Human Resources Blog - Spark Hire
8 Candidate Red Flags You Need to Watch ForC

8 Candidate Red Flags You Need to Watch For

It’s only natural for candidates to want to put their best foot forward during a job interview — even if that means stretching the truth or holding back potentially game-changing information. For hiring professionals, the mask that job interviewees tend to wear can make it tricky to really get to know the candidate and evaluate their ability to perform well in any given role.

Fortunately, there are a number of signs to tell if a candidate is a good (or bad) fit for your company and the position at hand. Here are eight candidate red flags to watch for in order to avoid a bad hire, as told by some of today’s leading hiring professionals:

1. A lack of interest.

As a small digital marketing agency with a very niche set of clients and work, it’s critical that we build a team of talented people who care about our mission and future.

If someone doesn’t care about us as their partners and feel committed to what we’re doing, they aren’t going to care about the impact they have on their coworkers or the team as a whole. On a small team, one person’s ripple effect will be felt throughout. The difference between someone who believes and someone who’s indifferent is huge.

Believers support their coworkers, value clients, take ownership for their work, take care of the office, think of ideas to strengthen the team and work, and ultimately, feel responsible for the success of the company.

Carla Sandine

Carla Sandine, President & Founder, Highway Twenty

2. No personal weakness.

When a job candidate can’t articulate an example of a personal weakness, that’s a red flag. Some candidates disingenuously refuse to acknowledge that they are weak at anything, or they take a strength and reframe it as a weakness in order to appear “perfect.”

Individuals who aren’t in touch with their own flaws tend to assign blame elsewhere when something goes wrong with a project; it’s never something they did or didn’t do. These people are poor cultural fits because a strong team environment depends on its members leveraging each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Individuals who don’t feel they are weak in any area may overwhelm or annoy their colleagues.

Lynda Spiegel

Lynda Spiegel, Founder, Rising Star Resumes

3. Showing up late.

For me, red flags fall into three categories: demeanor, honesty and judgment. My number one red flag is when the person being interviewed doesn’t show up on time.

That one action tells me that the person isn’t really serious about working for me. It shows a lack of caring about performance that is likely to carry all through this person’s tenure with the company. I would not even consider hiring someone who doesn’t show up on time for the job interview.

Barney Cohen

Barney Cohen, President, Business 360 Northwest

4. Too much self-talk.

The candidate interview behavior that worries me the most is the person who only talks about him/herself and/or never refers to their colleagues by name. If I only hear “I” stories  or never hear them mention their colleagues with warmth, then I don’t gain confidence that they can work effectively as a member of a team.

Candidates need to know that it’s okay to tell team accomplishment stories. I like it when they talk about what their team accomplished and then describe the role they played in making it happen.

Donna Svei

Donna Svei, Executive Resume & LinkedIn Profile Writer, AvidCareerist

5. Or not enough self-talk.

Too much “we” and not enough “I” can also be a bad sign. It may sound silly since teamwork is so critical these days. However, a huge red flag is when a candidate is unable to articulate the exact contributions they made to their role and employer’s success. For example, if the company grew sales 20 percent, don’t let the candidate speak in general terms. Encourage them to pinpoint the actions they took that contributed to the success.

This red flag may indicate that the employee “drafts” on the success of others. If you are getting this sense, it’s very important to make sure the candidate has the skills required for the job. Of course, we all enjoy when people share credit. However, in an interview, it’s key to understand what that employee brings to the table.

Todd Horton

Todd Horton, Founder & CEO, KangoGift

6. Long-winded explanations.

Long-winded explanations and/or any negativity in reference to leaving a position can be a serious red flag. Most professionals have simple reasons for moving on from a position, and any long-winded answer can be a sign of a well-rehearsed explanation.

The best candidates are confident about their decisions and sincere in their reasoning. Regardless of a company’s culture, every organization wants someone who can take ownership of their own actions, both positive and negative.

Aaron Straughan

Aaron Straughan, Market Development Manager, West Coast Careers

7. Any and all phone use

More than three-quarters (77 percent) of executives recently surveyed by The Creative Group said it’s likely they’d remove a candidate from consideration for a job if the person used his or her phone during the interview.

Using your phone — to text, surf the Web, take notes, answer a call or even silence it — shows a lack of preparation and respect, two important qualities for any job and company culture. Because many hiring managers assume applicants are putting their best foot forward during job interviews, any questionable behavior makes a big impact, no matter how qualified they may be for a position.

Diane Domeyer

Diane Domeyer, Executive Director, The Creative Group

8. No (or poor) references

When a candidate refuses to provide a list of references, or when they provide references that don’t call back or offer half-hearted endorsements, we see red flags.

Poor or non-existent reference checks suggest that a candidate is unable to build rapport with colleagues, succeed in their assigned role, or positively contribute to the company. Most of all, withholding references breaks trust between a candidate and a prospective employer, because it means a candidate is hiding critical information — a poor way to begin any working relationship.

Sarah Dabby

Sarah Dabby, Head of Talent, ClickTime

What are some other candidate warning signs that interviewers should keep an eye out for? Let us know in the comments below!

Josh Tolan

Josh Tolan is the Founder and CEO of Spark Hire, a video interviewing platform used by 6,000+ customers in over 100 countries.


  • This is an insightful post, and I can also say that the assumptions in it about what certain behaviors mean are very culturally narrow. It would have been more accurate to say that, “if your candidate was raised or educated in a white, professional class environment, then you are more likely to be right in coming to these conclusions.” For example, many Asian cultures do not allow the use of self-aggrandizing use “I” statements, even when the person has done most of the work or in fact led the team. To believe that “not enough self-talk” is a likely indicator that someone was “drafting” off the work of others is one of those classic cross-cultural goofs that we try to get hiring teams to eliminate in order to reduce bias.

    • So, true… Add the psychological profile to that (like a marvelous, genius introvert mathematician) who would be classified, by the self-proclaimed HR experts from the article, as someone who’s not really interested or whatever… Ridiculous stereotyping…
      HR people are playing psycho-analysts while hardly studied the subject… In most cases they don’t have a clue…

  • A lack of interest – Crazy but real, candidates go for interviews for reasons other than to get that particular job. What are some of the body language cues of disinterest? i)Your candidate says he loves working as part of a team and when he says “love” there really isn’t any at all – even worse he flashes a one sided smile where only one lip corner goes up, that is contempt or a smirk not love. ii)Your candidate looks down after your question “What attracted you to this co?” or similar question. iii)Or she leans back suddenly after you explain some of the difficulties in the job. iii) bored face or lack of expression, no smiles iv) you may want to offer your candidate a red bull if they have to hold their head up with their hand while their elbow is resting on the table.

    Since our candidates are trained to say the right things we can look to the more reliable and less conscious nonverbal cues. That said, always remember we are looking for clusters (more than 1 flag) and context (are they just nervous) and change in behavior from comfortable/easy questions to tougher ones.