Recruiting Tips: 3 Red Flags for a Bad Recruit

What to look out for in an interview

“How did we miss that?”

Isn’t that what we all ask when we are forced to release a new hire back into the wilds of job search land. Maybe we turn to somebody on the team and say, “Did you see any signs of this in the interview?” We scratch our heads and make a note of some specific skill or type of experience to put on our list of recruiting tips for the next person to interview, hoping to avoid the same mistake next time.

But here’s the truth: We almost never miss the red flags.

Our warning detectors go off. Something shifts in our gut. Mentally, we say, Hmmm… But we choose to overlook the problems we see. No candidate is perfect, we tell ourselves. And that’s also true. Every recruiting effort is an equation, weighing pros and cons.

Every recruiting effort is an equation, weighing pros and cons. Click To Tweet

However, I believe that there are three red flags that you should never ignore. They are the signs that the person in front of you is unlikely to be a winning team member. All the coaching and training in the world may not overcome these problems. And if you choose to hire somebody who exhibits them, you shouldn’t be surprised if he or she turns into a big disappointment.


Making decisions is how things get done.

People who can’t make decisions don’t get things done.

Simple. What does hesitating look like?

People who dream without doing—who talk a lot about the things they would like to do and not much about the things they’ve actually done—haven’t made the decision to do what it takes to reach their goals. Instead, look for people who are able to tell you about the specific things they have done to get the things they’ve wanted in life. Ask them about the big goals they have achieved.

People who use self-limiting language (“I wasn’t prepared for …” “I hadn’t learned enough yet to …” “I don’t have a background in …”) suffer from self-doubt. They believe they aren’t capable of achievement, and that will keep them from making progress—even when others are leading the way. Instead, watch for candidates who speak with confidence, not arrogance, about their achievements and capabilities.


It’s rare to hear a candidate say, “Well, I was fired from my last job, because my boss was a total jerk.” But there are many forms of subtle blaming that come through in conversations. Pay attention to these:
• People who imply their bosses were incompetent, even if only in tone of voice or expression
• People who allude to poor corporate leadership
• People who reference the economy too often to explain why they or their teams were unable to perform

Blamers have little sense of personal accountability. Click To Tweet

Blamers have little sense of personal accountability. When the going gets tough—when an obstacle crops up in a project, when a client is upset about the handling of an account—they are likely to throw their hands up in the air, point a finger, and look to somebody else to figure out a path forward.

Ask people about their past bosses and about their past companies. Ask them about challenges they faced. People with a strong sense of personal accountability and the ability to adjust to shifting circumstances, will talk more about specific problems and how they contributed to solutions than they will about bad bosses, bad corporate leadership, or the bad economy.


People who don’t make career progress in a reasonable amount of time often suffer from a crucial character flaw: lack of interest in learning or growing. You know your industry. You are probably a fairly good judge of how long somebody survives at a particular level before they are either moved up or moved out. If somebody seemed to languish in a position, dig in. Make sure you have a clear, reasonable answer why they didn’t make faster progress.

Look for people who exhibit a natural curiosity and desire for new and bigger challenges. Click To Tweet

On the flip side, look for people who exhibit a natural curiosity and desire for new and bigger challenges. Ask them what they’ve done to improve in past positions. Ask them how they grew their contributions over time. And ask them what they want to be doing in five years. It’s a question everybody asks, but many interviewers don’t pay attention to the answer. Winning team members will have a specific answer that shows their desire for growth.

We will never prevent bad hires entirely—some people are really good at selling themselves, even when they don’t have much to sell. But we can increase our odds of success by steering clear of people who reveal any of these three tendencies from the start.

Because whatever strengths and good intentions they may have, they have little potential of becoming a valuable member of your growing company.


What are some other signs that you know to look out for in an interview? Tell us below!

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