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Candidate Red Flags: Getting ahead of costly hiring decisions

Identifying candidate red flags before a costly hiring mistake is made can save companies resources needed for growth. 

The first line of defense in the hiring process, where an experienced hiring manager can determine technical aptitudes and cultural compatibility, is the interview. 

We all know how nerve-wracking an interview can be. A lot is riding on this interaction; someone’s livelihood can be determined or altered based on a conversation. However, the interview is about selling yourself. It is about putting your best foot forward in a high-pressure situation and it serves as a useful tool in gauging how potential employees will handle themselves as team members.

Learning to be mindful of candidate red flags is essential to defending your business against potentially costly bad hires

Five candidate red flags

Late to the interview

While many companies have adopted remote technology to conduct interviews due to pandemic-related safety precautions, and even though these technologies offer flexibility to conduct interviews, potential candidates still find ways to be late. 

While the unexpected can occur, being late to an interview generally signals poor planning. It is a candidate red flag that can show unsatisfactory time management or a simple lack of interest. Both will be detrimental to future performance.

Questionable online presence 

Everything is connected. Whether we like it or not, what we do outside of work can and will reflect on our professional home—and this might be one of the clearest warnings to see initially. 

As an employer, your culture is your brand, and the interview process is a crucial device in getting to know if a potential employee fits. This is not to say that a candidate isn’t skilled enough or qualified, but it is OK if you feel that person is not right for your team. 

Cookie-cutter responses

Interview prep requires practice. Some of the questions we hear in most interviews can be considered pretty standard, but that doesn’t mean that the responses should be. 

Generalized or cookie-cutter answers don’t result from a lack of preparation. They result from a lack of experience—the inability to produce specific, real-world examples of how a candidate successfully or unsuccessfully responded to a challenge. 

A lack of responsibility, or the opposite

“Tell us about an instance where you …” allows the interviewer to determine a candidate’s experience, and to see how that candidate functions within a team. 

No professional on this planet is perfect. It is how we react to controversy or success that largely defines to what degree we will contribute to a team and business. Be wary of the candidate who sings her own praises and gives zero credit to colleagues, and be cautious of the candidate who deflects blame to team members during a story about when he came up short. Both are candidate red flags that illustrate individuals’ inability to see where they fit into the group dynamic. 

Zero questions for you

Candidates preparing for an interview should be finding out everything they can about the business they are interviewing with.

Not being on the inside of that company, a candidate should have questions about the substantial step they are potentially about to take—and not just questions about compensation or benefits. If a candidate is not concerned about where they fit in a new professional home, it could be a clue that they don’t intend on staying long enough to find out or that they are not taking the process as seriously as they should.

As an interviewer and as an employer, certain candidate actions are warning signs, but they should also be investigated with the same due diligence we expect of our candidates. Be cautious—but be thorough too. 


At Cameron Smith & Associates, we want you to make the most of your interview process, so we take the time to meet, assess and present only those candidates we believe will add considerable value to your organization. 

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