Hiring managers must know how to spot signs that a candidate might not be the right fit for their team. While these signs, or "red flags," aren't necessarily a guarantee that you should take a candidate out of the running, they should be a trigger to ask more detailed questions or dig more into the candidate’s background.
In this article, we'll explore 12 common red flags that interviewers should learn as they prepare for the hiring process. It's important to note that some candidates may exhibit a few of these signs and still be an excellent fit for your team. Keep the following job interview red flags in mind and consider them in context — remember, no two candidates are the same.
1. Candidate Has a Suspicious Work History
When interviewing a prospective candidate, look closely at their past work history. Can you verify their past employers? Does the candidate have examples of past work that align with those employers and their business models? Does the information on the resume or CV match what they tell you about their work?
Some red flags that can pop up here include a suspicious work history without a clear, logical reason for leaving. If they were fired from their previous role, they should know why and what they could do differently in a future job. Also, look for employment gaps. While CNN Business indicates employment gaps are less of an issue in the post-pandemic world than they once were, unexplained gaps in work history should give you a reason to ask some more questions. There are several legitimate reasons for an employment gap, but instead of asking sensitive or illegal questions, you can ask if they spent any time on professional development during the gap period.
2. Candidate Can’t Maintain Eye Contact
Lack of eye contact can be an indicator that someone is hiding something. For most people, eye contact during a conversation is a natural thing when having a conversation. Shifting the eyes away from the person you are talking to is an instinct when being dishonest. Looking away at a critical point in the job interview is body language that sometimes indicates that the person isn’t being truthful.
There are some instances when a person may struggle to make eye contact, even if they are not being dishonest. For instance, anxiety or even neurodivergence can make eye contact challenging, even though the person has nothing to hide. If you notice this red flag, be on the lookout for others and consider all other aspects of the interview before deciding not to move forward.
3. Candidate Doesn’t Admit Any Failures
Even the most qualified candidate is not perfect. If your candidate can’t admit any failures and spends the majority of the interview bragging about their achievements, then they may not be good at self-reflecting.
A well-rounded candidate will know that they have areas where they can improve. Admitting these weaknesses but framing them somewhat positively — or explaining how they are working on those issues — is a strong interviewing technique. If a candidate says they have no weaknesses or have never failed at anything, it could be a sign that they aren’t open to growth and development.
4. Candidate Is Looking for a Job Because They’re Bored With Their Current Position
Most interviewers ask why the candidate left their previous role. If the only response they have is because they are “bored,” consider it a red flag. Unless your company and open position offer something completely different, they may end up bored at your company in a few months, too.
If a candidate does indicate they felt unfulfilled at their last job, ask some more questions; it's possible that they were in a position that just wasn't a good fit for their skills. If that’s the case, they might have been bored and need a new job that better fits their skills. However, consider it a red flag if they cannot self-reflect when answering this question.
5. Candidate Didn’t Research Your Company or Know What It Does
Researching the company before a job interview is interview etiquette 101. If your candidate comes to the interview and doesn’t know what you do or any details about your company, then watch out. It takes only a few minutes to review a company’s website and the job description to know something about what the company does, so be wary if a candidate doesn't make that small effort.
6. Candidate Shows up Late to the Interview
Job candidates should be punctual. While everyone is working hard to achieve a good work-life balance, if a candidate cannot show up on time to a job interview, you should wonder if they can be on time to work.
Try to be reasonable here — things happen. If your candidate leaves early but gets stuck in an unexpected traffic jam, they may deserve some grace. However, if the meeting is virtual and they sign on late with no explanation, this may demonstrate that they don't respect or value others' time.
In either case, if a candidate is running late for their interview, they should contact you to let you know before the interview is scheduled to begin.
7. Interviewee Didn’t Dress the Part
Dressing the part for a job interview is still key to landing a good job, especially when interviewing for an upper-level position. An interviewee that has done their homework about your company culture will have a good idea about the correct level of dress for your workplace.
In general, expect the interviewee to dress slightly more formally than the daily dress code for your employees. In addition, the candidate should pay attention to their personal hygiene. During an interview, a candidate's goal should be to project a positive image — which will reflect well on your company should you hire them. If they come in wearing jeans and a wrinkled t-shirt with unkempt hair, it could indicate that they're not serious about the role or their candidacy.
8. Candidate Rambles Off-topic
Rambling can signal someone is nervous, but this can be a red flag for a job interview if the candidate seems to repeatedly ramble off-topic. Rambling about things that aren’t part of your interview question can indicate the interviewee doesn’t know the answer to what you’ve asked. It can also show that they aren’t skilled at thinking logically on their feet. Finally, it can indicate they aren't very self-aware and don’t realize that they're rambling.
If you decide to hire the person, you can probably expect these rambling behaviors to continue during team meetings, events, and important discussions with clients and company partners.
9. Candidate Throws Their Current Employer Under the Bus
If a candidate is currently employed elsewhere, an interviewer may ask why they want to leave. Job loss can be messy, and there can be hard feelings. A good candidate can typically find something positive to pull from even a negative experience.
For example, a candidate may say they're looking for a new role because they aren't a good fit for their current company's culture. This response shows that they can self-reflect, and then you can ask more probing questions to see what that really means. On the other hand, if they can only say negative things about their last job, you may want to look for a different candidate.
10. Candidate Has a Reputation for Being a Job Hopper
One of the warning signs that someone may not be a reliable employee is someone who constantly moves from job to job. When someone constantly moves from one job to the next, they aren't established long enough to learn new skills, nor do they get to work on major projects that help the company succeed.
Your organization needs someone you can count on to show up for you day after day, so consider chronic job hoppers with caution.
11. Candidate Has Unusual Upfront Demands
Some people will come into the job interview full of demands about salary, time off, and work conditions. This doesn’t make a great first impression. While negotiation is possible after an offer is on the table, they shouldn't bring it up in the first round of interviews. Later, after you extend an offer, is when the candidate should make any requests — respectfully, not as demands.
It's important to note that requests should be reasonable. Do they want an additional few days of vacation time to match what they have at their current employer? Reasonable. Do they insist on doubling your maximum salary for the role? Unreasonable.
Of course, what is reasonable versus what isn't will vary between organizations, so your entire hiring team needs to be aligned on these expectations to provide a consistent, unified front — even if it means rescinding the job offer.
12. Candidate Exhibits Poor Listening Skills
If the candidate has to ask you to repeat yourself or appears lost in the interview process, they may have poor listening skills. They might provide non-answers to the questions you ask or provide unrelated information.
This is a big red flag because you want to hire someone who will listen to and follow instructions. If the candidate can’t listen to your interview questions, they may struggle to listen on the job. Listening skills are critical for any role, particularly high-ranking positions requiring liaising with business partners and stakeholders. Look for signs of active listening: eye contact, forward-leaning posture, smiling, and no distractions (looking at the clock, fidgeting, etc.).
Positive Signs the Candidate Is a Good Fit for Your Company
Spotting red flags during the interview process can help you avoid common hiring mistakes, but you also need to know when you have a good candidate in front of you. Being able to identify strong candidates can help you bring in the right people to grow and support your company. Here are some good signs that you have a great candidate on your hands.
Candidate Was Well Informed of the Open Position and the Company as a Whole
One of the best things a candidate can do during their job search is to research the companies where they intend to interview. They should know what the company culture is like, what the open position entails, and what they can bring to the table. If they can clearly communicate this to you, it shows they have done their homework and are serious about their candidacy.
Candidate Was Honest and Enthusiastic
You want potential employees to be enthusiastic about your company and the role they wish to fill. Enthusiasm is contagious, so hiring someone with this type of positive energy can propel your company’s growth and boost team morale. Similarly, honesty can also foster positive energy. Your ideal candidate should be honest about their skills and past work experience, which establishes a foundation of trust from the start of their employment.
Interview Was Conversational
An interview should feel comfortable, and this feeling is a two-way street. Of course, the candidate may be nervous initially, but if you do things right, you can make them feel at ease quickly. Once they're comfortable, the interview should flow logically for both of you, with back-and-forth conversations and questions rather than a stiff, one-sided interaction.
Candidate Brings New Ideas to the Table
One of the reasons you are looking to hire is to bring fresh ideas and energy to your company. When you interview someone, listen for new ideas. One who is full of interesting thoughts will bring those ideas to your company and help you grow and develop. In managerial roles, you want the person to have a passion for their leadership style and be full of ideas about motivating their own team members.
Hire Better Candidates With Hunt Club
Hiring the right people requires strong recruiting and interview skills. Good candidates should come prepared to interview, but there may still be red flags to catch. Knowing how to spot these will help you weed your way through potential candidates to find the right one. Yet even armed with the right knowledge, this process is time-consuming and sometimes stressful.
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