Can you really assess a candidate’s suitability fully from just a few conversations? How can you figure out their working style, their office compatibility and aptitude when you’ve only met them once or twice? Candidates aren’t the enemy, and we want them to be on their best behaviour. But when they’re trying to fit the role’s specifications, and persuade you of the same thing, it’s easy to miss some key warning signs early on.

It’s not to say that everyone who could be marked with a red flag is lying – it may just be nerves, or who they are. You have to be aware though that they could be hiding something or acting dishonestly. Use this rough guide to help you spot potential bad eggs:

1. A poorly written CV

Bad spelling and grammar in a job application, CV or covering letter could suggest a few things: English is not their first language (not always important, but for some roles this could be a deal breaker), the candidate lacks attention to detail, or they have a tendency to rush tasks, and not check them over.

2. Avoiding eye contact

If your interviewee is avoiding eye contact, they may well be nervous, and feeling awkward in such a formal setting. However, they could also be hiding something, or they might lack the confidence that the job at hand requires.

3. Are they lying by omission?

No home address could suggest they are relying on this job to move closer to the area (which might delay start dates).

No degree grade, or other missing qualification details, could suggest that the candidate is holding something back. But remember, it could be harmless; they might have a poor grade, and expect this will instantly put a recruiter off before they get the chance to see the compensating experience they also have. Just bear in mind that if it’s missing, it’s probably for a reason.

An unexplained career gap is definitely worth probing – what were they doing, and why did they not explain so on their CV? To spot these, make sure you’re carefully working through their career timeline, month by month.

4. Erratic career path

If their career history seems inconsistent in terms of the industries and locations, ask for more details – there might be a good reason. But this should flag up warning signs for recruiters, as it might indicate the candidate becomes bored easily, struggles to fit into a working environment, or was unsure (and still could be) of what they want to do, and where.

5. Inability to back up claims

If your candidate is unable to provide evidence alongside their claims, they either haven’t prepared well, don’t deal with pressure that effectively, or they’ve over-inflated their skills and experience.

6. Overconfidence

Talking too much, bragging and acting too confident could suggest that they are hiding something, compensating for something, or it’s just their personality. If you’re put off by the arrogance, then they probably won’t fit in with the company culture, let alone work well in a team.

7. Unprofessionally dressed

It’s an obvious one, but if they haven’t made an effort to dress well, they probably aren’t that interested in the role. Perhaps they just haven’t had any previous interview experience (why?), or didn’t bother doing their research into interview etiquette. Maybe mention their apparel if you can, and see how they react – this could be telling for their motivations, and ability to handle feedback. Either way, it’s not a good sign.

8. No questions of their own

If a candidate doesn’t offer questions of their own, this could mean a few things: They didn’t prepare very well, they’re not interested, they’re not a good communicator, they lack ambition, or they don’t want to admit ignorance by asking obvious questions.

9. Negativity

If your applicant spends the interview criticising their previous employers rather than focussing on what these experiences taught them, this could be a warning sign. Too much negativity this early on suggests a complainer in the workplace – not a great team player or asset to the office.

10. They’re not a good listener

Answering poorly, asking repetitive or obvious questions, or just seeming a bit lost during your conversations are clear signs of a bad listener. They might just be nervous, or just not great at listening by nature, but worse, they could be indifferent about the role, or lack respect for others’ time and efforts. Pull them up on it if you can; if they then become defensive or rude, you’ve found your bad egg.

11. They cancel

Maybe we at the Graduate Recruitment Bureau are pessimists because we mainly deal with fresh graduates and students. But in our experience, the most dramatic accidents always tend to happen the day or night before a candidate’s interview. Weird, huh? It’s up to you to work out whether their excuses are genuine, but often, these last minute cancellations are dishonest.

12. They’re late

Now this one is both an indicator that the person isn’t great with time management, but could also be a severely unfortunate situation. Yes, the candidate should be completely and fully prepared for their interview, and have the journey completely nailed down, but things do happen. Listen to their reasoning, and go from there.
Remember, these points should be taken with a pinch of salt, as not everything is as it seems. Yet these warning signs are just that; a reminder to be cautious in moving forward. If you have any more tips for spotting dishonesty during the hiring process, let us know.

About Lizzi Hart

Lizzi Hart is a Linguistics graduate from the University of Sussex, a Marketing Assistant at the Graduate Recruitment Bureau and a freelance music journalist. She has had work published through the Guardian, the Independent, Metro, The Huffington Post and Elite Daily.

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