Five Red Flags to Look Out for When Recruiting Candidates for a Position

As recruiters, our ultimate goal is to help companies source the best talent to fill their open positions. While technology has sophisticated the avenues we can take to find and secure these persons for the task, it doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day, we’re responsible for making those two puzzle pieces fit seamlessly together.

Sometimes, an interview will go incredibly well, the resume will match the requirements, the timelines sync up, and the hiree is a perfect fit. Other times, we may walk out of a meeting scratching our heads a little and thinking that something felt a little “off.” While we might not always be able to put our finger on it, chances are if there’s a lingering feeling of doubt, further discussions are needed before an offer should be made. Here are five red flags to look out for that can help you discern a qualified and capable candidate from one who’s not quite ready.

1. Glaring typos in the application. 

This is the Digital Age. We live in a time when anyone can hop online and draft an intelligent cover letter and resume with the help of myriad tools and apps available. From ones to help with grammar to spell-checkers and readability assistants, there’s no shortage of software designed to reduce the likelihood of transcription errors.

As such, if a cover letter comes across your desk riddled with spelling errors and obvious misuse of punctuation, it may be a red flag that an applicant didn’t put much thought or effort into the process. Of course, there are always exceptions, including persons who don’t have access to such resources but keep in mind that these are programs installed in many free, public libraries so even that consideration is often a moot point. If an applicant isn’t willing to put in the time and energy to proofread a cover letter, that could signal a low work ethic.

2. Suspicious or vague work history.

During an interview, an applicant should be able to talk freely about his or her past work experience. Be sure to ask each interviewee to explain his or her role and the reason why they ultimately left the position.

If you get a roundabout response or get the notion that the person doesn’t want to go into detail or discuss a role, that might be a red flag. If the person left on unpleasant terms, this may be grounds to investigate that company further. Checking references and calling upon other resources can often help you uncover the details when an answer comes back a little murky. Along the same lines, if the applicant bluffed, embellished, or downright lied about his or her work experience, that can be another reason for not wanting to discuss a job in detail. For instance, an IT interviewee might put down that he has “20 years of related tech experience” but not be able to tell you exactly where he worked within the industry and for how long. Don’t make a hiring decision until you’re sure that what you’re hearing are the facts.

Moreover, if a candidate skipped from job to job and never seemed to find a niche, ask about that as well. Chances are, he could be considering making the same kind of transitory move after a few months in this new position.

3. Gossipping during the interview.

You want to establish a comfortable rapport with the interview, that’s true. Yet, the conversation should never veer into a slanderous territory. If a candidate goes off on a tangent and starts sharing personal details about a former boss or co-worker, that’s a signal that his work ethic is less than professional. It’s understood that not all candidates will have glowing and positive things to say about their former companies or employers, but that’s no grounds for using the interview as an opportunity to air grievances.

Complaints should be kept to a minimum. If you feel the interview is beginning to change shape, ask a few different questions to change the subject and clear the air.

4. Excessive up-front demands.

It’s expected that a candidate might have one or two specific requests to make before accepting a position. For instance, I’ve seen my fair share of people who have already committed to taking a family vacation and need to ask off a week right at the very beginning. While not ideal, these situations are understandable and for the most part, can be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction.

Yet, if a candidate shows up for an interview with a laundry list of demands and requests to make before the position is even secured, this is a red flag of a high-maintenance employee. For instance, someone might arrive and state that he can only work a certain schedule, on certain days, at certain times. Or, he may have requests that center around the work itself, saying that he must be paid for mileage, travel costs, cell phone use and more. If an applicant is unwilling to negotiate or work around those terms and the company cannot or is not willing to meet them, it may be time to move onto someone more flexible.

5. Problems with the background check.

Performing a background check on someone can reveal a slew of information, and it’s important to investigate it all thoroughly. Yet, keep in mind that some of the data you find, while it may look suspicious at first, may be able to be explained if you present it to the candidate. For instance, someone with bad credit might just be paying on student loans. Or, a driving record flag might just end up being a parking violation. Do your research into everything you learn, but don’t be afraid to bring up anything questionable in further conversations with the applicant.

One place to pay special attention, however? The conversations you have with the applicant’s references. These will be first-hand accounts of how that person was as an employee and co-worker. If you’re getting consistently negative accounts, they’re likely true and it’s time to move on.

Discerning the Candidates and Choosing Wisely

You may have an applicant come into your office who doesn’t reveal any of these red flags and still ends up being unmatched for the position. Or, someone may ding every one of your red flags and end up being the perfect fit. It’s only via thoughtful conversations and a detailed poring over of their work history and application documents that you can really piece together a clear picture of what this person would be like in a role. So take your time, keep your eyes and ears open, and trust your gut.

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