5 Job Interview Red Flags that Send Candidates Running in the Other Direction

May 29, 2023

Job interviews are a two way street. When you interview a candidate, they’re also interviewing you. Here are some of the biggest red flags that give candidates pause.

The internet is full of advice for job candidates. Do a quick Google search and you’ll see tons of guides for how to prepare a resume, get it seen by the right people, and nail a job interview, while avoiding common red flags.

This information is important for candidates, of course, but in today’s hiring environment, candidates hold a lot of leverage. Despite economic uncertainty, the job market remains strong, and candidates are in high demand. This is especially true in our core recruitment verticals of supply chain management and procurement. As a recent Financial Times article described, businesses are finding a shortage of high-skilled supply chain managers. More and more candidates are pulling out of the process at the interview stage, or even at the offer stage. So it’s worth flipping the usual advice around and asking:

What are the biggest red flags that turn candidates off during a job interview?

The recruitment process is a two way street. When you interview a candidate, they’re also interviewing you. And certain things that come up in an interview process can be a major turn off to candidates.

As a recruitment agency specialized in supply chain and procurement, we sit at the fulcrum of this process. We’re in the day-to-day hiring trenches, so we hear from both sides. Often, as the intermediary, it’s a very frank view. Candidates often give us feedback about the interview process that they wouldn’t necessarily share with a hiring manager.

Here are some of the biggest red flags:

1. Describing the Company as a Family

This one is often well-intentioned, but often sends the wrong message. When you describe your company as a family, you might mean that your organization is a close-knit team that goes above and beyond to help each-other out. It might even literally be a family business, or have a history as such. But when candidates hear this, many picture dysfunction, and a lack of boundaries and set processes.

There are better ways to explain a positive working culture. Some great company cultures can feel familial, but they should be above all professional. Instead of describing the company as a family, you should come armed with examples of how your organization supports your employees, both at work and outside of it.

2. Questions About a Candidate’s Personal Life

A job interview—no matter who’s doing it, or what stage of the process—should be focused on the candidate’s professional background, goals, and what they can bring to the organization. That’s it. A few questions outside of these topics can help establish a rapport. The interviewer and candidate are both human beings after all. But many questions about a candidate’s personal life can leave the candidate wondering if they’re being assessed for more than their professional qualifications. They also verge into being discriminatory under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

3. A Disengaged Interviewer

Hiring managers sometimes tell us that candidates seem disengaged or distracted during an interview, but a surprising number of candidates talk about hiring managers—i.e. the ones doing the interviewing—who seem disengaged. This is even more rampant in an environment where video interviews are the norm. Sometimes hiring managers repeatedly check their email, look at their phone, or otherwise ignore the candidate while they’re speaking. Believe it or not, we’ve even heard of a hiring manager who fell asleep during a panel interview. (That’s one for the ages).

A candidate should wow a hiring manager during an interview, and be engaging enough that the interviewer sits up and listens more closely. But that expectation only goes so far. An interviewer who’s constantly on their phone isn’t affording a candidate the basic courtesy of their presence. Not only can that hurt a candidate’s confidence, and trip up a candidate who might otherwise be great, it can send the message that they won’t be valued in the role.

4. A Disorganized Interview Process

No hiring manager would be thrilled with a candidate who shows up late, repeatedly asks to reschedule interviews, or fails to respond to follow up questions after an interview. This goes the other way as well. Too often, a candidate will put considerable work into prepping for an interview only for the client to reschedule at the last moment, change who’s conducting the interview, or go dark for weeks after the interview is finished.

This creates a bad candidate experience, but it also sends the message that your company is disorganized. If that’s how an organization treats a candidate they’re hoping to bring in the door, how does that reflect on how it treats employees once they’re hired? Or how they try to get things done?

5. Asking for Salary Expectations Up Front

Salary negotiations are a delicate part of any interview process. As a recruitment firm, one of the benefits we provide is full transparency about a candidates’ salary goals and expectations before they get to the interview stage. You shouldn’t need to wait until the end of the process to see if salaries align. We also know how frustrating it can be to have a stellar interview and feel like a candidate is a perfect fit, only to hear that their salary expectations are wildly out of budget.

That being said, many candidates see it as a red flag when an interviewer starts an interview by asking for their salary expectations. We advise candidates not to ask about salary too early in an interview, and we give the same advice to clients. When hiring managers do it, they might think they’re just making sure they’re not wasting anyone’s time, but it sends the message that they’re looking to pay as little as possible, or are just looking for someone to fill a seat. Our advice? Money talks, but don’t talk about money until you’ve established that there’s mutual value to be gained.

Many of these red flags are well-intentioned on the part of the hiring manager. They may not even realize how they’re coming across! But in some cases, these red flags are symptoms of a deeper organizational malaise. It’s more effective in the long run to fix the cultural issues that lead interviewers to make these red flags. But we want to hear your experience! Are there any red flags that you’ve encountered on either side of the table that have sent you running? Let us know in the comments!


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