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10 Warning Signs of a Bad Job Candidate

How to tell if a prospective hire can get the job done

Not every job applicant—even one you invite for an interview—is worth your utmost attention, so weeding out a bad job candidate early can save time, energy and frustration. Below, workplace experts offer 10 key warning signs of a bad job candidate to look for during the interview.

1. Punctuality Problems

Roberta Matuson, CEO of Matuson Consulting and author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, says showing up late for the interview is indeed a red flag “unless the main artery to your city was cut off due to a jackknifed truck.”

Punctuality issues may also indicate a problem with overall accountability. A phone call to alert you before the appointment and profuse apologies when he arrives may mitigate some of the damage… but only the first time.

2. Lack of Enthusiasm

Take note if the candidate doesn’t seems enthusiastic and motivated or has low energy, warns Josh Tolan, founder and CEO of Spark Hire, a video-powered hiring network. Tolan considers enthusiasm a mandatory quality.

“You want someone passionate and willing to jump in and get started, not someone who seems bored with the job before even taking it,” he says. “Watch their expressions during the interview. If they seem genuinely excited about the job description, they’ll be excited about performing even mundane tasks. If they seem checked out when you mention potential busy work, they’re already planning ways to slack off.”

3. Being Short on Details

Jon Tucker, founder and CEO of Help Flow, cautions managers not to treat resumes as gospel. “Just because someone says they’re good at something on their resume doesn’t mean it’s true,” he says.

“By conducting action-based interviews—where you have candidates go through real-life scenarios regarding tasks they performed—you can quickly weed out the best from the rest.”

4. Missed Connections

Asking for references is not something you have to do at the end of the interview process. “If the candidate can’t offer up former bosses as references, that should be an immediate red flag,” says executive coach Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.

“Candidates with no legitimate references are far too dangerous to risk damaging your own reputation.”

5. Grammar Goofs

Any correspondence the candidate sends you can be assessed as writing samples. “If there are grammatical errors on the resume or cover letter, that’s a warning sign,” says Andrew Schrage, partner and editor in chief at Money Crashers. Even if the errors are unintentional typos, they still may say something about the candidate’s attention to detail.

“A sloppy first impression is never a good sign,” agreed Cohen. “If job candidates are careless from the start—at what may be considered the most crucial point in the interview process—imagine their potential to be even less conscientious once they’re on board.”

6. Social Media Miscues

Looking at someone’s behavior on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or other social media sites can seem a little devious, but it can tell you a lot about a candidate’s judgment and discretion. “For jobs in the media realm especially, what you share on social media can give a huge boost to the company or hurt your bottom line,” says Tolan.

“If candidates are sharing privileged information or posting inappropriate content, they aren’t candidates you can afford to turn into employees.”

7. Poor Preparation

Any serious candidate should know a few things about your brand, your mission and your website in advance. Not knowing basic facts is a red flag.

“Unpreparedness can be spotted at the end of the interview when a hiring manager asks for questions, says Timothy Tolan, (no relation to Josh), senior partner at Next Level Interim Search-Hospital Executives. “If the candidate has not prepared meaningful questions for the interviewer, this is a really bad sign,” he says. “Asking well-thought-out questions shows that you are engaged and have done your homework.”

8. Fashion Faux Pas

Most hiring managers apply the “dress for the job you want, not the one you have” standard when interviewing employees. A sharp suit or outfit conveys enthusiasm, strong interest and professionalism—even if work attire is traditionally casual.

A candidate who doesn’t bother to dress up for an interview may be signaling immaturity, arrogance, disinterest or a casual approach to personal professionalism.

9. They Lie to You

Many job seekers will exaggerate an experience or buff up their resume in order to appear more attractive to hiring managers. When interviewing candidates, it’s important for you to distinguish what is a harmless white lie, and what is a blatant misrepresentation of a candidate’s experience.

If you can’t verify the existence of an employer, or if a candidate says they are still working somewhere that they have been let go from, these are red flags you shouldn’t disregard. Listen to your gut: if something feels like it’s not right, it probably isn’t.

10. They Only Talk About Themselves

You want employees that are independent, driven and self-starters, but you also need your employees to be able to work together as a team. A candidate that can’t reference their team, or only mentions other people to place blame on them, might not be someone who can give others credit or work well with their team.

Having a strong background and skill set are important, but if a candidate won’t fit in with your company culture or work well with their coworkers, they probably are not the right fit for the job.  

Bottom Line:

To make the best use of your time at the beginning of the hiring process, don’t simply focus on discovering the strongest candidate; also try to spot and weed out the weakest ones.

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