When should alarm bells start ringing?

Ruth Skelton 26.10.2015

As job openings are on the rise and more businesses are expanding and hiring, the economy is looking stronger. As recruiters, we always discuss what we should look for in a perfect candidate, and we always give tips to our candidates to help them present themselves in the best way possible.

What we don’t speak much about though, is which warning signs to look out for when hiring a prospective employee. What should set those alarm bells ringing? 

Inappropriately dressed
If candidates can’t manage to dress properly for an interview, and more importantly they don’t bother to dress properly, they most probably aren’t too fussed about the role itself and the opportunity that you’re offering. 

Look out for your candidate from the moment they enter your workplace. Ask your colleagues to keep watch too and to tell you how they’ve acted since entry. When they’re coming in, and not in your spotlight just yet, they should be on their best behaviour… You want them to be professional and have the ability to liaise with all members of staff professionally. Polite and mature are traits you SHOULD look for, but anything other than this should start those alarm bells sounding.

Lack of punctuality
If they’ve arrived even a minute late, you should be a little concerned. (Of course on some occasions there could well be an unavoidable reason), however late normally equates to someone with poor organisation skills, a lack of care in researching the journey ahead, and a lack of responsibility. Someone 5 to 10 minutes early however could demonstrate the opposite. 

No research 
A lack of research and understanding about the job description, company, you, or even their own CV should sound huge alarm bells. They’ve just one chance to stand out, one chance to prove what they know, and talk about themselves, so if they fall short at this obvious hurdle, it should almost be a deciding factor. 

No weaknesses
If your candidate fails to demonstrate any weaknesses, it can get you wondering what it is that is so important to hide.

A poor listener
A ‘fidgeter’, or someone who interrupts your sentences, shows they’re not paying full attention to you. Alarm bells should ring if they appear bored, or if you’re asked to repeat yourself more than once! 

Let’s not forget that this is the one chance a candidate has to show their skills off, however there is a very fine line between demonstrating strengths and being purely arrogant. Self-confidence and pride in the work they’ve done is attractive, but showing off is a huge ‘no-no’. 

When speaking about ex-employers, you really should look for tact in the candidate’s answer.  If they’re not respectful in their answer, even if they had the worst experience, it should worry you.  It shows a lack of loyalty and discretion, which aren’t traits you want to bring into your team or business! 

Empty answers 
When asking any question, even the simple ‘tell me what your strengths are’, you require an answer which is followed up with an unprompted example.  If your candidate just gives ‘empty’ answers time and time again, there would be no reason to suggest that they are valid or genuine.  If you candidate can’t answer WHY they’re a strong team player, WHY they have great attention to detail or WHY they work well under pressure, you can assume perhaps that they aren’t what you want. 

The wrong questions
This is the candidate’s chance to ask everything they want to about the company and the role. At times, this question period is the deciding factor for the candidate in their big next move.  Therefore, asking inappropriate questions only demonstrates their real motivators. If money, hours, sick pay or holiday is queried, you can assume what it is they really care about, and more importantly, what they don’t care about. 

If you have any doubts about a candidate at this stage, these doubts are likely to become larger over time. When employing somebody new, you should trust your gut feeling otherwise these doubts could resurface in the future. 

Ruth Skelton's picture
Senior Manager | Accounting & Finance and Office Support Recruitment