Interview red flags you need to watch out for

During times of low unemployment, the temptation exists to ease up on choosiness in the name of filling vacancies. This approach, though, could end up creating greater problems down the line. Hiring someone who lacks the skills, professionalism, and integrity to do the job well can affect productivity, morale, and company culture. Plus, if you end up needing to terminate the person, you’ll have wasted time and resources — and be back to square one.

Unfortunately, no crystal ball exists that shows the future. Hiring managers must make educated decisions based on the information and impressions they receive during the hiring process. And perhaps no element reveals as much as the job interview. The ability to probe for details, ask follow-up questions, and see body language aids in judgment in ways resume evaluation alone does not.

What types of things should make an interviewer think twice about extending a job offer? Let’s look at some interview red flags.


Recruiters, HR professionals, and others who routinely deal with talent acquisition know that job applicants sometimes fudge, embellish, or downright lie on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles. While not particularly hard to do on paper, keeping up a web of untruths is more difficult in person.

Why? For starters, the non-verbal cues of the job seeker may signal discomfort. The person may avoid eye contact or squirm in his seat when asked for details or explanations. Even if he has practiced what to say, his mannerisms may betray him.

Interview Bootcamp D

Lying also has a tendency to necessitate more lying. Keeping track of what you say becomes more complex, and slip-ups occur. The likelihood of such errors increases when interviewed multiple times or by various people.

Consider it a big red flag if:

  • What you hear in conversation differs from what appears on the resume.

  • Asking the same question about a past employer in a subsequent interview yields an answer different from that in the first interview.

  • The career timeline becomes confusing to follow.

  • The interviewee often needs to retract statements (as in “Oh, I made a mistake” or “What I meant to say was . . .”).

  • Comparing notes with other interviewers reveals conflicting information (job seekers should be able to walk everyone on the hiring team through their work history with the same responses each time).

The possibility exists that inconsistencies could be honest mistakes. However, this scenario poses its own problems. People who do not communicate clearly or who fail to pay attention to detail may exhibit similar behavior down the line if hired. Think about whether someone who seems deficient in these vital skills is worth the risk.

And while job hopping has become much more common and acceptable nowadays, still pay attention to trajectories that seem off-course. Employment gaps as well as changes in geography, industry, or pay grade (going from a higher one to a lower one) should be logically explained as part of the person’s overall narrative. Ones that seem sudden or do not particularly make sense bear investigation.

Vague responses

In a similar vein, watch out when job candidates speak in generalities. Doing so may signal that they do not truly possess the skills you desire. Applicants should be able to articulate past responsibilities and provide examples. They should illustrate the competencies desired in your job description, not simply mimic them back.

“Candidates who can’t provide specific examples or delve into detail about their experiences might lack the skills they claim to have. Clear, concrete answers show competency and experience,” says André Disselkamp, co-founder of Insurancy.

Look out, too, for candidates who seem confused when you use technical terms common to the position for which they are applying. They may possess basic knowledge but are overshooting their job search. Needing a good deal of clarification or failing to use appropriate industry language in conversation could signal being underqualified. To help combat this, make a skills test part of the interview process.

Lack of interest

The right candidate wants nothing more than to impress a potential employer. Don’t expect individuals failing to give it their all to land a new job to suddenly exert more effort if hired.

Disselkamp views lack of preparation as a definite red flag and states, *When a candidate doesn’t know much about our company or the role they’re interviewing for, it implies a lack of interest or initiative. This signals to me that they might not be fully invested in the opportunity.”

Additional red flags to look out for as signs of not caring include:

  • Being slow to answer your request for an interview.

  • Rescheduling the interview more than once (this action also could be a sign of work-life balance difficulties, such as securing reliable childcare).

  • Arriving late to the interview, especially without providing a heads-up.

  • Wearing inappropriate interview attire.

  • Being unaware of information or issues presented on your company’s webpage or social media sites.

  • Giving short or trite answers rather than thoughtful responses.

  • Not posing any questions to you, even when prompted.

  • Looking bored, impatient, or more fascinated with the painting on the wall than with you.

  • Yawning.

  • Frequently glancing at the clock.

  • Making you carry the weight of the conversation.

Be aware, too, of a different type of lack of interest. Some applicants want the scoop on when promotions, titles, and other rewards will come their way. This curiosity may seem indicative of a go-getter. Thinking about the future is indeed a good sign – but not if the candidate ignores the present. Little interest in the responsibilities of the job at hand may signal a problem. These individuals may bring a sense of entitlement to the work environment rather than a commitment to performance that deserves recognition.

David Cohen, CEO of Badais International, notes that he considers it a red flag when a candidate appears overly focused on salary and benefits without showing enthusiasm for the job itself. “This suggests that their motivation might be primarily monetary, rather than a genuine interest in contributing to the company’s success,” he says.

Disselkamp agrees. “While compensation is certainly important, a candidate who seems excessively focused on benefits or salary may not be primarily interested in the work itself. We’re looking for passion-driven individuals who believe in our mission.”

Poor social skills

In addition to displaying enthusiasm, leaving a positive impression at an interview involves being on one’s best behavior. Good candidates know this expectation and act accordingly.

“One of the most important things in my mind is the courteousness of the candidate,” says Stefan Campbell, owner of The Small Business Blog. “For example, if you offered them bottled water during the interview, do they take their empty bottle with them to throw away or leave it behind at the interview table? If it’s the latter, think twice about hiring that person. It’s a simple thing, but how courteous someone is can play a big part in how good of a job they will ultimately do.”

Other ways in which those with low emotional intelligence, inadequate manners, or who simply don’t care might raise potential red flags include:

  • Swearing

  • Bragging

  • Telling off-color jokes

  • Chewing gum

  • Bringing up politics

  • Interrupting

  • Keeping their phone on and attending to it

  • Failing to use terms such as “please” and “thank you”

  • Creeping into other people’s space

  • Asking personal questions to the interviewer

  • Not holding doors open for others

Notice, too, how the candidate treats others in the work environment. Someone who is nice to you but rude to the receptionist may be highly judgmental of who is “worth” making an effort around. This behavior does not bode well for teamwork or interaction with customers.

Attitude problems

Speaking of teamwork, take note if you interview someone who complains about previous employers. In addition to being an unprofessional thing to do, this type of talk could signal you are dealing with someone who is quick to blame others.

“Excessive negativity about previous employers or team members raises concerns about ability to work collaboratively,” Cohen says. “Furthermore, candidates who speak poorly about their previous experiences and are unable to take ownership of their mistakes may indicate a lack of accountability and problem-solving skills.”

While confidence shines during interviews, be leery of candidates who take it to the extreme. Individuals who come off as cocky may alienate future colleagues, prove inflexible, and resist learning new things. But beware of the flipside, too.

“Usually when job candidates use statements that display lack of confidence is what raises red flags for me — when I ask an individual that I am interviewing if they can handle the job and they respond with ‘I think so’ or ‘I will do my best,’” says Tim Connon, founder of ParamountQuote Insurance Advisors. “This type of language shows me a lack of confidence in their abilities. A lack of confidence can be a subconscious seed that grows until the employee ultimately quits the job. This is why I look for candidates that have more confident language when I ask them the interview questions.”

Candidates who present too many demands pose another sort of attitude problem. As noted by Leighanne Everhart, owner of Sell My House Fast Wilmington NC, “During an interview, candidates should be open and flexible to discuss potential opportunities and negotiate certain aspects of the job. However, when a candidate starts listing too many demands or appears inflexible in their expectations, it can be a red flag. This behavior may suggest that the candidate might be difficult to work with or unwilling to adapt to the company’s culture and requirements.”

Seems “off”

Some warning signs of a potentially bad hire light up like neon signs. A person who arrives at an interview obviously high or drunk presents a huge red flag. Sometimes, though, an interviewer just gets a bad feeling without blatant evidence. Maybe the interviewee seems overly defensive. Perhaps the individual fidgets a great deal or never smiles. Maybe the person reeks of desperation. Or, someone could even just give off a “creepy” vibe.

Don’t ignore your gut if it says something is out of whack. Dig deeper. Look more carefully at background check information. Contact additional references or past employers. Ask other hiring team members their impression and see if they match.

If the job candidate still seems worth pursuing, invite the person back for another interview. Sometimes, nerves get the best of people at an initial meeting. Or, an event outside of the interview has them distracted or frazzled that day. (A teething baby doesn’t care that you planned to get a good night’s sleep.) Reevaluate. If the negative feeling still exists, it could be better to explore other talent options.