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What are some red flags in a job candidate?


Answer by Ramkumar Balaraman on Quora.

For a permanent position, red flags are:

Mr Angry: This may sound cliched, but bad-mouthing your last boss or employer is a big red flag. You don’t have to lie about your reason for switching, and everyone knows that sometimes you’re stuck with the wrong boss. But a professional is expected to take things professionally – not personally – and the way you express yourself reflects that. I do appreciate someone telling me that their job did not meet their growth aspirations (read as “wasn’t getting promoted”) – that’s OK.

Mr Jumpy: This is relative. For a highly skilled candidate (as assessed during the interview), annual job hopping could be OK, but for an average candidate it’s not. Hopping jobs voluntarily every few months is a red flag for anyone seeking a permanent position.

Wolf in sheep’s clothing: One of the open-ended questions I like to ask is for the interviewee to describe one of his/her most challenging projects. If a person I’m interviewing for a hardcore coding role starts talking about cost overruns, then I might wonder if his/her interests align with the role I’m trying to fill.

Nothing to gain: I am very interested in learning why someone wants the role being offered. Weak, generic answers such as “I’ve heard a lot of good things about this company” don’t really cut it. There must be something non-monetary and convincing that the candidate can benefit from in the role – and he/she should be aware of what that is. I usually fill roles with slightly underqualified candidates, and very rarely with overqualified ones.

Trust me: I’ve had candidates being dismissive or overly brief when asked to explain the reasoning behind a specific approach. The justification would often be that they’re the expert at it, or that they’ve worked for companies that were far more advanced in that area than us. “Trust me, I’m an expert” is not valid reasoning and the person wouldn’t fit in a culture that strongly discourages “because I say so”. Flaunting a famous alma mater too often in an interview as a way to establish credentials is a red flag as well. I’m interested in who you are, not where you’ve been.

Sarah Palin: Poor language skills isn’t a deal breaker, depending on the role. Nor is being introverted or reserved; some of our smartest coders take time to warm up. But poor listening skills, i.e. repeatedly misunderstanding questions (whether intentional or not), is a red flag and is indicative of someone who can bring down the productivity of the entire team. Paraphrasing a question to make sure you understood it, on the other hand, is encouraged, as is saying “I don’t know”.

Tardiness: Being late for an interview without prior notice (even a few minutes before the start time is fine) is a major red flag for most roles. It is indicative of either a lack of interest, or personal nature. Some brilliant people are tardy by nature, and can be quite successful despite it, but brilliance rarely makes up for tardiness in a team setting. A ‘no show’ is worse, whether it’s for an interview or the date of joining. I’m inclined not to consider such candidates for any future position, even if I switch jobs myself.

Unwarranted over-confidence: Being self-assured is generally good for many roles. Unwarranted over-confidence is when you act like you know what to do in every situation, when you obviously don’t. Over-confidence is becoming more and more prevalent among junior hires, presumably because self-confidence is constantly ingrained in them in schools and college, so I’ve had to relax my standards as well. The bottom line is that a candidate needs to show a willingness to learn and adapt.

The I-Player: This is relatively minor, but relevant nevertheless. When describing past projects and accomplishments, I expect a healthy mix of ‘I’ and ‘we’. Too much ‘we’ could indicate a freeloader, and cause me to probe further on individual contribution. Too much ‘I’ when describing projects that are obviously team efforts can indicate a poor team player who does not attribute credit where it’s due.

Air-time hog: This one is a personal pet peeve and is hardly universal. I am biased against air-time hogging, i.e. when someone seems overeager to talk when he or she has nothing worthwhile to add to the conversation. This is strictly YMMV – some interviewers interpret this positively as eagerness, but I see it as a waste of time.

Fence-sitters: Making a job change is often a major decision, and I can understand that. I’m always happy to explain to a candidate why I think he or she could be a great fit, and to give him/her extra time to take a decision. However, professional conduct requires that you either take the offer or you don’t – you don’t go back and forth. Similarly, once a negotiation is mutually complete, it’s done. Trying to re-open negotiations on receipt of a ‘better’ offer elsewhere, or repeatedly extending the date of joining with no good reason, is a red flag – I don’t consider such candidates even if he or she is worth the higher offer. I’m more inclined to consider such candidates for future opportunities if he or she politely and promptly informs us that he or she isn’t joining.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some of the biggest red flags in an interviewee?