Let’s get this out of the way: Interviews are by no means a perfect mechanism for evaluating candidates.
They’re highly subjective, are often biased and not very predictive of performance on the job. Having said that, there are valuable insights you can derive from interviews, especially when it comes towards catching potentially devastating red flags for how they may perform on the job.
Here are a few red flags to be on the lookout for with prospective candidates.
Throwing colleagues under the bus
I’m very wary of candidates who badmouth their colleagues. Sometimes this is subtle, and there’s a way to talk about weaknesses the company had, but there have been too many times where I’ve heard people on the business side trash product/engineering teams and vice versa.
This is particularly alarming as it reeks of someone making excuses. If a product team didn’t produce, there’s a way of bringing this up. Something along the lines of “We made some product decisions that in hindsight I’m not sure were the best decisions for us long-term” is perfectly acceptable, but when I hear a candidate call out a specific coworker or trash another team, how I can help myself from wondering if the candidate will treat our team the same way?
I also wonder if the candidate is simply making excuses, especially if they’ve been at a startup. Things rarely run smoothly at a startup and it’s imperative team members communicate well with each other to navigate the unstructured environment. Chastising colleagues only makes me worry more that a candidate is selfish and not a team player.
Speaks too vaguely
Let’s take a scenario with a strong sales or engineering candidate. A strong saleswoman will not only know her numbers, but she’d be incredibly proud of her achievements and would be able to clearly articulate her quota attainment, largest deal and her process for closing those deals. The same can be said for an engineer. She’d be able to clearly articulate the details of a project or any sort of performance improvements to the application she worked on.
When a candidate can’t be specific about their achievements, I’ve found a strong correlation with either underperformance or inability to work with a manager. You have to be able to trust all employees and an inability to be direct and take ownership for both good and bad times can foreshadow lack of ownership from a candidate when they join.
Name drops everyone they know
Be care of candidates, especially managers and other senior hires, who name drop a laundry list of mutual connections. It can be easy to fall for this – in doses, this can be highly effective and help a candidate and interviewer build rapport, but avoid those who use this crutch to mask deficiencies or steer a conversation away from topics they don’t want to discuss.
An effective interview with a candidate should give you a good understanding of their experience, skills, and projects they worked on and can speak to to take you through their processes. A red flag would be a candidate who uses others’ work and insights to explain their own work.
We know a few people in common? Great. Have to weave in people we know into every topic we cover? Color me skeptical.
Poor follow-up and written communication
I may be in the minority here, but I actually don’t care much for follow-up emails from candidates. There are many who expect a timely follow-up email for everyone they’ve interviewed, but I personally don’t give much credence to it.
However, sloppy follow-up emails or thank you notes draw my attention and discredit. Generally I view these types of message quite neutrally, but if the effort is sloppy, it’s hard not to view a candidate in a negative light. This can come in the form of misspelled words, bad grammar, or calling the interviewee the wrong name.
The interview process is where a company gets a chance to see candidates put their best foot forward. At bare minimum, a good follow-up message spells names correctly, uses simple formatting and is short, unless it’s absolutely necessary to have longer communication.
Sloppiness in this process can be a red flag in terms of whether or not a candidate will drop the ball and miss small and significant details on important things while on the job full-time. This is one of the easiest ways to avoid instilling doubt in a prospective employer.
I’ve only covered a few that I’ve encountered or heard about, but there are obviously many more. What are some of the red flags you’ve come across?