Interviewing Red Flags: Bull vs. Matador

By CHARLIE KIMMEL on MAY 11, 2015

The Candidate Side of the Flag: The Bull

Bull in a fighting ring

An interviewing red flag is still a red flag, whether you’re the bull or the matador. During an interview, some concerns may arise. Be sure you know what to look for. Everyone has walked out of an interview with that nagging feeling and wondered, “Did I do alright?” If offered the job, your question is answered. If you weren’t selected for the job, you’ll often be left wondering if it was something you said or did that made the difference. It’s possible. Let’s review some things from the candidate side of the interview table that may have sent up some serious interviewing red flags to the person conducting the interview.

Interviewing Red Flag #1 – Being tardy to the interview.

“Better three hours too soon than one minute too late.” ~ William Shakespeare

Being on time for an interview is one of the most important things you can do to get yourself started off on the right foot. Not only does it say that you are respectful of their time as interviewers but it also says what kind of employee you will be if hired. Another interviewing red flag, along the same lines, is if you have to reschedule the interview more than once. It says that the interview is not that important to you after all.

Interviewing Red Flag #2 – Coming unprepared to the interview.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Employers want you to be prepared for the interview. It reflects on you as a person if you are not. Being prepared for an interview includes knowing the position, knowing how to answer (and ask) questions, and knowing how to dress. Research the company before hand and make sure you understand what the company and the job are about. Going to the interview sloppy or with disheveled hair says a lot about your preparation for the interview and how you present yourself. Employers will almost always ask you if you have any questions. Be prepared to ask some of your own before you arrive. Asking questions throughout the interview is a good way to stay engaged in the interview process. It also shows how well you have prepared.

Interviewing Red Flag #3 – Being a terrible listener.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

This red flag comes in two parts. The first part is talking too much. While employers do want to get to know you, rambling on with no point or end in sight is a big interviewing red flag. Avoid seeming conceited by talking too much about yourself. The second part is not paying attention to or really comprehending what the interviewer is telling or asking you. Of course you will be nervous during an interview, but take a deep breath and make sure you understand the question before you begin to answer it. Spending five minutes answering the wrong question can say a lot about your listening skills, and possibly, your ability to understand and follow future orders.

Interviewing Red Flag #4 – Ignoring your body language.

“Language is a more recent technology. Your body language, your eyes, your energy will come through to your audience before you even start speaking.” ~ Peter Guber

We are often judged by our body language so it is important to know what yours says and then make a special effort to change any aspects that may come off as red flags. Slouching in your chair, keeping your arms and legs firmly crossed, avoiding eye contact, a weak handshake, or an aggressive handshake may all give off a different impression than what you intended. How you represent your energy level is also part of body language. Do you have any nervous tendencies like cracking your knuckles, biting your nails, twirling your hair or tapping your foot? If so, they could reflect poorly on you. Ask those closest to you what your body language typically says about you. Try to change the negatives while focusing on the positives.

Interviewing Red Flag #5 – Asking about money.

“We all need money, but there are degrees of desperation.” ~ Anthony Burgess

It is tacky to ask about money in the first interview. Of course you’re curious to know what you will be paid if offered the job, but it is considered a major interviewing red flag if you ask about money early on. They want to know if you are a good fit for their company and that the job is more than just a paycheck to you. Also, asking about money could convey desperation for any job, not genuine interest in their company. When offered the job, you can begin salary negotiations. Until then, mum’s the word.

The Employer Side of the Flag: The Matador

Matador with red cloth as an interviewing red flag

As the interviewer for a company looking for potential recruits, you may believe that the ball is completely in your side of the court and that there isn’t much you have to worry about in an interview. However, if you notice that you are conducting a lot of interviews and getting a lot of rejections from quality candidates, it may have something to do with how you are conducting the interview. Just as you are testing the candidate to see if they will be a good fit for your company, the candidate is testing you to see if the job is something with which they will be comfortable. Here are some red flags from the interviewer side of the table.

Interviewing Red Flag #1 – Being unable to clearly define the job.

“There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words.” ~ Thomas Reid

Potential candidates like to understand exactly what they will be getting themselves into and an interviewer being vague about the job description is a major red flag. If you can’t explain what will be expected of the employee, it creates an ambiguity in the job description that will be uncomfortable for everyone. Make sure that you can clearly convey what the job requires.

Interviewing Red Flag #2 – Not being present and engaged.

“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” ~ Abraham Maslow

Candidates understand that you are busy when you continuously check your email, answer your phone, or step out to handle business. But during an interview that is considered rude, and may translate into being a difficult boss. If you can’t take fifteen uninterrupted minutes to get to know a candidate, will you take the time to train or help him or her once employed? Avoid this interviewing red flag by clearing your calendar as much as possible. On interview day, be present and engaged.

Interviewing Red Flag #3 – Negativity about previous employee.

“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” ~ Socrates

One of the biggest red flags you can send candidates is speaking poorly of the person who previously held the job for which they are applying. The candidate will wonder if you speak this way about all employees, if you are hard to please, hard to work for, or if you will speak poorly of them in the future. It’s better to focus on the positive when a person’s name or title is brought up.

Interviewing Red Flag #4 – Asking personal questions.

“Once you start asking questions, innocence is gone.” ~ Mary Astor

Candidates want to be interviewed about their past experiences and education that qualify them for the job, not about their personal life. A question or two about hobbies are fine. But questions that are considered too personal, or asking too many personal questions is not the way to go. Candidates will consider it an invasion of their privacy, a major red flag. They wonder if it will influence getting the job. If you can’t respect their privacy in an interview, will you be able to draw that line as their employer? Keep personal questions, even chit-chat, to a minimum.

Interviewing Red Flag #5 – Dragging out the process.

“Make up your mind to act decidedly and take the consequences. No good is ever done in this world by hesitation.” ~ Thomas Huxley

Of course you want to be sure that you make the right decision when hiring, but one red flag for potential employees is how long the whole process takes. If they sent the resume weeks ago, they won’t feel like your first choice or that the job they are filling is important. Also, not making a decision in an appropriate time frame, especially within the time frame you gave them at the interview, shows a major lack of respect. It’s not very often that candidates are 100% absolutely perfect for the job, so at some point you just have to bite the bullet and hire from your options.

It doesn’t matter which side you’re on, job interviewing can be stressful for all parties involved. Pay attention to the interviewing red flags each party is sending off, especially your own. As with all things in life, trust your instinct, listen to your gut, and go with your heart. Chances are you’ll be happy with the outcome if you do.

What are some interviewing red flags YOU tend to see? Add to the list in the comments below.

The Author

Straight from the desk of

Charlie Kimmel

Charlie Kimmel

President & CEO

Charlie Kimmel has dedicated his career to executive search. Charlie is an honors graduate of the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He began his career at Kimmel & Associates as a recruiter in 1990.

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