Red Flags Employers Watch Out for in Candidates

Verbal responses aren’t the only things recruiters pay attention to in a job interview – they look at body language, too.
Sarah Si
Sarah Si
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During a job interview with a prospective employer, it’s advised to look out for red flags, like unprofessional behaviour and ungroomed appearance on the part of the recruiter. But it also goes the other way too when the recruiter is assessing the candidate.

During the hiring process, it’s critical that the recruiter find the best employee for the company. Just like how you’ve invested time and energy to get to know the company and role you’re gunning for, your recruiter has to trawl through numerous applications and resumes, conduct interviews and see through the entire hiring process to pick out the perfect candidate.

But there’s only so much information they can get from just a few documents and a handful of interactions. And as a candidate, there’s no doubt that you’ll be on your best behaviour throughout the interview process, giving them the answers that you think they want to hear (not that that’s a bad thing!).

Due to these limitations, recruiters need to turn to other means to look beyond the straightforward parts of the hiring process (like personality tests, questions on career goals) in order to suss out potential risks and issues that may manifest in a more nuanced manner (e.g. attitude, behaviour), and find out if the applicant’s character is really aligned with their company’s culture, mission and vision.

These are some red flags recruiters keep an eagle eye out for.

Arriving late (and giving excuses)

You probably don’t like it when friends come late to scheduled hang outs and meals, and then give flimsy excuses. It’s the same for recruiters – and they’re not as forgiving! Turning up late for an interview, whether on video call or face-to-face, and then giving excuses (“Sorry for coming late, but the slow internet/traffic wasn’t my fault”), can tell a recruiter a lot.

Keep in mind that punctuality is part of the interview, and hiring managers usually write off those who come late and don’t acknowledge it – or acknowledge it in the wrong way. Firstly, it shows that you have little to no respect for others’ time. Secondly, and more importantly, if you can’t make it on time for an interview, you likely can’t be trusted to get to work on time if you land the position! However, if you call or email ahead and explain that you’re running late and why (“A family member had a fall, and I stayed behind a little longer to make sure they were okay”), there’s room to salvage the situation.

Remember: Recruiters have been in their line of work for a while, and are able to sniff out whether your reason for tardiness is genuine or not!

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Looking ungroomed and sloppy

You should be trying to make a good impression during a job interview. You almost have a foot in the door – recruiters usually shortlist six to 10 applicants for a position, so you’ve already beaten out a good number – so this isn’t the time to bomb it! Take note to trim your nails and make sure your clothes have been ironed the day before your interview.

Even if the employer’s website shows people in casual dress at work, dress well to keep your prospective employer’s impression of you good. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to overdress for your interview, complete with a blazer and tie (for men), because you can just take them off if the situation calls for it.

Remember: There’s a difference between having a bad style or a lower-end wardrobe and not even trying.

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Negative behaviour can set a recruiter against even a candidate with the most suitable resume and skill sets, so be sure to be professional from the start to the very end of the interview! This means no demanding water during your interview (but feel free to accept a cup if they ask), interrupting your recruiter when they’re talking, using slang (“yeah”, “ya know”) and poor language (“f*ck”), appearing completely disinterested, or whipping out your phone in the middle of your interview to check your messages when it rings. In fact, it’s best if you set your phone on silent mode or turn it off before your interview.

Another behavioural tic that recruiters look out for is over-confidence. Don’t get us wrong; it’s good to present yourself in a confident manner. But going in as a know-it-all who thinks you’re better than everyone else is a definite no-no!

Tip: If you’re on the hunt for your second job, recruiters don’t want to hear you badmouth your previous boss, working conditions, or low pay. Not only is it unprofessional, but it hints at a problem mentality, not a problem-solving mentality! So if you’re asked why you’re moving on from your last role, keep it vague and explain that you want to explore new opportunities. Your recruiter will appreciate your respect for your previous employer.

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Money is your main motivator

Let’s face it: Earning a salary is one of the biggest benefits of joining the workforce. It’s even good to maintain a “walk away point”! But while it’s okay to let recruiters know that you’re working towards a salary goal – it’s quite understandable; we all need to keep up with the cost of living and put food on the table – they draw the line at candidates who are in it solely for the paycheque. A big giveaway on the part of such candidates is an unwillingness to be involved in the experience, exposure and learning opportunities the company can offer.

A recruiter’s reasons for avoiding this type of candidate are pretty straightforward. For starters, because the candidates won’t be interested in getting to know how they can contribute their skills and know-how to the company, they won’t find their work fulfilling. On top of that, they’re likely to leave the moment the chance to get a better salary in another company pops up, and the recruiter’s efforts to onboard the applicant would’ve gone to waste.

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Flat-out lying

Even though it’s one of the earliest lessons we pick up in childhood, it’d be a lie to say that we’ve never lied before (pun intended). It’s also practically common knowledge among interviewers that candidates are rarely 100 per cent honest in interviews. For instance, you might lie that you can envision yourself still in the company in five years’ time, when in truth, you have plans to move on in two.

It really doesn’t pay to lie to your recruiter – job offers have been rescinded due to dishonesty on a jobseeker’s part before. And if you think your recruiter wouldn’t know, you’re wrong. Recruiters spend much of their working lives assessing people and looking at how they can fit into their company, so they’ve probably heard it all. And the moment you start fibbing during your interview, chances are they can tell. Immediately.

Remember: Lying (and embellishing the truth) on your resume and in your job interview is usually a deal-breaker for recruiters.

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You can't describe a mistake you made, and how you learnt from it

The question “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in the past, whether at school, an internship, or a former job, and what did you learn from it?” is popular among interviewers. Take note that recruiters don’t ask it to make you squirm – they understand that nobody likes rehashing mistakes! Instead, they just want to see how you face challenges and mistakes made, as well as how you handle them.

But if you can’t answer the question, or admit that you wound up blaming someone else on your team when a hiccup happened, it can indicate a lack of self-awareness on your part, or an inability to keep your cool under pressure. These are traits recruiters keep track of – for all the wrong reasons!

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This may seem like a long list of red flags recruiters look out for, but it’s not all bad! Recruiters are human too, so they won’t write you off if you set off one or two smaller flags, like coming a little late and looking slightly rumpled. In fact, they may not even take them into consideration if your body language suggests that it’s just a bad day (but take note that if they figure out you weren’t having a bad day, they’ll document your red flags for discussion later among themselves). However, if you set off larger red flags like lying on your resume, it’s time to take some time off your job search to recalibrate. All the best!