Recruiting and Staffing

5 Red Flags to Watch For When You’re Selecting Employees

Red flags

Mastering the art of employee selection is no easy task.

It requires the interrogative skills of Detective Elliott Stabler, the easy charm of Don Draper, and the intuition of a Shakespearean soothsayer. And after your recruiting team has attracted enough applicants, sorting through them to determine who has the most experience and the most potential takes some serious heavy lifting.

Sure, every once in awhile, a candidate will make your work easy for you by arriving to an interview drunk, by having a completely blank work history, or by being vastly underqualified for the position, but many times you’ll find yourself facing a group of qualified applicants.

When there’s no clear winner, the small details really start to matter. No detail is too small to ignore, but there are a few that should serve as definite red flags for hiring programs. So consider placing a big red X over the applicants who make these little mistakes:

Red flags during the hiring process

  1. They force you to play phone tag.It’s not fair to expect job applicants to wait by the phone like lovesick teenagers, but it is fair to expect them to reply to your calls or messages within 24 hours. If they’re constantly unavailable to talk or they take too long to call you back and schedule an interview, that’s a red flag. After all, if they can’t make time for you now, how devoted will they be after they’re hired?
  2. Their resume and their online profiles don’t match. An applicant’s resume says they’ve been doing small business web design for the past five years. Their LinkedIn page says they’ve only been doing it for three years. Their Facebook profile boasts that they spent those years “backpacking through Europe on a mystical quest of self discovery.” A lie detector test doesn’t need to become one of your go-to recruiting tools. If an applicant’s resume and online profiles look like they belong to different people, it’s a big red flag that they’re not to be trusted.
  3. Their cover letter reads like a word scramble. We all make mistakes, even those of us with spell check. But when you’re making important hiring decisions, little grammatical errors and typos matter. There’s no need to reject every applicant who misplaces an apostrophe, but repeated errors or obvious mistakes are a clear sign that a candidate didn’t bother to double-check the resume and cover letter they sent to your recruiting team. If an applicant can’t be bothered to spend five minutes checking these simple details, do you really want that person making decisions for your company?
  4. They look like the “before” photo in an ad. Every employee you hire represents your company, whether they’ll be shaking hands at global conferences or spending most of their time behind a keyboard. Do you want the face of your company to be someone who’s incapable of combing their hair, shaving their stubble, or ironing a shirt? Applicants will never look better than they do on the day of an interview, so that stained tie or pair of crusty loafers points to more sloppiness ahead. In other words, you’d be lucky if that inattention to detail ends at the closet door.
  5. They have all the answers. At the end of an interview it’s typical to ask applicants if they have any questions. Some candidates will ask about wages, some about benefits, others about more personal matters like what the interviewer likes best about working for the company or what the corporate culture is like. These can all be valid questions, but the response that you should treat as a big red flag? Silence.

You need to take the little things seriously

Applicants who have no prepared questions and show no curiosity about the details of the position aren’t just less proactive, they’re less engaged too. Your company needs people who fully invest in opportunities, people who ask questions and get answers. So look for the signals. During the employee selection process, don’t go with candidates who give you the silent treatment.

If you want to help your company be the best it can be, you’ve got to take the little things seriously. Rejecting candidates for small mistakes may seem harsh, but think about this: it only takes one flat note for the American Idol judges to kick a contestant to the curb. Do you want your company to be like American Idol or like the dimly lit karaoke bar at the edge of town where every raspy wailer is considered a star?

To make the most of your recruiting efforts, look for polished and professional candidates during your employee selection process. Remember, when there’s so much at stake, it’s okay to be like Simon Cowell. Simon has something to teach us all.

This article originally appeared on The Resumator Blog.

Don Charlton is a Web entrepreneur, developer and speaker. His company, TheResumator.com,, helps employers hire with confidence. Contact him at don@theresumator.com.
  • http://twitter.com/KellyPhillipsnc Kelly Phillips

    Number 5 is a little misleading. I often work my questions in during the interview rather than saving them all for the end. It makes for a much better conversation and chance to connect with the interviewer. If I truly have nothing left to ask at the end, I’ll usually say “My biggest question was blah and you did a great job of answering that earlier, so I feel that you’ve given me a good understanding of the position and the company.” Just reminds the interviewer that I did ask questions.

  • http://twitter.com/sparkhire Spark Hire

    These are all really important red flags to watch out for in the hiring process. Being critical is the best way to find your superstar employee. After all, like you mentioned, they don’t let just anyone become an American Idol. Whether you’re speaking to candidates in person or through online video, make sure they’re well groomed and curious about the job. Good questions can go a long way towards showing you the candidate is actually eager to accept the position, instead of just sleepwalking through the interview.

  • meh

    Number 4 sounds like discrimination.