Interviews can be a drag no matter what side of the table you’re on—for a lot of reasons. Maybe you’ve been in a situation where, about a third of the way in, you encounter a red flag and realize that this is going to be a waste of your time. Now you’re going to have to sit through the rest of the hour-long interview knowing full well that you won’t be hiring this candidate or taking this job.
But perhaps it might be helpful to think of moments like these in a different light. Red flags aren’t just a confirmation that we’ve wasted our time; they’re a warning sent from the future: a sign that’ll save us months or years spent working with a person or for a company that isn’t a good match. Think of red flags as a sign that you can confidently rule out someone or even end the interview and move on to the next candidate. In that sense, they’re actually a time-saver.
After all, it’s a lot more time-consuming (and expensive) to find out that a candidate (or employer) is the wrong fit after the position's been filled.
In this article we’ll look at a few common red flags for both job candidates and employers that can be detected in the interview process (or even earlier). Let’s get down to it.
Interview red flags for job candidates and employers
Red flag #1: Late to the interview
We’ll start with the obvious. If you’re late to an interview, whether you have a reasonable excuse or not probably won’t matter. You’ve already demonstrated that you’re unable to perform the most basic requirement of employment at any company: showing up on time. Not a great first impression. For employers, this signals that you lack accountability and time management skills.
But if you’re an employer who’s late to an interview, a meeting that’s presumably taking place inyour office, mere steps away from your desk, you’re also not making a very good impression on the candidate. You’re already in the building where the interview is supposed to happen but you still can’t make it on time? You’re not only demonstrating to the interviewee that you don’t value their time, you’re showing them that you’re unable to manage your own time, too.
Red flag #2: Unprepared
Whenever I interview for a new position, I like to do my homework. For me, this means finding out as much information as I can about the company, the interviewers, and the role well before I’m sitting in the interview room.
I didn’t always used to do this, though. Early in my career I was so caught up in anticipating and coming up with answers to questions I might be asked (a fool’s errand) that I completely neglected to research key facts about the company. I was caught off-guard when my interviewer asked if I knew about the company’s background, and only barely managed to fumble my way through a ridiculous non-answer. But I learned my lesson, and after that I always came prepared.
If your interviewee shows up to your interview without having done their homework, this might be a red flag. A job candidate isn’t going to be aware of the nitty-gritty details of the company’s inner workings, of course, but a basic knowledge of what the company does, how they do it, and the industry they’re operating in is absolutely essential knowledge. A well-prepared job candidate will know all that, plus how the role they’re applying for fits into the company’s mission.
Of course there are unprepared interviewers too. I think we’ve probably all dealt with interviewers who clearly haven’t read our resume until the moment they’re sitting in front of us, improvising questions as they peruse it. To a candidate who’s gone through the effort of researching the role and learning about their interviewer’s background, this lack of preparation is borderline insulting. It’s a red flag that could mean a few things: a disorganized manager, they don’t care about your background, a lack of respect, or all of the above.
Red flag #3: Evasive answers
There are circumstances in which evasive answers might be somewhat acceptable; for instance, if you’re unable to answer without revealing confidential information. Or if you’re a politician. But in an interview setting there’s no room for evasive answers from either the interviewer or interviewee. If you’re asked a very straightforward question and find you’re struggling to come up with a clear answer, or are avoiding answering entirely, that’s a red flag.
I don’t mean to diminish the role that nerves play in an interview. According to a recent study, 92% of U.S. adults are anxious about job interviews. And as we among the 92% know all too well, being anxious or nervous in an interview can result in verbal slip-ups, awkward pauses, brain freezes, and rambling answers. What might seem like an evasive or misleading answer might in fact be a candidate’s (or employer’s) nerves acting up.
However, it’s not too difficult to distinguish an evasive answer from a nervous one. Evasive answers are meant to avoid a question, whether it’s because the person doesn’t feel like they have a good answer, or they feel they need to mislead or be otherwise untruthful. If I ask a pointed question in an interview and the person I’m interviewing dances around the question or tries to change the subject, I consider that a warning sign. Is this a person I can trust? Is this someone who’s willing to give a truthful answer even when they know it’s not the answer I’m hoping for?
Evasive answers can be very telling. For example, if you ask your interviewer what the company culture is like and they seem to avoid giving a straight answer, or clam up and evade the question entirely, that’s a big red flag. If your interviewer doesn’t seem excited about the company culture, and that’s important to you, this typically means the culture’s probably not great.
Red flags don’t always disqualify a candidate or employer. If you’re worried about a red flag but still think the candidate is a strong contender, you can always call references or schedule a followup interview to get a better idea if you want to move forward. If you really need the job, you might accept the offer hoping you can work around the red flag issues. Similarly, an employer might do the same if they’re hard up for candidates and need to fill a role immediately. Either way, red flags are there to help you make your decision: pay attention to them.
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