What To Look For During The Interview Process

Sep 28, 2015

10 Red Flags: Your Candidate is No Angel

Not long ago, I sat in on a panel interview at a top Fortune 500 company. The company was seeking a manager who would eventually join the C-suite, if all went well. The field had been narrowed and the candidate before me was well aware that he was about to get an offer. Then it happened.

The candidate relaxed, while engaging in small talk, and let slip one small negative comment about his prior employer. That sealed his fate. He became persona non grata very quickly. A candidate who speaks ill of his former employer during an interview is certainly a big red flag for employers. That candidate would likewise have a lot to say about your company when he leaves—maybe even while he is still employed!

Listen carefully during the interview process. Most people will reveal themselves if you give them a chance. I once had a candidate whose son was hoping for a hockey scholarship. Only 19 states have Division 1 Hockey and my job wasn’t in one of those states. I knew this candidate hadn’t thought this through. Another candidate revealed that her husband would soon complete graduate school and they would be looking to relocate to the Silicon Valley. Statements like this are huge red flags for employers. Candidates provide many clues about their plans if you listen closely. Here are some sure-fire red flags for employers that signal the candidate is not as heavenly as he or she appears during the interview process.

  1. He won’t be with you long. It’s hard to tell how long an employee plans to stay. Certainly, you want to avoid being a quick step on someone’s career path. Onboarding represents a substantial investment and you hope to choose someone who will put down roots in your community. If you get a hint that he’s a short-timer, that’s a red flag for employers. Listen carefully. If your job requires relocation, is the family positive about the move? What attracts them to your area?

  2. He arrived late for the interview. This happens more than you think. To me, it signals an inability to plan and prioritize. Those are important skills in any job. If a candidate is late to his interview, it is most likely an established pattern of behavior that will be carried through to the workplace. That’s a big red flag for employers! You might not think a few minutes would be a big deal. But other employees resent it. If an employee is six minutes late every day that adds up to 30 minutes a week for which he was paid but was NOT at work.

  3. He disrespected staff. If a candidate treats anyone with disrespect during the interview process, that’s a hiring red flag. It will only get worse if he’s hired. If he is condescending towards the janitor, security guard, or secretary, that’s not the kind of man I want on my team. Many companies do group interviews and place one or two team employees on the panel. If your candidate does not look these employees in the eye and answer their questions thoughtfully and respectfully, he’s not your guy! If you hire him, you’re in for morale problems and increased turnover.

  4. He bragged about other offers. There is a time and a place for a candidate to mention he is considering another offer. If he does it right out of the gate, that’s a red flag for employers that he doesn’t fully understand the interview process. It signals to me that he is trying to use any offer I would make as leverage to get a sweeter deal elsewhere. It tells me that he is not interested in the challenges and opportunities my company could offer. This guy thinks he’s a big fish! I’d throw him right back into the pond.

  5. He doesn’t reflect your core values. A cultural mismatch can lead to a lot of frustration for both the candidate and the company. Be sure your company has outlined the values you want to model. Ask yourself if this candidate’s interests and activities reflect those values. Check him out on social media. Many times a candidate says one thing, but his posts and pics say something very different. For example, Kimmel’s core values are trust, integrity, and service. If I find a candidate has not been honest and up-front on his resume, in his interview, or in his personal life, then I won’t hire him.

  6. She had vague responses. One of the purposes of an interview is to get more details about the candidate’s skill and abilities. This is “Interviewing 101” and a good candidate will have specific examples of her successes and achievements to share throughout the entire hiring process. She’ll be able to tell you her skills and how she applied them in her former positions. If she is vague or evasive, that’s a red flag for employers. It shows me she lacks confidence, has poor communication skills, or has embellished her resume, in which case I refer back to number 5.

  7. She had poor communication skills. I don’t like a candidate who takes control of the interview and talks too much. That’s a huge red flag for employers. It reflects a poor application of basic two-way communication skills. If the candidate goes overboard or doesn’t know when to be quiet or what not to share, then I’m finished. Just as problematic is a candidate who gives only short answers during the interview process and has no questions for me. That shows a lack of interest in the company and speaks volumes about her ability to engage in strategic thinking. I am looking for leadership potential in everyone I interview. Communication is key in all leadership positions. A candidate won’t get far with me if her communication skills are inadequate.

  8. She was too aggressive. I look for people who are confident and professional. If a candidate is too pushy, it turns me off. A deep discussion with some opposing viewpoints is welcome, but not if she interrupts me to disagree with a statement I am making. I want a candidate who can see all sides of an issue. I value a candidate who can hold an opinion and defend it. But someone who argues just to show how smart she is, that’s an interviewing red flag and it’s a real turnoff to me. And don’t ever raise your voice. You can be strong and assertive without getting loud. You can also look for body language as a tip-off. If she has an inordinately strong handshake, rolls her eyes, or crosses her arms in a defensive manner, she may be too aggressive for your company culture.

  9. She lacked subject knowledge. Generally, a candidate relaxes when I ask her real-world questions about her area of expertise. You can almost see the relief. A candidate should be excited to talk about her field and should be able to expound upon problems she has encountered and solutions she has implemented. This signals passion. A candidate who is not well-versed in her area of expertise sends up a red flag for employers. For example, an accounting manager who can’t talk about the SEC and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act gets crossed right off my list.

  10. She was all about the money. Money is certainly an important consideration for most candidates. However, outstanding candidates realize that other elements are also worthy of consideration. A candidate should be concerned about her professional development. Will the job give her professional challenge? Will it offer her experience that she needs to get closer to her long-term career objectives? If she mentions money very early in the interview process, that’s a hiring red flag.

The Devil is in the Details

Looks can be deceiving. So can resumes. There are several steps a company can take during the hiring process to screen out candidates who are not the top talent they appear to be. Be sure to do thorough background checks. Many companies include a credit report to see if the candidate is financially responsible.

Talk with former co-workers who saw your candidate at work and under pressure. If, during the hiring process, you find that many of them have negative feedback, perhaps she’s not the one. Some companies do psychological testing to determine behavior and personality traits. These are only a couple ways to filter out unqualified candidates.

As part of the hiring process, companies should check a candidate’s social media accounts to look for inconsistencies there. Invariably, you will still find yourself interviewing a handful of hopefuls who are not as skilled as they first appeared. Hiring the best candidate often boils down to relying on your instincts during the interview process. If your gut tells you there’s a problem, then keep looking for a better candidate during the interview process!

About the Author

Charlie Kimmel

As President and CEO, Charlie has dedicated his 25+ year career to executive search at Kimmel & Associates. Charlie began his career at Kimmel & Associates in 1990 as a Recruiter. In 1993, he graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where he received a BA in History.

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