Hiring Red Flags


I just became manager of my department a few months ago, and now I’m in the position of hiring my first employee. (The reason I’m losing a team member is a whole other story!) Our company doesn’t have an HR person much less department, so I’ll be handling the hiring process myself. Can you give me some inside information on what to look for or, more specifically, what (or who) to avoid? I don’t want to make a bad hire.

Hiring red flagsDear “On Guard,”

Applicants who make certain missteps, listed below, raise red flags – or at least yellow “caution” signals – for seasoned recruiters and HR professionals. (Job seekers, listen up! Knowing the impression you are making on hiring managers could cost you the job.)

  1. Not Following Directions. In your hypothetical Craigslist ad, if you request a cover letter and résumé, be wary of those who just attach a résumé only. Strike one.
  2. Templated Cover Letter and Résumé. Pirated “Dear Sir or Madam” introductions, résumé objectives unrelated to the position for which they are applying, and generic recitations of job duties indicate a lack of initiative. There’s nothing wrong with using sample résumés or cover letters for inspiration, but job seekers should personalize and make them their own.
  3. Typographical Errors. If an applicant doesn’t take the time to proofread his résumé, how can you trust him to pay “attencion [sic] to detale [sic]” in your position. Even if the cover letter and résumé are flawless, don’t disregard typos and grammatical errors in follow-up emails. This is what you – and potentially customers – can expect in the candidate’s day-to-day work.
  4. Lack of Experience. Sorry, recent graduates. But the learning curve can be steep for applicants have never had a job, an internship, or even a volunteer position. A manager has to consider how much time and resources are available for helping a first-time wage-earner learn the basics of navigating the world of employment, in addition to training for the specific job duties.
  5. Job-Hopping. A short attention span isn’t the curse it was in years past, but I know some companies that still automatically disqualify applicants who have held a set high number of different positions within a certain time span. If the change was a promotion or even a lateral move within the same company, that’s a totally different story.
  6. Gaps Between Jobs. Gaps on a résumé can be a result of life choices such as taking a traveling sabbatical or being a stay-at-home parent, or unexpected circumstances like caring for an ill relative or a layoff. The yellow flag appears when an applicant does nothing to explain in a cover letter the circumstances surrounding any gap longer than a few months.
  7. Extended Unemployment. Though much of this bias against hiring a chronically unemployed person may be an unconscious psychological stereotype (only lazy/dishonest/unskilled people are out of work – not always true!), it can be a legitimate concern that skills get rusty with disuse.
  8. Jobs Don’t Jibe. It may not be blatant lying, but it sure looks suspicious if the dates on a candidate’s résumé differ from his or her LinkedIn profile. If (like me) a job seeker is not great at remembering dates, they should cross-check employment periods entered on applications against their master résumé before submitting.
  9. Social Faux Pas. Many hiring managers make it a practice to check out applicants’ social media presence, looking for red flags such as references to drugs and/or alcohol abuse, inappropriate behavior, even bad grammar (refer to #3 above), all of which could pose potential issues in the workplace. Election Year tip: In this contentious political season, job seekers should keep argumentative comments out of the limelight. (See Facebook: Friend or Foe? for more tips.)
  10. Overqualification. What could be wrong with having too many skills? Savvy managers worry that an overqualified candidate may become bored taking a job a step below a previous position. Learning the reasons why a heavy hitter is applying can possibly turn a red light into yellow.
  11. No Back-up. Applicants who brag about “great people skills” or claim to be a “super salesman” without quantifying and backing it up with data or examples are suspect.
  12. DebbieDowner2Unprofessional Manner. Answering the phone, “Yeah,” or coming to the interview in grossly inappropriate clothing could mean the applicant won’t fit into your company culture.
  13. Negativity. The Debbie Downer who complains during the interview about the traffic, her medical maladies, and the ineptitude of former bosses is not likely to stop kvetching when you hire her.
  14. Desperation. An overly-eager candidate tells you more about why he needs the job rather than how he is the best person for your open position. Keep your emotions out of the hiring decision and never offer a person a position out of pity. Instead, select the most qualified – not the most needy – candidate for the job.
  15. Tepid (or Downright Bad) References. Don’t skip the reference check. While some companies have a strict policy prohibiting their staff from divulging much information during a reference check call, they can often answer the key question, “Would you hire this person again?” Smaller companies less worried about legal repercussions may provide more helpful feedback.

Managers: Have you ever ignored a red flag and hired a person anyway? Tell us what happened.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Brenda
    Aug 19, 2016 @ 09:14:58

    4.The lack of experience could only be a big win over when it comes to resume comparing it with someone who has no or little experience at the job, therefore a person who is new at the job not only is learning but also is exited about the learning process as for a person who has been there for a couple of year is doing there job as a daily routine without enthusiasm for what they are doing, (this is more towards costumer service), or a job that involds interacting with multiple groups of all ages..


  2. Rose H
    Aug 11, 2016 @ 15:27:01

    Please correct spelling should read “INDICATE” in item number 2 Hiring Red Flags (read number 3)
    2. Templated Cover Letter and Résumé. Pirated “Dear Sir or Madam” introductions, résumé objectives unrelated to the position for which they are applying, and generic recitations of job duties indcate a lack of initiative. There’s nothing wrong with using sample résumés or cover letters for inspiration, but job seekers should personalize and make them their own.
    I do read your missives weekly. Thank you Rose H


  3. Rodrick Barron
    Aug 10, 2016 @ 01:32:31

    Hi I’m having trouble finding a job. I am a convicted felon. Any ideas Anita??


  4. Gurpreet k Poonia
    Aug 09, 2016 @ 13:52:50

    Hi Anita my wife al ready apply for job please but no body call her to hire so you are MD now can i hop for job with you


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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