Identify key red flags in interviews

The Biggest Interview Red Flags

Interviews are by far the biggest test for both candidates and the company in the hiring process. When done well, they're a great way to measure if it's truly a match between skilled talent and a team with a specific mission and vision. However, whether on the phone, in-person, or on Zoom, they can also be an early warning sign.
Because our team works with companies as well as creative, digital, and marketing talent, we have the unique experience of seeing these warning signs from both sides. In this piece (originally published in June 2018 and updated December 2020), we explore both sides of the coin — from the candidate’s perspective and the employer's perspective — when it comes to interview red flags.
Red Flags for Candidates to Pay Attention to

The Biggest Interview Red Flags That Should Tell You to Walk Away as an Employee

The first thing we should mention is that as of November 2020, the U.S. Unemployment Rate is quite high. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that 6.7% of Americans are unemployed. While this is down from earlier in the year, most of 2020 has been an employer-driven economy. Unfortunately, that means there are very likely more people interviewing for the job you're after. Staying aware of this (and what it takes to be competitive in a recession) can make you a much more savvy and appealing hire. 
Ok, let's stay you're in the interview. What are the red flags that should signal to you, the candidate, that you should walk away from the opportunity? Keep your eyes and ears open so you don’t end up in a bad resume-busting situation down the road.

Bad Signs for Candidates/Potential Employees 

  • Red Light, Green Light
    If you’re a candidate attending an initial job interview, you can learn a lot about a company in the few hours you spend going through their HR process. Little things, like how quickly or slowly they get back to you when you apply, will tell you if they’re thick with bureaucracy or running in entrepreneur mode.

    Do they have a mobile-friendly application process? If so, that might mean the technologies you’ll use in the role aren’t from the 1990s.
  • Do You Like Them? Do You Really, Really Like Them?
    Trust your gut on this one. Does the Recruiter or Hiring Manager seem like an efficient, smart, nice person? Or do they seem rushed, disorganized, and just calling it in? Liz Ryan, HR job guru says:
If your gut says, "No way," listen to your gut! It doesn’t matter how impressive the job title is or how much money they want to pay you. Your precious mojo is at stake. Take a job with people you trust and feel good about. Pay attention to all warning signs!

Who the company puts out there to search for talent can make a big difference in today’s employee-hungry job market. If the interviewers are rude or dismissive or you just don’t get a good vibe, trust yourself. The company should always put their best foot forward by finding strong human resource professionals to source the best candidates. If they don’t, it should give you pause. Maybe the company is failing to attract good people because they treat their people badly? Maybe not, but if you genuinely have a good first impression of the people you’re interviewing with, that’s a positive sign that you’ll find other good people in the company to bond with.
  • The Revolving Door
    Should it worry you if everyone you’re speaking with has been with the company for less than six months? Yes, because it could signal that there’s a high turnover at the company (something we know is not a good thing). Always find out the why behind the job opening. Who was in the role? Why did they leave? How long were they there? Or is it a new position? How many times has this particular role been filled? All of these questions will help you ferret out what kind of a company you might be joining.

    Make sure you check out the reviews on Glassdoor to see if there’s a revolving door at the company. If there is nothing out there to research, ask the people who are interviewing you how long they’ve been at the company. If you keep seeing the same jobs being advertised, there’s something going on. If you start seeing a pattern of short-term employee engagement, walk away.
  • The Boss That Waxes Poetic
    We’ve all been on interviews where you barely get a word in. It’s true! Some interviewers seem to take the process as a chance to wax poetic about their philosophy behind the job or the role or the state of the economy. While this may be informative, if they’re going to be your boss, it may mean that this trend will continue when you’re in their employ. Everyone wants a boss that’s an equally good listener, right?

    Also, be alert for signs that the interview team doesn’t exactly know what you’ll be doing. When you ask pointed questions, are you getting a lot of buzzword-filled language that doesn’t really say anything? If the interview is a long-winded discussion about company culture or their visions for the future of the company, but there aren't a lot of specifics on the tasks you’ll be undertaking, it’s a definite red flag.
  • The Digitally Obsessed Interviewer
    We know gadgets are hard to put down, but if anyone interviewing you is checking his or her phone while trying to interview you, it’s a bad sign.

    Fast Company has a good point on this one: “If they’re not paying attention during your interview, chances are they won’t be all ears when you’re an employee, either.” This matters if it’s a Human Resource Manager, because their job is to handle employee relations. If the person with the short attention span is going to be your boss, will they have the same problem when you’re trying to work with them? Red flags flying all over the place on this one.

Words of Wisdom from the Talent Experts

How a company represents its brand during the interview process matters greatly. For candidates going through the interview process, a harried interviewer that was late or a disorganized candidate selection committee can leave the person with a bad feeling about the company. That’s why it’s so important for companies to put their best foot forward during the interview process.
Bad news travels fast, so stay alert to the sometimes subtle undercurrents happening during your interview.
Red Flags for Employers

Biggest Red Flags for Employers

The interview and hiring process is challenging for both employers and employees. When looking at the task objectively, the Hiring Manager may feel like it’s insurmountable. You know the saying about how one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch? The whole company is relying on the Hiring Manager to get the right hire. But how can you know if a person is going to be a good fit?

No pressure, really.

The problem is that hiring can be a crapshoot. Sure, we take lots of time to interview and check references and run expensive background checks. We troll social media and ask around to try to figure out the kind of person we’re bringing onto the team. But how can you really get to know people in the few hours you have allotted for interviews? If the candidate completes some sort of job-specific testing, what will that really show? Reference checks are rarely going to be negative because what person would pick a reference that doesn’t like them?

While there is both a science and an art to hiring, the best we can do is take candidates through a process, review the outcomes, and follow our gut.

Candidate Red Flags – For Employers

Fortunately, there is shared knowledge from millions of interviews that have come before yours. We’ve looked at these experiences and come up with some of the clearest disqualifiers that crop up during interviews and should tell you to walk away.

  • The Negative Nellies
    We all know that an employee leaves a company when the situation has somehow gone wrong, but how the candidate presents that information to you is very important. Walk away from candidates that seem overly bitter, depressed, or angry with their former employers. Bad-mouthing a former employer is simply bad form, and it says something important about the character of the person you’re interviewing. There is a way to share constructive criticism about a former employer without raking them out. If the candidate comes across as a negative Nellie about their former employer, walk away.

  • The Flight Risks
    You may have heard that the new normal is to stay in a job for a couple of years. An article in Forbes calls this a “popular myth” and cite U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that show employees typically stay in jobs longer than the two-year timeframe widely associated with Millennials. Most employees “want to find a place with a shared purpose, shared values, and a shared mission. They want to find a place where they can be awesome” says Forbes.

    What this means for HR professionals looking for talent is that unexplained resume gaps or a candidate that has had eight jobs in the last eight years are a little on the extreme side. With that said, there are plausible reasons for leaving jobs so when interviewing those job-hopper types, try to get to the heart of what was behind those moves. Then consider if the candidate might find their professional home with your team — or if they will be a flight risk for your company.

  • The Dumb Question Fanatic
    Okay, we’re being a little snarky here, but the quality of the candidate’s questions speaks to their organizational skills. Even if they’re doing a mass marketing effort to get their resume out, they still should have taken the time to research your company thoroughly before walking onsite. The thought put into the questions a candidate asks is important.

    If the candidate asks a lot of obvious questions that can be answered from your website or if they make more obvious gaffes, such as barely remembering who they’re interviewing with, it shows that they are ill prepared. If they’re not prepared for the interview with your company, you can assume they might not be prepared for a new job with your company, either.

  • The Total Flake
    You know the type. They’re late to an interview. Or they’ve double-booked and have to reschedule. Or they take your call and there is chaos in the background. Maybe you try to reach them repeatedly and they are very slow to respond. When excuses pile up like the old “my dog ate my homework,” it’s always a red flag.

    Look for crisp, clean, organized candidates that respond smartly to your inquiry. While we know family emergencies, vacations, and general life issues can pop up, proceed with caution — up to and including walking away — if you have a good sense that the candidate you’re speaking with is a total flake. 

  • The Chatty Kathy
    We think interviewing is a two-way street (see "The Boss That Waxes Poetic" above). Look for candidates that have as many thoughtful questions as concise answers. Beware the candidate with the run-on sentence; oversharing is real, people!

    The best interviewers ask a lot of open-ended questions and for the chatty Kathy that could mean an opportunity to use the experience as a therapy session. While you want to get to know the applicant, you don’t want to know them
    that well. It’s a red flag that signals neediness, arrogance, self-centeredness — or all three. Walk away as soon as the candidate pauses to take a breath.

  • The One Where You Hear Crickets
    Interviewing is a skill. Some people are better at it than others, but one of the red flags we see is when the candidate doesn’t express a lot of intellectual curiosity about a job. The interview should be a give and take between the applicant and the interviewer, so if you get to the end and the candidate doesn’t have any questions, that seems — odd. 

    Given that we spend so much time at work, it's logical that a candidate would have a few questions at the end of the interview. But what if they don’t? What if they only ask about the salary or ask questions that are easily covered by reading the company website? What if you hear crickets when you ask the candidate if they have any questions? It's okay to pass on this type, too.
Need more help with interviews? Not sure it's worth the hassle? If you’re ready to interview for a job or find a new employee, Artisan is here for you. We have an organized, efficient, and super nice talent team standing by to match your core skills with the best employers in town — and vice versa. 

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