4 Red Flags You Can’t Ignore During Recruitment

As the economy continues to fluctuate and the workforce’s demands shift and change, the problem many companies are facing—too many open positions but not enough employees—continues. However, that doesn’t mean you should lower your recruiting standards. Often, no person for the job is better than the wrong person for the job, and while you may be tempted to cut corners in order to fill an open position, the fact is that doing so will just cause you trouble in the long run. Not only is hiring the wrong person something that will hurt company culture, but it’s also expensive. All of the hours and time poured into training, only to have to let someone go? That can quickly turn into a nightmare scenario.


When your manager is pushing you to get your open positions filled and you know your coworkers are waiting on someone to pick up the slack, you might make some exceptions and take some shortcuts in the recruitment process. That can be OK from time to time, but there are some red flags that should be paid attention to every single time.

Here are four red flags you can’t ignore during recruitment, even when you’re desperate to fill a position. They indicate an applicant isn’t going to be the right fit for your business—and that’s a dead giveaway that you’re walking down the wrong path.

Lack of Ownership of Mistakes

First and foremost, if an applicant is complaining nonstop about mistakes made in his or her previous company but doesn’t mention what he or she could have done better, that’s a no-no. Having someone on staff who doesn’t take ownership of his or her mistakes, admit where he or she went wrong, and resolve to do better is incredibly toxic. No matter your industry and no matter the position, humility is key to a great job performance and a positive work culture. If an applicant has no suggestions for how he or she could have done better in a previous job or seems to be quick to blame everyone else, run the other way. Obviously, applicants try to put their best foot forward, so they don’t need to completely flog themselves. But a sense of humility is key, and without one, you’re in trouble.

Note: Applicants like this will probably have long, convoluted work histories. Nobody wants to work with someone who can’t take ownership of errors, and that will show on his or her résumé. Look out for this red flag when asking about previous positions and roles.

Not Having Any Questions

If you’re like every other interviewer on the planet, you end each interview by asking if an applicant has any further questions about the role he or she is interviewing for. This seems like a standard step, but that doesn’t make it an unimportant one. In fact, what type of question an applicant asks can be vital to understanding why he or she is applying for a job with your business and what he or she is looking to get out of it. There’s nothing wrong with applicants inquiring about things like pay and benefits—in fact, they shouldn’t have to because you as the recruiter should have already given them that information by this point. But you’re also looking for a question that’s a bit “meatier”—i.e., searching for more details about workplace culture or specific responsibilities. A good interview is a conversation, not just you asking questions and the candidate responding.

The absolute worst answer? No questions at all. The reason this is such a red flag is that it demonstrates a lack of passion. If the applicant truly doesn’t have any further questions, how interested is he or she really in your business and what you do? How much is the person thinking about it? And how concerned is the applicant about whether it’s going to be a good fit? Even a shallow or simple question is better than no question at all.

Bad-Mouthing Previous Employers

If job applicants immediately start talking about how terrible their previous employers were, that’s a sign that they aren’t people you want to work with. Clearly, something wasn’t working out or the applicants wouldn’t be interviewing for new jobs. It isn’t as if their past employers need to be perfect. But sitting and complaining openly about their previous employers in a job interview puts you as the interviewer in an uncomfortable position, and job applicants should respect that. Furthermore, it can make them come off as people who complain about issues without actually working to solve them.

Try and figure out why they’re leaving their job, and see how they respond when asked about their previous employer. Are they kind, diplomatic, and humble? Or are they chomping at the bit for a good vent session with anyone who will listen? Those are two very different responses that will tell you very different things about a person’s character and how well he or she would fit in at your company.

A ‘Too-Perfect’ Application

This one may surprise you! After all, aren’t we looking for the “perfect” candidate? But everyone knows that perfection doesn’t exist. If someone seems to be an expert in literally every single software you’ve asked about, claims that everything your company does is something he or she is passionate about, and has a résumé that lines up perfectly with the job description, it may be just like the old saying “If something’s too good to be true, it probably is.” You don’t need to pinpoint every single flaw, but if you can’t find a single aspect of an applicant that is less than perfect, the chances the person is being honest with you are slim.

Take some time to really parse out who an applicant is beyond the job description, and make sure the person isn’t just stretching the truth in order to impress you. Talented recruiters know the importance of listening to their gut. If something feels “off” about a “perfect” candidate, that should be a major red flag.

Claire Swinarski is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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