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14 Job interview red flags to look out for

Have you hired someone and found out later they were actually a terrible fit for the company? It's happened to the best of us and that's why I've written this list to help you identify 14 red flags to look for when you recruit next.
Published 24 Jun 2022
Updated 4 Nov 2022
8 min read
14 interview red flags to look out for-1

Have you hired the ideal candidate and found out later they were actually a terrible fit for the company? It’s a nightmare, you’ve spent hours of precious resources trying to locate who you THINK will be a great addition, and you’re left with a sour taste in your mouth after the interview process and additional recruitment costs to your company.

Unfortunately, if you’re in the people management space, it’s going to happen at some point. But, you can mitigate the chance of it happening if you know what to look for.

I’d like to help you avoid some of the mishires I’ve made, which is why I’ve written this list to help you identify 14 red flags for hiring managers to look for in the interview process.

I’ll go through two common hiring perspectives. The first, from the perspective of a phone interview and then the second, a face-to-face interview (this could also include video job interviews).

Quick note: It’s important to understand that not all hires will be ‘neuro-typical’. Some candidates might struggle with social anxiety or other conditions that might affect the way they present in interview scenarios. I ask that you please view this article as loose guidelines and to make your own fair assessment or judgement based on each individual’s merit.

Phone job interview red flags

Person on phone conducting a phone job interview

1. The candidate doesn’t know what the company does

Seems pretty obvious, but if you call a candidate for the first interview and they don’t know what your company actually does, it’s not a great sign.

Beyond what’s listed in the job description, they should be able to tell you what the company does and relate to the business’s purpose/mission statement.

For example, if I call a candidate and they don’t know how to communicate how we make work easier and more rewarding for everyone, I won’t be too impressed!

Read more: What to include in a job advertisement

2. Struggles to give examples of past work

A job candidate must be able to provide examples of past work from their last job and its outcomes of it. Simply stating, “I worked on project X” won’t mean much unless they can explain the direct results from the project.

Some people may require some coaxing, but it’s not a great sign if they still fail to give examples and outcomes of past work.

Read more: Transferable skills in recruitment

3. Doesn’t ask questions at the end

Okay, let’s imagine we’re on a date (forward, I know). If you asked all the questions and I didn’t ask you any back, it wouldn’t feel great, would it?

It’s the same thing in the interview process. If you ask your candidate a bunch of questions and they don’t ask any back, your two-way communication is off to a rocky start. They should be curious and ask questions about the business, their role, potential team etc.

Learn how to get quality candidates with an employee referral program

4. They contradict themselves

No one likes a liar. If your interviewee can’t seem to get their story straight, you have a problem. Look out for contradictory statements, if they say something one way and then change it later, question them.

It could be a harmless mistake, but in my experience, it’s better to err on the side of caution with this red flag.

Read more: Avoiding unconscious bias when hiring

5. CV doesn’t match up with what they’re saying

Following on from the point above, if you find their CV doesn’t match what they’re saying about their previous role, delve deeper. Did they send through the wrong resume, or are they pushing the truth?

Ignore this red flag to your own detriment. Disorganised or dishonest, both aren’t great options.

Read more: Conducting compliant reference checks

6. They sound disinterested

You: “Why do you want to work for us?”

Them: In monotone voice “It looked like a great opportunity”

Wow, what an amazing response, they seem really keen… not. If your candidate lacks enthusiasm and interest in what you have to say or the role, it might be time to move on.

7. Fails to understand/answer questions

This one isn’t the easiest to pick up on, especially if there are language/cultural barriers. If you ask a question and the interviewee seems to dodge, avoid or circle around without direct answers, it’s a red flag.

Try as you will to rephrase, get to the point and press, some candidates have some skeletons they simply won’t share. If they’ve passed the initial phone interview, it’s probably time to bring them in for a face-to-face.

To clarify, you might spot some in person even if there are no red flags over the phone.

Face-to-face job interview red flags

two women sitting behind the table with a laptop interviewing the third woman

8. Being late to job interviews

Sometimes a candidate will be late for an interview, things happen. However, your candidate should let you know if they’re going to be late. A simple heads up is better than nothing. My usual grace period is about 5 minutes.

If the candidate shows up later than this without an explanation or heads up, I’m not going to be happy. It shows that they value their time more than others and that they might be a tad disrespectful.

Interview no-show? Find out why candidates are ghosting employers

9. Lack of eye contact

Are they some shifty eyes, or is it in your head? You come face to face with your candidate and they don’t look you in the eyes or maintain eye contact.

What’s going on? It’s an important question to ask because eye contact is vital in making connections with people and building trust.

It’s also a natural instinct, so if someone is avoiding looking into your lovely eyes, there might be more going on. Don’t be quick to dismiss them though, it could be social anxiety or lack of confidence.

I’d recommend going with your gut on this one.

10. Unprofessional appearance

Unless you’re Lady from Lady and the Tramp, a scruffy appearance ain’t going to charm you. If a candidate rocks up with an unkempt appearance and body odour, it’s generally not a great sign.

If they don’t care about the image they project, what kind of representation will they be for your brand? On the flip side, don’t judge a candidate who has dressed too formally for your workplace and culture.

As a hiring manager, if you are more casual, let your job candidate know in advance, so they have the right expectations when they come in. You will find though, that many candidates feel more comfortable dressing a little more formal for an interview.

11. Rambling

Ah, rambling, either pure passion or absolute chaos. I’m sure if you’ve ever interviewed someone, you’ve encountered the rambling type. Now, I’m not talking about the endearing rambler who is absolutely passionate and full of energy and great ideas.

No dear reader, I’m talking about the rambler who forms sentences so convoluted that the likes of JRR Tolkien and Tolstoy would be shamed.

Rambling is a sign the person interviewing

1.) don’t know what they’re talking about and;

2.) logic isn’t a strong suit for them.

Pro tip: If you’re the one being interviewed and know you’re a rambler, but self aware – keep your responses short and ask the interviewer if they would like more detail when you have answered their question (succinctly!).

12. Throwing a former or current employer under the bus

No one likes a negative Nancy. If your interviewee starts saying negative things about a former or current employer, this is a big red flag for us. It is very indicative that this person may one day say bad things about you.

Moreover, they could be blaming a lack of their own performance or achievement in a role on their past or current employer. It shows that they are not taking ownership of why they are looking for a role or are unhappy in their current role.

However, don’t mistake honesty as someone being negative. What do I mean here?

For example, if a candidate is upfront about the company’s culture not being a fit for them, it shows they are self aware. Make sure you probe and ask what it is that they are looking for to ensure you will be a good fit for them.

A great question here is to ask your candidate to describe the best work environment that have succeeded in and why. This gives them the opportunity to describe a past place where they were successful and why.

You can then compare your work environment to assess for fit and future success.

Read more: Interview questions to screen bad hires

13. Lack of accountability

This also aligns to lack of self awareness. Accountability is so important in the workplace. Let’s say you ask the candidate questions about a failed project or areas of development and they can’t answer this, they are not self aware enough or vulnerable enough to be upfront with you.

We all have areas we can improve on. Sometimes it’s hard to lay our souls bare to people we’ve just met, allow your candidate time and space to answer the harder questions.

However, if they still show a real lack of ownership over past mistakes, their role in team failures, or an inability to answer these questions at all, it’s a red flag.

14. Guarded body language

This one is a bit of a gut instinct one, if someone’s body language comes across cold or disinterested, more could be at play.

Body language is such an important thing to watch when you are interviewing, this is because body language makes up 55% of communication. As Prof. Mehrabian says, “if words and body language disagree, one tends to believe the body language.”

Make sure you take on the vital role of building rapport at the beginning of meeting your candidate and establishing the setting for the interview. This will make them more relaxed and comfortable.

Be aware of any change or shift in body language. This is a red flag as it may indicate they are not telling you the truth. An example here may be a sudden diversion of eye contact.

Read more: Creating a candidate experience checklist

Traits to look for in job candidates in the hiring process

We’ve just gone through a bunch of red flags found in the hiring process, which can be a bit disheartening. What should you be looking for?

At Employment Hero, we look for humble, hungry and smart people. It is a tried and true way to find ideal team players. What do these traits mean in action?

Humble being that they are self-aware with little ego, they know their strengths and their weaknesses. Hungry meaning they have a strong desire to see results from their work. Finally, not book smart, but smart in how they approach people and problems.

Maybe your company looks for other things, and that’s fine too!

My final piece of advice, know your red flags, but know your green flags too.

If you want to know more about how to attract the right sorts of people to your business, here’s our own research into what Australian employees want.

Download our step-by-step recruiting guide that includes the essentials of the recruitment process, such as:

*Employment Hero understands that individuals who are neurodiverse may find it difficult to perform in typical interview scenarios. We ask that you please view this article as loose guidelines and to make your own fair assessment or judgement based on each individual’s merit. As an equal opportunity employer, we believe everyone should have equal access to employment without fear of discrimination or harassment.

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Hiring interview checklist

Kate Jolly
Talent Acquisition Manager - Employment Hero
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