In all my years of experience in the career services field, I have coached thousands of job seekers through their searches and career transitions. I have also worked as an executive recruiter, filling positions for corporate clients.
I have seen the hiring process from the perspectives of both parties, and on both sides I have observed many “red flags” or warning signs during the hiring process. These are like “red lights” saying “STOP,” or at least “yellow lights” indicating that it would be wise to slow-down.
When a job opening is about to be filled, sometimes these “red flags” emerge through a detailed analysis of “pros and cons.” Other times, “red flags” are experienced as a “gut reaction” or strong intuition. In either case, it is important to pay close attention to these warning signs because they usually turn-out to be accurate for candidates as well as employers.
No person or organization has a perfect employment history, and there are always professional gaps or deficiencies. So, even if you relate to some of the “red flags” below, you can still go on to have success and satisfaction at work. Of course, the items listed below can also teach you “what not to do,” to improve your job search results.
Here are some “red flags” that may turn-off employers during the hiring process:
- Track-record of “job-hopping”
- Out of work a long time
- Changing careers too many times
- Poorly-written resume (and other career documents), with typos, bad grammar, etc.
- Several self-employment stints on the resume (between “real jobs”)
- Long gaps in the work history
- No career progression or promotions (stuck at same level “forever”)
- No professional development after leaving high school or college (no certifications, further degrees, workshops/seminars, training programs, etc.)
- Same job or employer for entire career (this used to be seen as a “plus;” now it’s a problem)
- Candidate doesn’t take notes during the interview
- Candidate doesn’t ask any questions during the interview
- Candidate doesn’t send thank-you notes (or other follow-ups) after the interview
- Candidate doesn’t follow-up on his/her commitments (i.e., sending the interviewer a document that was promised, etc.)
- Candidate is late for the interview (in person or via telephone)
- Candidate demonstrates unusual behavior or emotion during the interview
- Candidate shows-up at the interview wearing inappropriate attire
- Candidate demonstrates that s/he hasn’t done any research on the job / company / industry/interviewer (unprepared for the interview)
- Candidate’s appearance or personal style clearly indicates that s/he is not a good “cultural fit” for the organization
- Candidate lies (either on the resume or during the interview)
- None of the candidate’s professional references will speak to the employer
- Candidate doesn’t show serious / strong interest in the position
- Candidate can’t provide any proven, tangible, measurable results of his/her work successes
- Candidate doesn’t seem able to grasp the employer’s problems, needs and challenges
- Candidate negotiates too hard/asks for unreasonable compensation (or other “conditions for employment” at the company)
- Candidate acts like it’s “all about” him/her (instead of making it “all about” the employer)
- Candidate seems over-eager or desperate (i.e., shows-up for the interview two hours early)
- AFTER the job is filled, the employee doesn’t act responsible or engaged in the role.
- AFTER the job is filled, the employee doesn’t demonstrate the skill and talent that were represented at the interview, and s/he generally underperforms.
- AFTER the job is filled, the employee behaves in ways that clearly indicate a bad cultural fit.
Here are some “red flags” that may turn-off candidates during the hiring process:
- Employer uses salary as the main “screening mechanism” – they want to talk money right at the outset and they won’t go any farther into the interview until the candidate reveals his/her salary history / salary needs.
- Employer is generally unresponsive and unprofessional, not treating the candidate with appropriate respect.
- Employer has a philosophy of hiring the lowest-priced candidate.
- Employer refuses to talk with the candidate or provide any information about the position until s/he fills-out the online application form.
- Employer drags-out the screening and interviewing process “forever,” with lots of “starts-and-stops” and long delays.
- Employer brings the candidate back for too many interviews and can’t seem to make a decision. Or the hiring decision requires far too many people to approve it before the offer is actually made.
- Employer sends “mixed messages” or gives confusing feedback and input to the candidate. Different interviewers at the company provide different answers about the company and the job. (Nobody is “on the same page”)
- Employer won’t allow the candidate to speak with other employees at the company (at all levels).
- Employer isn’t clear about who the candidate’s boss will be, or they indicate that the candidate will be reporting to several different supervisors.
- Candidate discovers negative or damaging information online or in the news about the company, its finances, its senior leaders, etc.
- Candidate discovers that current employees at the company seem secretive or avoidant about discussing certain topics.
- Employer won’t negotiate at all on compensation or other factors in the final interviews; and generally shows no flexibility.
- Employer has an attitude of, “Hey, you’d be lucky just to get this job; we have plenty of other applicants.”
- Employer seems desperate to fill the job – and seems to hire the candidate TOO fast!
- Interviewer acts disinterested and distracted during the interview.
- When at the employer’s office (before, during and after the interview), the candidate observes things about the company, the people and the culture that cause real concern.
- It becomes clear that the position has no potential for growth, promotion or career advancement.
- Interviewer acts all-powerful and intimidating – seeing themselves as big / important while treating the candidate as small / unimportant.
- AFTER the candidate is hired, the company doesn’t follow-through on information, materials, etc. that were promised as part of the on-boarding process.
- AFTER the candidate is hired, the company has no solid / structured orientation program. They hardly even acknowledge that the candidate has arrived there on his/her first day.
- AFTER the candidate is hired, the company doesn’t seem to have any established systems in place. It seems haphazard and amateurish, and the candidate needs to “make-up systems from scratch.”
Of course, no job can be a perfect fit for either the candidate or the employer. There will be “red flags” in almost every job search and hiring process. The goal is to find the opportunity with the least possible number of “red flags.”
When facing unemployment, however, it is difficult for many candidates to turn-down a job offer even in the face of obvious “red flags.” Similarly, it is difficult for employers to leave a critical position open when faced with a mandate to hire, even if they sense “red flags” about a particular candidate.
As obvious as it may seem, the important lesson to be learned from this discussion is that candidates and employers must be far more conscious and deliberate in accepting or offering jobs. They need to identify in advance the specific criteria that would constitute “a great fit” and the potential “red flags” that would warn them away. All parties need to do in-depth research, conduct more due diligence and, in the end, “trust their gut” to make the best employment decisions.
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