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How to Spot Critical Red Flags in Candidates during an Interview

Amanda Cross Headshot

Amanda Cross

January 15, 2020

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Red Flags

Hiring a bad candidate can have a genuine impact on your company. Bad hires can create a draining work environment, and the expenses add up as you lose productivity and have to hire replacements. If you can, understanding and spotting candidate red flags will help mitigate some issues of hiring bad employees. You might not be able to spot every poor hire, but understanding these red flags will help you choose better candidates.

A bad candidate might:

1) Ask The Wrong Questions (Or No Questions)

As your interview progresses, you might lean on your candidate to ask questions about the job. Your candidate should be able to ask thoughtful questions that haven’t been answered by previous conversations or material you have sent out before the interview. If the candidate asks the wrong questions (questions you’ve already answered or generic questions) or they don’t have questions at all, they might not be the right fit.

2) Lie About Important Details

Lying on your resume might be prevalent, but that doesn't make it right. Candidate lies can impact your company's bottom line if you hire the wrong person. It can be challenging to spot lies during the interview if you are not asking the right questions. Do your research when you have the candidate in the room. Make sure you have someone in the room that does a similar job, so they can spot potential inconsistencies before you hire that employee.

3) Have Unexplained Gaps In Employment History

Employment gaps are more common than they have ever been. In fact, 3 in 5 Americans have had some form of unemployment or gap in their resume. These gaps are usually explained. Your candidate might have stayed home with family, or maybe they were freelancing during that time. Since these gaps are so common, the gap itself shouldn't be cause for concern, if the candidate can tell you what was happening during that gap. Dig deeper to understand why the gap was there to determine whether this is a red flag or not.

4) Show A Lack Of Attention To Details On Resume Or At The Interview

Applying for a job shouldn't be phoned in. You are hiring someone who will pay attention to the small details and give you their best effort in the workplace. If your candidate doesn't show any regard to detail during the application or interview process, you might want to rethink their employment.

Here are some examples of how a lack of attention to detail might play out:

Spelling/Grammar Errors In The Application Or Resume

When you submit any resume, application, or email, you should be checking for spelling and grammar. Most of us have access to a spelling and grammar checker, and it's common to look over any job application submitted with a fine-tooth comb. We all miss one or two errors, but if their information is filled with grammatical errors, you might want to skip over their application. What will that candidate say about you if the content they send on your behalf has too many mistakes?

Canned Resumes

Do you feel like your candidate created a resume specifically for you, or did they send a generic resume? Resumes don't have to be a long list of everything your candidate has ever done. They can be specific to your job listing and what you are looking for in a candidate. If you get a generic resume, this could be considered a red flag. At the very least, you might want to recognize those who give you more specific resumes over the candidate who gives you a generic one.

No Research On The Company

It has never been easier to research a company before you submit an application or sit for an interview. We have access to a plethora of information on our phones or computers, and that research can help us understand what jobs we should apply for. If your candidates don't seem to do basic research on the company before the interview, you want to avoid that candidate for someone who shows more interest in understanding the company.

5) Apply To Every Job Under The Sun

Serial applicants can be a huge red flag. Someone can't be great at sales, marketing, software engineering, business development, and everything else. If a candidate is applying for your position, and they've applied for everything you offer, they will not be a great candidate to hire. If they've applied for all your marketing roles, that's not a red flag, but they shouldn't be applying to apply. Make sure you check the history of all your applicants before you extend a job interview.

6) Arrive Late For An Interview (Or Doesn’t Show Up At All)

Being prompt to an interview is essential. As a candidate, you can often pick the time that is most convenient for you. Arriving early or on time to an interview shows excellent time management skills. If your candidate shows up late (or flakes on the interview entirely), they likely aren't the best fit for the job. If the candidate has an excellent reason (i.e., medical or family emergency), then you should cut them some slack, but make sure you get clear about why they were late.

7) Skate Over Questions About Their Weaknesses

We all have a weakness. We can't be great at everything, and one of the best parts about being on a team is that everyone's weaknesses can be leveled out. If your candidate is skating over questions about their shortcomings, you won't be able to adequately see how they fit in with the rest of your team. If you ask a question about weaknesses, what does your candidate say? Is the answer thoughtful, or does it gloss over the subject?

8) Focus Too Much on Benefits And Rewards

We all know the importance of benefits. Benefits are a fantastic perk of working at a company, but they should never be the main focus of a job interview. Does your candidate seem too focused on the benefits they'd get by working at your company? We recommend that candidates avoid this question altogether. Asking a few questions about benefits is one thing, but does the conversation always seem to come back to what you can offer them? Employment is about creating a mutually beneficial relationship. It's not just about what you can offer the candidate.

9) Be Rude To Your Employees

Teamwork is everything in the office. Your candidate will need to work with employees of all levels to be successful at your company. We all have bad days, but if your candidate is rude to any of your employees during their interview, they likely won’t be a good fit for the job.

10) Bad Mouth Former Employers

Last, but not least, another red flag to consider is bad mouthing former employers. Your candidate might have a lot to say about how their old boss ran their company, but it's important to share this information constructively. If your candidate feels they can freely bad mouth their former employer, you might want to reconsider hiring them at your company.

Conclusion: Use Your Best Judgment

Spotting red flags can be challenging. All of your candidates are likely different, and you'll need to take time to understand a candidate to see if these red flags apply to them. It's vital that you use your best judgment when assessing a candidate, and don't forget to rely on the experience of others in your office.

For example, using a hiring team will allow you to understand each candidate from a myriad of perspectives. If you can, include more than one person in each interview. Your hiring team members may spot something you didn't see, which can help you hire the best candidates for your company.

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