Red (and Green) Flags During Interviews: Advice From 15 Recruiting Pros
Hirers should always remember two things:
It's human nature to make lightning-quick first impressions of candidates.
Those gut reactions are not to be trusted at face value.
While it's always best practice to second guess every judgment you cast upon every job seeker you interview (to reduce bias), you also need to spot all the strengths and weaknesses that predict how they'd perform on the job.
With that in mind, we put out a call to recruiters and hiring managers, asking them to weigh in on their biggest red and green flags in interviews. We wanted a better sense for the good, bad, and ugly omens candidates give when discussing their qualifications for a job.
We got almost 200 responses and can't spotlight everyone. But here's a sampling of what professional hirers say you should watch out for.
Are interview red flags always a total dealbreaker?
When speaking with candidates, it's important to walk the line between having your guard up for bad omens and giving job seekers some leeway. Interviewer bias, after all, can cause you to put undue emphasis on one small issue with a candidate who'd otherwise make a great employee — a phenomenon known as the horn (or pitchfork) effect.
For example, say you interviewed a web developer who showed nervous body language — tousling her hair, tapping her fingers, etc… If she's an otherwise stellar candidate who demonstrates she has all the skills you're looking for, would a little social nervousness make her a bad employee? Probably not…
If you spot more serious potential red flags in an interview, it could be worth asking the candidate about it directly to see if they have a good explanation. Multiple hiring pros, including Jessica Wright, the business owner of Dream Team Fundraising, wrote in saying interview tardiness is their biggest no-go.
But Wright has exceptions: "there may be instances or situations beyond the applicant's control, such as a family issue or when their punctuality is otherwise excused, such as a handicap that necessitates accommodations for the candidate to enter your business. Before passing judgment on a candidate who is late, find out why they are late."
Of course, if a candidate comes to an interview totally unprepared, showing throughout the entire interview session that they don't know much about the underlying role or why they're qualified for it, that's where you can likely draw the line.
"I always give candidates the benefit of the doubt and allow them to explain away any red flags, but a complete lack of preparation is usually a dealbreaker for me," says Gergo Vari, CEO of Lensa. "If they're not able to answer basic questions about the role or the company, that's a red flag. It shows that they haven't done their research or they're not really interested in the position."
Red flags to watch out for, according to 10 hiring experts
One of the biggest challenges of today's job market is sifting through such a massive hiring pool. Towards the tail-end of the candidate journey, interviews are the perfect proving ground for finding top talent. But to do that, you also need to spot the job seekers who aren't the right fit before it's too late. This to say: come the interview, it helps to know what kind of candidate behavior to be wary of.
While the exact warning signs you should look out for depend on the unique needs and values of your company, here's what a sampling of hiring pros have to say about their biggest interview red flags.
"Even though they may appear to be perfect, some applicants deliberately avoid acknowledging their weaknesses in order to look as though they have no flaws at all. When anything goes wrong with a project, people who aren't aware of their own weaknesses prefer to point the finger elsewhere rather than take responsibility for their own actions. Because a great team relies on its members utilizing each other's abilities and shortcomings, these individuals are not culturally compatible. Overwhelmed or irritated colleagues may be the result for those who don't see themselves as weak in any way." — Benjamin Stenson, CEO of Norsemen.
"When interviewing candidates, one of the biggest red flags is blaming colleagues for past mistakes or speaking ill of a former boss. In order for one person to grow professionally, you have to acknowledge your past mistakes and take that as an opportunity to learn. When a candidate makes excuses for their past mistakes in their career, this only shows how they would react to failure in their future roles." — Ryan O'Donnell, co-founder of Replyify.
"Evading interview questions. An applicant may have lost track of the question being asked in some situations. In other circumstances, they may be completely avoiding the subject. Rephrase the question and underline the information you're looking for if a candidate fails to respond to an essential inquiry.
For example, if you ask a candidate what they liked and hated about their most recent stint, but they only reveal the good parts, you may reply, okay, you've mentioned the positives, but what about the negatives? If the applicant has been given adequate time to respond to your inquiry and still does not, you might consider this as you continue forward in the recruiting process." — Dan Barrett, CEO of Social Vantage.
"A candidate's lack of questions during an interview might indicate that they are unprepared, haven't done their homework on your company and sector, or have little interest in the role. Let applicants know they may ask questions at any time during the interview, and offer them another chance at the conclusion to ask any leftover questions. You may also ask applicants open-ended questions about their knowledge of your organization and sector to assess their preparedness." — Tali Raphaely, president at Armour Settlement Services.
"One of the biggest red flags is job-hopping, which means that the candidate keeps on changing jobs and can't stick to one organization. It may be because of their personality issues or not being able to adapt to the surrounding environment. It's a deal-breaker because an organization invests so much in an employee from recruitment to hiring and training." — David Farkas, CEO of The Upper Ranks.
"Inadequate listening is a deal-breaker for me during the interview process. An applicant is supposed to be as active as possible during an interview. They pay close attention to what is said and engage in a back-and-forth conversation. Candidates who frequently forget what has been told or are required to seek clarification or repetition of basic concepts may lack the best listening abilities. Additionally, poor listening skills are a strong predictor of a candidate's lack of attention to detail, manifesting in workplace troubles." — Tam Le, managing director at Steamaster
"I have noticed that some candidates gossip about their former employees. It becomes the focal point of their interview which is ethically wrong and something we condemn big time. An employee so focused on spreading negativity about workplaces would not fit into any of the roles at our company since we bank on our company culture." — Irene McConnell, managing director of Arielle Executive.
"When numbers discussed in the interview don’t align with numbers given on a resume. This could be in regards to start/end dates of a role, staff oversight numbers, organization size, budget, etc. There is a level of grace here if numbers are close, but if there is a big gap or an early theme of inconsistencies that’s a big flag. There is a big difference between highlighting yourself and deception. Candidates know when their deception has been found out and they tend to flounder." — Brett Connolly, executive search manager at Vanderbloemen.
5 green flags that suggest you're interviewing a standout candidate
Red means stop, green means go. And since top talent is generally on and off the job market in 10 days, it helps to notice standout interviewees so you can get that offer letter out in time.
While none of these traits in and of themselves guarantee you've found a great hire (the entire application is important!), some hiring experts say the following green flags mean you're barking up the right tree.
"My biggest green flags are seen in applicants who have the willingness to learn and have a long-term growth plan in the company. Letting the candidate know about your
expectations and a clear picture of the job description is a good way to make them understand what is in store for them, and also give them a chance to think if they are a right fit as well." — Emily Cooper, founder of Oliver Wicks.
"Candidates who are able to demonstrate a genuine interest in the company and its mission are usually the best candidates. They are also likely to be committed and work hard, which is a valuable commodity in today's workplace. When it comes to skills, the best candidates are those who can demonstrate knowledge in areas that are relevant to the position. They should also be detail-oriented and have good problem-solving skills." — Paw Vej, recruitment manager at Financer.com.
"One thing we really look for in an interviewee is their showcase of passion towards the position they are aiming for." — Lauri Kinkar, CEO at Messente.
"Eye contact, direct answers, polite responses, and effective communication are the green flags that ensure job seekers can make a great hire. These attributes vary with the individual, and I prefer these as the general requirements to become an employer in my organization." — Kimberly Silva, CEO at FindPeopleFirst.
"The biggest green flag is when candidates are open and transparent about past failures and explain how they use them as stepping stones to achieve greater things in life. How you react to failure says a lot about you, both personally and professionally. Any candidate who learns from failure is an excellent candidate." — Elisa Bender, co-founder of RevenueGeeks.
Keeping careful track of interview flags with artificial intelligence
Red (and green) flags can be tricky to monitor in interviews. A candidate's answer to one of your questions may ring off a warning bell in the immediate moment. But without a full transcript of the conversation, you may forget what exactly troubled you so much a day (or even an hour) later.
A comprehensive record of all your interviews also lets you ensure you're not putting too much emphasis on one blotch of an otherwise amazing application. It also lets you compare candidates against one another to double check every job seeker's strengths and weaknesses.
You can try to corral all this data alone, but you don't have to.
Instead, you can use Hume, a powerful tool for talent professionals that transcribes, annotates, and summarizes all your interviews with candidates.
Instead of averting your focus from the interview to write painstaking notes, you can focus directly on the job seeker. And you can rest easy knowing everything the candidate mentions will be transcribed and saved.
Once the conversation concludes, you can tag the moments in the interview script that speak to any red flags, green flags, core competencies, and any other characteristics that will help you make an informed hiring decision. It's all designed to ensure you're relying on concrete facts instead of faulty gut feelings.
Hume also lets you "highlight" snippets of conversations to share with colleagues throughout your hiring team. This way, others can catch key moments of an interview without a hefty time commitment. It also means interviewers can get extra opinions from team members on whether that flag was as red as they thought.
What's more, you can even use Aspect's playlist tool to create a library that coaches every interviewer on questions to ask, red flags to watch out for, and other hiring best practices that train colleagues on how to find their ideal candidate.
First, you want to catch every red flag. Next, you want to double-check whether it should make or break a job seeker's candidacy. Aspect lets you accomplish both, all while reducing time to hire and invigorating the candidate experience.
Ready to see how Aspect lets you interview with confidence? You can also give our LinkedIn a follow, to stay up to date on the news, trends, and challenges facing today's hiring world.