Caution: 6 warning signs of the wrong candidate
Hiring is a high-stakes business. Get it right and you’re more likely to benefit from a lasting and productive relationship with a valued employee.

Make a mistake and you risk wasting resources repeating the recruitment process – especially in today’s increasingly competitive talent market.

So, how can you cut through the clutter and choose someone who’s a good fit for your organisation? Spotting the warning signs of the wrong candidate early in the application and interview process is an effective strategy. It saves you time, money and – most importantly – helps you hire the best person for the job.

Application warning signs

Carefully screening applications can help you separate the best candidates from those who aren’t suitable for the role right at the beginning of the process. Here are some of the things to look for:

  1. Poor skills match
    Neglecting to display skills required in the role – like attention to detail or clear written communication – in the application itself is an immediate warning sign, explains Fionn Bowd, CEO of legal recruiter Bowd.

    “If being detail-focused and reading a lot of information, understanding what's being asked and then delivering on it are all part of the job, then a failure to do that in the application process is a red flag that they're probably going to be bad at it in the job as well,” she says.
  2. Lots of short-term roles
    Psychologists say the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. So, a long list of short-term roles on a resume is a strong sign that a candidate may not stick around for long.

    “It raises a question around reliability and consistency,” says Melissa Stanford, managing director of Add Staff, a specialist trades industry recruiter. “When somebody is quite ‘job hoppy’, that to me is an indication that it might happen again.”
  3. Sharing irrelevant information
    Storytelling is a powerful tool in job applications but including too much of the wrong kind of information sends a confusing and unprofessional message.

    “Sometimes people tell you a whole bunch of things that aren't really relevant to the application, like how their landlord has kicked them out or other things that are going on in their life,” Bowd says.

    Or they could talk about skills and experience they have that aren’t relevant to the role on offer. “This demonstrates that they are someone who has trouble separating their professional life from their personal life and presenting themself professionally,” she says. 

Interview red flags

Meeting candidates in person is an important opportunity to gauge whether they’ll be a good match with your values and culture. Here are some of the red flags to watch:

  1. Lack of passion
    Is the candidate excited about the role and the prospect of joining your organisation? Do they ask questions that show they’ve researched your business or checked out your website? Are they enthusiastic about their career? If not, they will likely be just as disengaged in their next role, Stanford says.

    “If somebody has a lack of passion for their career, current job or previous roles, it’s a definitely red flag as they’re unlikely to carry that over into your organisation. I like to see passion and a positive attitude at the outset.”
  2. Not opening up
    When a candidate is reluctant to open up, even when you ask open-ended questions, they may just be nervous or a poor conversationalist – or they might have something to hide.

    “If what's required of the role is that they be confident and comfortable with people, then their inability to open up and have a conversation is obviously a red flag,” Bowd says.

    “But it also sends a message that they’re afraid of letting something out and that they're keeping something from you. Maybe they've been fired or there's some kind of issue to do with work that they don’t want you to find out about.”
  3. Pattern of poor behaviour
    One isolated misdeed, like being late for a genuine reason or forgetting to turn their phone to silent, happens to even the best candidates. But an overall pattern of poor behaviour during an interview is a clear indication of how they might behave on the job.

    “People should be at their absolute best in an interview,” Bowd says. “So, if you're seeing anything that’s making you feel that they're not going to be a great employee, even just something about the way they engage, if it’s consistent that’s probably how they’ll continue in the role.”

What to do if you have concerns

In an increasingly competitive talent market, Stanford recommends separating clear red flags from ‘orange’ flags you may be able to work through with the candidate.

“It’s important to really take the time to understand why a candidate might be behaving in a certain way,” she says. “If something comes up as a bit of an orange flag during the application or interview, don't be afraid to investigate a little bit further.”

Being alert to any warning signs when hiring can save you time, help you run a more streamlined hiring process, and ultimately, identify the right person for the role. Especially in this tight market for talent, watch for these warning signs but be willing look into them further. That way you can establish whether a red flag is actually a misunderstanding or minor compromise – or if it really is a sign that you should move on to the next candidate.