had a typo in their cover letter.

While there are always two sides to the story, the fact that posts like this frequently spark heated debates online suggests that something isn’t working. Here’s why it’s generally best to avoid absolutes in the hiring process. 

Automatic dealbreakers can inadvertently perpetuate inequality

Very few hiring norms are universal, and every candidate’s situation is a little different. Things that seem obvious to some may be completely alien or inaccessible to others. As a result, when hiring criteria are rooted in a talent professional’s own experiences and worldview, it’s all too easy for accidental bias to enter the process — creating unnecessary barriers to entry for certain groups. 

For example, in the case of the thank-you letter, the hiring manager noted that they would “never make an offer to someone who neglected to send one.” Yet as one commentator wrote in response, this could lead to a workforce made up of “mostly people privileged enough to grow up with the same norms,” since this is not a lesson that every school or household teaches equally. 

Similarly, when one hiring manager expressed dismay that multiple candidates failed to bring a writing implement and a printed copy of their resume to the interview, one Twitter user questioned whether they had made that expectation clear, adding that “shares my background and understanding on corporate etiquette” should not be something that candidates are judged on. Another user pointed out that this is a “great example as to why homeless people cannot just ‘get a job,’” since many people do not have easy access to a printer.

One of the most cited examples of a dealbreaker that perpetuates inequality is the aversion to gaps in the resume — something that women are more likely to have because they tend to shoulder more responsibility for childcare and caregiving. Most people would agree that women shouldn’t be penalized for having children or caring for an ailing family member. But if the prevalence of articles discussing how to address resume gaps is anything to go by, this is still a barrier that countless candidates are running up against. 

Everyone makes mistakes, especially in high-stress situations 

In a recent post on LinkedIn, one hiring manager shared that they had rejected 35 candidates for failing to follow a specific ask in the job description: submitting a “non-traditional cover letter in a social media-friendly format.” When that manager asked if they’d been too harsh, public opinion was split almost right down the middle. While the manager did go on to clarify that this requirement was designed to “allow great candidates who may not have the perfect resume to stand out,” many argued that burying it toward the end of a job description that clocked in at almost 1,000 words may have ultimately set candidates up to fail. 

Even setting aside the fact that, as one LinkedIn member noted, “perhaps the best candidates already have way too much on their plate already,” everybody makes mistakes sometimes — especially in high-stress situations like looking for work during a global pandemic. As another member commented, “Job hunting (post-apocalypse particularly) is scary.” Candidates may be writing and rewriting resumes and cover letters and filling out endless applications, all while dealing with pressures at work or at home. Add additional hoops for them to jump through and even the most qualified candidates may trip up. 

Typos in a candidate’s resume are another example of a simple mistake that often results in good candidates being screened out. A number of hiring managers have publicly stated over the years that typos, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors are a dealbreaker for them. 

But for roles that don’t demand regular proofreading or perfect written communication, this standard seems largely arbitrary. As one experienced recruiting professional noted in response to a question about things they used to believe about their field, “If ‘spelling/grammar’ does not make the list of the top ten things the candidate should bring to the table for a position, I'm not going to let a typo stand between me and a great candidate!”

Final thoughts: Look for reasons to screen in — or risk losing out

Taking a career break isn’t a reflection of a candidate’s skills and abilities, just as remembering to bring a pen doesn’t equate to high job performance. To avoid missing out on exceptional talent, focus on screening candidates in when you’re faced with tough hiring decisions, rather than looking for small reasons to screen them out. 

In doing so, you can build a more empathetic and inclusive hiring process — and avoid going viral for all the wrong reasons.