Interviewing a potential new employee? It can be an exciting, nerve-racking process. You’re hoping to find the right person to fill your role, and you probably have multiple people to choose from. You’re simultaneously trying to find top talent and impress them while trying to be authentic and get a true vision of who someone is. Plus, the person sitting across from you (or on the other end of your Zoom call) is probably nervous, too!
With all that emotion flying around, it can be hard to remember what you’re looking for. In addition to getting answers to thoughtful questions, you should also be on the lookout for red flags. These are things that will identify when a person won’t be a good fit for your company culture. When you get swept up in a person’s terrific résumé or great conversational skills, you may forget to be on the lookout for issues or trouble points. But it’s an essential part of the process.
Of course, job applicants are human, just like you—the people you’re speaking to won’t be perfect. Traffic jams, family emergencies, or nerves may knock them off their interview game, but that doesn’t mean you need to completely rule them out. That being said, you’re likely looking for someone who can do a job well under pressure, and the interview process is a great trial run in that regard. Although red flags are going to be specific to every individual business, there are a few responses you can look for no matter your industry or niche.
Here are five red flags to keep an eye out for while speaking to a potential new employee.
Frequent Complaining About Past Job or Coworkers
Obviously, if people were 100% thrilled with their current or past jobs, they wouldn’t be sitting across the table from you. But if someone is ready and willing to completely throw a past employer under the bus, it’s a bad sign. It feels aggressive, it lacks understanding that employment problems usually involve both parties, and it simply leaves a bad taste in an employer’s mouth. You want a team player, not someone who will be bitter at the first sign of trouble. Otherwise, you’re going to find yourself having to solve a lot of workplace drama when you could instead be focused on serving your customers.
Inability to Provide Concrete Examples
If someone says he or she is a great team player, that person should be able to describe a project he or she worked on in a team setting. If someone says he or she has experience in Microsoft® Excel, the person should be able to describe that experience. If someone says he or she is great at closing sales, the person should be able to talk about a recent large sale he or she secured for his or her company. Big claims without concrete examples are meaningless, and they can make you feel as if the person is exaggerating or misconstruing the facts. Ask for specifics, and be wary if they can’t be provided. Although “résumé padding” is a common practice, you want to get to the bottom of who someone is—and if that leads you to believe the person is not being totally truthful, run the other direction.
Lack of Interpersonal Skills
No matter how much or how little this employee will interact with the other employees of your company, having someone with interpersonal skills is a must. You don’t need to be on the lookout for Ms. Congeniality, but someone who can make eye contact and hold a conversation is vital. Having an employee who’s unable to handle conflict or get to the root of a problem will be an issue, no matter what the role you’re filling is. If someone is too rambling, doesn’t shake your hand, or seems incredibly awkward, it’s something to keep in mind. (Note: This isn’t a hard-and-fast, be-all and end-all rule. People with social awkwardness still need employment! But it’s important to consider which role they’re applying for and whether it will be worth it for your business in the long run.)
If someone’s asking you to repeat yourself over and over, gives answers that don’t relate to the specific question asked, or is struggling to pay attention, that’s a major red flag. Listening is a crucial component of almost any job. You’re going to need someone who’s able to take in information efficiently. Bringing a person on board who can’t even seem to listen for one job interview? That’s a red flag that’s going to have serious effects down the road. Again, nobody’s perfect—someone asking you to repeat yourself certainly isn’t a reason to withhold an offer of employment. But overall, do you get the impression that the person just isn’t listening? If so, that’s a bad sign that needs attention.
Refusal to Provide a Reference
Having to provide references can put job applicants in a difficult spot. They may not want their current employer to know they’re looking for new jobs, or they may have left previous positions on less-than-desirable terms. But hiring someone without a third-party opinion is incredibly risky. References are a vital part of the process—being able to get a fuller picture of job applicants will help you understand them much better than simply talking to them one-on-one. If candidates are unable to provide even one solid reference, that’s a major red flag. Why don’t they have anyone in their life who they feel could vouch for them? If applicants are unable or unwilling to provide a reference, try and have a conversation with them about why. Perhaps they have a valid reason you can work around. Do they have a nonprofessional reference who could serve as a personal reference? If they truly can’t give you one other person to talk to, it’s a sign they aren’t good at managing the relationships in their life or their career. Those probably aren’t the types of people who are going to work out in the long run.