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6 warning signs you have a bad job candidate

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by on
in The Savvy Office Manager

Weeding through job candidates is never easy. Not only are you trying to match the person’s skills and experience to the job, you’re also looking for other clues that could give you an indication of what you might be dealing with down the road.

Here are six red flags that scream “Don’t hire!”

1. Candidate comes in empty-handed. A bulging briefcase is not required here, but any job candidate serious about working for your organization will at least bring a pen; a portfolio containing a legal pad and some extra résumés would be better. Beware of the job-seeker who comes in with his hands in his pockets. Such an ill-equipped person will either likely take his job half-heartedly or really doesn’t care if he gets it in the first place.

2. Candidate complains about anything. Listen for the subtle gripes: “Where do you people park around here?” “The traffic getting here was horrible.” “What, no Starbucks in town?” While petty bellyaching on the surface doesn’t seem like much, don’t mistake it for conversation starters. You probably have a person that will perpetually find fault with his or her job and everything else in the workplace. Good job candidates avoid negativity during the interview.

3. Candidate asks for directions to your workplace. Caution: This candidate is not a problem-solver. Hire him or her and you may end up having to give detailed instructions on all assigned tasks. This is not a self-starter. Besides, there’s just too much technology out there for anyone not to be able to map a route to your door.

4. Candidate uses vulgarity. If anyone feels he or she can drop the “F” bomb or other crusty words with impunity during a job interview, imagine what would come rolling off their tongues in front of co-workers, customers or clients. This candidate has scant sense of decorum. Steer clear.

5. Candidate checks his smartphone during interview. You see it all over the place. People can’t drive, stand in a line, or walk down the street without running their thumbs all over their phones. Good candidates will resist checking their email on their phones during the interview. It shows respect for you, the company and the job sought. Not that all your other employees don’t poke away at their phones on company time, but such behavior during this initial crucial meeting tells you that there’s something more important to this person than getting the job.

6. Candidate asks about the interview: “How long do you think this will take?” Wow! Your best answer: “We’re done now.”

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve June 5, 2014 at 3:41 am

Comment to Dan: I’m a hiring manager with years of hiring experience. I’m under 40 and quite tech savvy, but still like a candidate who carries extra copies of their resume. I also agree with 90% or more of what Carl had to say. You simply wouldn’t get hired onto my team if you made too many of these mistakes, regardless of the reason(s) why.


Michael June 4, 2014 at 3:01 pm

I can sum this article up in two words, “common sense. “


Marta June 4, 2014 at 10:05 am

As an HR person, I have to agree with Mr. Butera on most of these. If you can’t make sure you’re on time (I want people who plan ahead and build in variables when it’s important) and can’t shut your phone off entirely for 20 minutes, I just have too many other applicants these days who display they want the job more.


Dan June 3, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Wow Carl, you make generalizations! And they are not smart either. Let me demolish them one by one:

1.Candidate comes in empty handed. Well, Carl Butera, it may be perfectly justified to do so, if you do not expect to have to take notes. Pack of resumes? Which world are you living in? Today, once the Interviewer(s) have received an electronic copy of your resume you do NOT have to bring paper copies – every office has a printer.

2. Candidate complains about anything. Surely you can understand a traffic tie up as an explanation for a tardy arrival, or is that already cause for rejection? Nonsense. True, you prefer a candidate that is positive, but judging a personality by an awkward stress-filled moment, is absurd. Also, the tone of the comment should not be ignored: Did the candidate smile while making the (derogatory) comment (about Starbucks?)

3. Candidate asks for directions. Well, either you are in the stone age of paper resumes, or you are in the 21st century of GPS and Google. Can’t be in both. While driving, if one is lost, and does not have a GPS in the car or is not otherwise capable of locating your rat hole (have seen those) it is smart to ask you for directions, It is the resourceful thing to do, and you want resourceful people, don’t you? Actually, if you are a good interviewer you should have offered the candidate directions when setting up the interview. Just basic human courtesy.

4. Vulgarity. That is the only one I agree with, but it does not require an article/blogpost for that.

5. Candidate checks his cellphone during the interview. If it is to check email or Facebook, obviously that is bad manners. But the candidate may be checking who is calling or texting, maybe it is an emergency with his/her spouse or little children, and that, in my mind just shows that the person is responsible, especially if it is accompanied with the “excuse me, want to check it is not an emergency.”

6. Candidate asks about the interview how long does the interviewer think it will take. Silly, of course the candidate should know: Maybe the candidate has another appointment following this one and need to ensure to call the other party to let them know s/he will be delayed; or maybe to ensure that there is enough money in the parking meter. I have seen interviews scheduled with the hiring manager for 1/2 hour and then the candidate was kept being interviewed the whole day. Again, it is the interviewer’s responsibility to a-priori set the schedule and stick to it unless the candidate offers to remain to meet others in the office.

Bad advice all around.


Lisa August 14, 2014 at 12:04 pm


How’s this working for you?


Colleen Anna June 3, 2014 at 3:10 pm

I actually had someone take a phone call during the interview! He spoke for about 3 or 4 minutes to the person on the other end of the call, then told them: “Hey, I gotta go, I’m in a job interview.” Needless to say, I immediately ended the job interview and sent him on his Way!


Cal Butera June 2, 2014 at 11:54 am

You’re welcome. Thank you for the kind words.


Many Hats June 2, 2014 at 10:47 am

Very insightful! One of the better articles on the subject I’ve seen this year. Thank you, Mr. Butera.


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