Aug 13, 2013

Standardized interviews, questionnaires, complex scoring systems, background checks, drug tests and personality assessments — Corporate America has certainly engineered what should be a fool-proof process to help companies avoid hiring the wrong person.

Despite all of these processes and platforms, companies can still miss red flags in the hiring process, in fact, 66 percent of U.S. employers have been affected by a bad hire in the last year. And hiring errors come at a cost: a bad hire can cost a company as much as $50,000.

Luckily, picking up on warning signals is not difficult provided you practice keen observation and listening skills throughout the interview. Remember that a warning signal is not a 100 percent confirmation that there is a problem. Always consider any of the fairly defensible explanations that may have led to an interview blunder, such as an innocent misunderstandings or a classic case of nerves.

By understanding the nature and causes of these warning signals, and taking the necessary time to look into what they mean, you can get to the heart of the matter and avoid jumping to conclusions.

Here are some of the most common indicators that a candidate isn’t right for your organization and how to deal with them:

The Signal: Fuzzy answers

  • What Happens: The interviewer asks about a specific skill or industry tool and the candidate responds with either: “I may have seen that before,” or “I am pretty sure this is how it works.”
  • What It Means: The candidate is not 100 percent confident in his answer and does not have the personal and professional experience you are asking for. If the candidate did possess these skills, he would have answered with definitive words such as, “I do,” “I know” or “I have.”
  • What to Do: Prompt him to clarify his response by asking, “Have you actually done this before or used this tool in the past?” Specifically ask him to cite a concrete example of how he’s successfully used the tools in his past work

The Signal: Bashing a former employer

  • What Happens: When the candidate is asked about his current or last employer, he provides you with negative feedback in the form of harsh criticisms, such as “my boss was the worst,” or “I hate my current job.”
  • What It Means: By sharing this type of harmful information, the candidate has questionable judgment and may have difficulty framing negative situations in a more professionally objective way.
  • What to Do: In this situation, try to empathize with the candidate (since some employment situations can be very difficult) and challenge him to tell you what was good about this job. This provides the candidate with a chance to recast their response in a more positive and professional manner.

The Signal: Too much group attribution

  • What Happens: The interviewer asks the candidate about a specific project and his response includes frequent use of the words “we” and “my team,” without ever personally owning responsibility for any tasks.
  • What It Means: He likely was not the person actually driving the project and, in some instances, may not have even been involved directly in any way.
  • What to Do: Dissect any over-usages of plural references and ask the candidate to explain what he was specifically responsible for, which will provide a clearer division of labor within the team.

The Signal: Late for the interview

  • What Happens: The candidate shows up more than fifteen minutes late for his interview and does not acknowledge it.
  • What It Means: He got lost finding the office, he may have had difficulty with parking or building access, or he simply does not care that he’s late for the interview.
  • What to Do: Always address this issue in a light manner, such as, “Did you have difficulty finding us today?” This will test the candidate’s reaction and determine if this was an accident or apathy.

The Signal: Spinning a weakness as a strength

  • What Happens: When the interview asks about professional weaknesses, the candidate responds with, “My biggest weakness is that I work too hard” or “My biggest weakness is I pay too much attention to detail.”
  • What It Means: He is not being honest about what real tasks he needs to work on and what skills need improvement.
  • What to Do: Instead of asking the candidate what he thinks his biggest weakness is, ask him instead what their boss or coworkers would say his biggest area of weakness is. This approach will entice the interviewee to provide a more honest response. Ask them for the name of this person. This can also trigger a more authentic response.

Although a candidate may look great on paper, it’s critical to keep an eye on these warning signals during the interview phase. Doing so will allow to make the smartest decisions when hiring new employees.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!