The Top Interview Red Flags to Watch Out for in Candidates

Elevated view of recruiter and job candidate during in interview. Hand on resume sitting at a desk

Red flags are warning signs that can help hiring managers avoid making poor hires. While a single red flag shouldn’t be the deciding factor against a candidate, it should be carefully considered alongside other factors, like the candidate’s qualifications, background, and references. It may also call for further questioning about the subject that raised concern. Here are 15 of the top interview red flags to keep in mind during the hiring process. 

1. Pre-Interview difficulties

Repeated requests to reschedule the interview or questions about information already provided can be signs the candidate is disorganized or lacks attention to detail. An overly communicative candidate (i.e., sending numerous emails before the interview) or not communicative enough could foreshadow communication issues down the road. 

If the applicant arrives late on the day of their interview, especially without bothering to call and let someone know, this is also a bad sign. 

2. Sloppy appearance

An interview candidate should come dressed to impress. If they’re underdressed, it could indicate a lack of professionalism, while a sloppy appearance (rumpled clothes, stained garments) may cause concern that their work will be sloppy, as well. 

Note that you can help candidates avoid wardrobe mistakes by sending a pre-interview message communicating the expected dress code. 

3. Rudeness toward admins and other staff

It’s an old adage that you can tell a person’s character by how they treat service workers–baristas, restaurant servers, etc. One hiring trick our recruiters like to use is checking in with the front desk staff after a candidate’s interview wraps up. 

Were they polite and patient, or disrespectful and demanding? If a candidate is less than kind to the front desk staff or anyone else they interact with, it’s a big warning that they lack empathy and compassion. 

4. Lack of eye contact

Making eye contact when you’re participating in a conversation is natural; it shows interest and engagement. If a candidate struggles to make eye contact, it could be a sign of apathy or disinterest in the position or even that the candidate has something to hide. 

A candidate might not make the best eye contact for other reasons. Their nerves could be distracting them from meeting your eyes. Also, some conditions like social anxiety disorder and autism spectrum disorder can cause discomfort with eye contact. 

So, consider this interview red flag with a grain of salt alongside the rest of the interview when making a judgment call. 

5. Failure to research the job or company

If the candidate doesn’t seem to grasp what the company does, it could reveal that they didn’t do the research that’s a basic prerequisite for a job interview. If they seem to misunderstand the role, this could cause concern because their expectations will be out of line with the realities of the job.

In either of these scenarios, it’s worth further discussion to understand the candidate’s motivations and confirm whether they have a genuine interest in the job. 

6. Has trouble explaining why they applied

“Why do you want to work here?” and “What made you apply for this job?” are standard interview questions; a candidate who’s invested in the process will have no problem answering them. 

If they struggle with these queries, it’s not a great sign. They might be applying for any and every open job, which doesn’t bode well for their future productivity or longevity with the company. 

7. Speaks negatively about current or former employers

Bad-mouthing a former employer is a huge interview, no-no. If applicants break this rule, they might lack professionalism in other areas, like spreading office gossip or being indiscreet with sensitive client information. 

8. Lack of accountability for prior mistakes

Employees who feel a sense of accountability are likely to take more pride in their work and correct errors when they’re made. If an interviewee struggles with questions like “Tell me about a time you made a mistake,” it could indicate someone who can’t admit fault, which makes for a challenging coworker. 

9. Dodging questions about short stints or employment gaps

Employment gaps and shorter work durations are more common than they used to be as people switch jobs more frequently. These interview red flags alone probably don’t cause you to rule someone out, but the applicant should be able to give you a valid explanation for them. They might hide unsavory information like being fired or habitual job hopping if they can’t. 

10. Explanations that don’t support resume

If a candidate’s resume indicates a high level of proficiency in a certain skill, but they have trouble discussing it in conversation, there’s a chance they’ve exaggerated their qualifications. 

This can be one of the toughest red flags to spot, especially if you’re interviewing for a highly technical position. Panel interviews are a helpful strategy to incorporate someone with subject matter expertise into the decision-making process. 

Related: The Top Resume Red Flags to Watch Out for When Hiring

11. Being overqualified

If a candidate’s experience seems to exceed the job requirements far, they might be in a bind and looking for the first job offer they can get. This type of candidate is likely less loyal to the company and could jump ship if a better opportunity arises. 

However, there are valid reasons why a candidate who’s overqualified on paper might apply for a job, for example, if they tried out a leadership role but decided they’d rather not be responsible for an entire team. This is a good topic to address head-on with the candidate with a question like, “Your resume makes it seem like you might be overqualified. Why are you interested in this position?”

12. Being overconfident

The interview is a candidate’s chance to sell their qualifications. However, if their answers give the impression that they’re the greatest at everything they do, it might be a sign of a challenging personality to work with. Overconfident employees may have trouble seeing their shortcomings or be unreceptive to feedback. 

13. Lack of questions for the interviewer

If an interviewee is truly interested in a role, they should have at least one or two questions for you at the end of the conversation. If they don’t, it might tell you that they’re not all that interested or that they’ve decided the position isn’t for them after all. 

This interview red flag alone may be innocuous, but again, it’s worth considering together with all the other factors in their candidacy. 

14. Asks inappropriate questions

If a candidate asks how much they’ll be making, how much vacation time they’ll get, or how quickly they could get a promotion, their priorities might be out of order. Topics like these are better left for later in the hiring process, ideally when an offer is on the table. 

However, remember that first-time job applicants might not understand that certain topics are taboo during an interview. If you give interview feedback, it would be a courtesy to let them know for future reference. 

15. Makes demands

Be wary of a candidate with a list of requirements right out of the gate, like only being able to work a certain schedule (if it’s different from the job requirements) or needing specific days off in the future. 
Remember, even if a candidate displays a few of these interview red flags, it’s not necessarily grounds for removing them from the running. However, it is a signal for you to probe further and do your due diligence to ensure the candidate is forthcoming, reliable, and qualified.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Interview Scoring Sheets (With Template)

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Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn