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Red Flags and Warning Signs in the Interview Process

Red Flags and Warning Signs in the Interview Process

By: John Putzier and David Baker

Although the candidate interview and other screening tools are the key factors that we should use in making our hiring decisions, bear in mind that there are other factors that can also weigh for or against a candidate’s hireability.

Also, the interview does not start when you begin asking the candidate questions in your office. It starts when he picks up the phone for a phone interview and continues when he gets out of his car in the parking lot, when he greets (or doesn’t greet) your receptionist or other staff and throughout the entire process of interactions.

Here are some red flags and warning signs to look for in conducting the interview:

1. Arriving late for the interview. This should be obvious, but unless there was an act of God preventing the applicant from being on time, why in the world would you expect her to come to work on time?

2. Treating your staff dismissively or disrespectfully. Remember the good old days when we had secretaries? Mine was also the receptionist in the employment office. Wanda would bring the person’s application and résumé to me for review while he was sitting in the reception area.

All she would have to do was let out a sigh and a look of disgust when she laid the paperwork on my desk, which then elicited a “What’s wrong, Wanda?” from me. At which point, she would say, “Oh, nothing. He’s just a little arrogant” or something of that nature.

This is a case where the “horns” effect is valid. If the candidate treats my secretary with disrespect before he is even hired, how do you think he is going to behave on the job? This is when he should be on his best behavior!

3. Not wearing appropriate attire for the position. This is a variable. A janitor applicant might be acceptable in clean jeans and a T-shirt, although dressing up a bit would be a plus, whereas someone applying for a management position should be wearing proper business attire. Again, it’s a sign of judgment and awareness.

4. Meet and greet. Did the person extend a confident handshake, look you in the eyes, smile, and greet you? This goes for both men and women. Even a cold, clammy handshake is better than no handshake at all. Again, this indicates judgment and confidence. Note: Some cultures deems eye contact and hand-shaking inappropriate.

5. Talking too much. Even though we have been stressing the 80/20 rule, there are times when a candidate goes overboard or over limits, particularly when she lacks the judgment to know when to shut up or what not to share. This usually happens when you are using open-ended interview questions and/or clarifying statements.

6. Speaking negatively about past employers and experiences. Even though the story might be true, this is an indication of the applicant’s not taking responsibility for his own actions, or at least sharing what he learned from the experience, instead of placing blame on others for everything. Remember that in “Gut Wrenchers,” we said to keep all responses positive and job-related?

7. Asking about money too soon. Granted, we all work for pay. However, good judgment says this should not be one of the first questions a candidate voices. It shows a lack of concern of the employer’s needs and priorities, demonstrates short-term, self-centered thinking, and is just poor form.

8. Showing up unprepared. This could include not bringing a pen and paper, not having her résumé with her, knowing nothing about the organization, and other such omissions. If someone approaches a job interview by the seat of her pants, it’s a pretty sure bet that she will approach her job the same way.

9. Using inappropriate language. Even if your culture is laid back and informal, it never justifies a candidate’s use of vulgarity or inappropriate language. Again, this is an indication of a lack of class, self-awareness, and self-monitoring. If he is that willing to let his guard down in a job interview, can you imagine what will happen with customers and coworkers?

10. Being vague in her responses. A key purpose of a job interview is to delve into the details of the candidate’s qualifications, that is, beyond the résumé. If she is vague, nonresponsive, or evasive in her responses, even when you use the questioning techniques referred to herein, then either she has something to hide or she is just unable to articulate her thoughts. Either way, it’s no way!

11. Exhibiting poor body language. Yes, interview body language is a legitimate barometer. Beyond the meet and greet, handshake, eye contact, and smile, if the candidate slumps in his chair, or even puts his feet up, that’s a sign. He is on stage.

A candidate should have decent posture and demonstrate that he is alert and attentive (or at least awake!) by sitting up or, even better, sitting on the edge of his seat. Leaning back, folding his arms in front of him, and other such behavior indicates closed-mindedness, or at least defensiveness, lack of confidence and/or lack of attentiveness, and maybe even arrogance. Whatever it is, it isn’t a good sign.

12. Not asking any questions. Remember that in the interview setup, we said to let the candidate know that she can ask you questions at the end? When you are done asking your interview questions, you can open the floor to questions from the candidate. If she has none, or if she just asks what the job pays, then this could be a red flag. It demonstrates a lack of depth of thinking, lack of understanding of or interest in a job or an organization, or a lack of preparation, and it is also somewhat insulting to you as an employer.

Excerpted from The Everything HR Kit: A Complete Guide to Attracting, Retaining, and Motivating High-Performance Employees by John Putzier and David Baker. Copyright © 2010 John Putzier and David Baker. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission. All rights reserved.