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Addressing interview red flags

Taylor Cotter
Taylor Cotter

Taylor was an Inbound Marketing Specialist at Workable. She wrote about the millennial workplace and hiring best practices.


Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote in his bestselling book, ‘Blink,’ that “the key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.” He argues that ‘blink’ moments, when we make a snap observation or decision, can help us understand the world.

Interview red flags are ‘blink moments.’ They usually signal that an employee will not work out in the long term. However, if a candidate has potential, it may be worth addressing some of these issues with interview feedback.

Download our complete guide on how to structure interviews, along with interviewing tips, for free.

Here are seven of the most common interview red flags and some questions you can ask to check your instincts.

1. Appearance

Dressing well for an interview can mean a lot of things. Depending on your industry, interviewees could show up in jeans or a full suit. However, no matter what your company dress style, it’s easy to tell whether a candidate put effort into their appearance. If your candidate looks like they just rolled out of bed, chances are, your job isn’t a priority for them.

It’s also important for you to be upfront about what you expect candidates to wear. If your company is startup casual, a gentle reminder in your confirmation email that you don’t expect your candidate to dress formally can go a long way. By setting realistic expectations for professional appearance, you can also gauge your candidates’ sense of judgment and ability to follow directions.

Ask: have you ever worked for a company where you didn’t agree with the dress code?

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2. Being late

Being late for an interview is usually unacceptable. Your company should be looking for candidates who prioritize your time. A candidate who shows up to an interview more than five or ten minutes late might not have the best time management skills. External factors often contribute to tardiness. How candidates react to these setbacks is a great indication of their tenacity. Did your candidate call to let you know they were running late? This simple gesture can show that they value your time and are clear communicators.

Ask: have you ever been in a situation where you weren’t able to arrive at work on time, or commit to a full workday?

3. Complaining or gossiping

How a candidate discusses their former employer, coworkers or industry really matters. Negative energy from a candidate should be disconcerting. Though candidates are clearly looking for a way out of their old company, their attitude toward leaving is sometimes indicative of their attitude toward work. Are they making unnecessary comments about their former team? Are they minimizing or deriding the work of their previous company? Are they interacting poorly with other members in a group interview? They could say the same kinds of things about your company in the future.

However, be on the lookout for valid concerns. Within the confines of a structured interview, your candidate may mention a management style that worked poorly for them or share a previous interpersonal issue. These anecdotes could indicate how well your candidate handles conflict. Negativity can’t be completely avoided in the workplace. Maturity and conflict resolution skills make for great hires.

Ask: how did you handle a disagreement with a coworker, and how would you handle a similar problem in the future?

4. Poor listening skills

Poor listening skills can reveal themselves at many points in your interview process. From your first interactions, notice how often your candidate needs refreshing on details or confirms items you’ve already discussed. Though some confirmation is natural, forgetting basic details about you, your company or your schedule is problematic. Not only does this show that your candidate pays little attention to detail, it shows that they may be dismissive or distracted at work.

Ask: Describe a time when you misunderstood someone else’s instructions, what happened and how could you have handled it differently?

5. No learning experiences

Asking a candidate what they learned from a project or position may seem like a filler question. However, it can be a big factor in determining whether your candidate has grown over time and learned from their experiences. Did your candidate learn a specific technical skill that could be applied to their new position? What about a management tactic or interpersonal skill? One of the most important employee traits is the ability to learn from difficult situations. Let candidates answer learning-related questions with a specific story that details their learning experience. If they come up short, take it as a sign that they may not be as invested in developing their career.

Ask: what would you do differently if you had to address a big problem for a second time?

6. Not asking questions

Candidates who do their research will ask questions. Even those who haven’t read all your company’s content will have specific questions about strategy, processes and how you achieved certain results. Candidates with few or no questions probably didn’t do enough research. Having nothing to ask is a major warning sign. Lack of curiosity indicates that candidates don’t care about your company, aren’t willing to invest in learning more and aren’t willing to engage with you.

Ask: what would you want to know on your first day working here that you don’t already know?

7. Lack of factual support

A resume offers a first glimpse into a candidate’s work history, but should only be the jumping off point for an in-depth discussion about their background. If candidates can’t speak to any details from their resume accomplishments during an interview, consider it a red flag. It’s an indicator that they might have embellished their responsibilities on their resume.

Ask: who were the key stakeholders in these projects, how long did they take to complete and how did you report the results?

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