Employer Branding

Top 5 Ways to Spot a Problem Candidate

Most of the time, working with candidates is a pleasure – you are providing a service, helping them find their new dream job. Sometimes, though, you encounter a candidate who is going to cause you problems, who is difficult to work with and is generally more trouble than they are worth. These are some of the key ‘red flags’ of such candidates to help the recruiter identify them early on and manage that risk more effectively.

1. Money, Money, Money

It may surprise you to learn that money isn’t the main motivator for most candidates – most studies conducted on employee motivation show that for most employees, the nature of the work itself is the main motivator: is it ‘worthwhile’; will there be a sense of accomplishment; will they enjoy the work. Money is an important factor, but usually second to job satisfaction. Therefore if a candidate’s primary motivation for moving on is money that would ring alarm bells. This candidate will be harder to place as they will simply choose the highest value job offer, so are likely to be more flaky and harder to secure. Not impossible, but more effort will be needed.

Furthermore, some money-motivated candidates are only interviewing to get a pay-rise at their current job, and will use the new job offer as leverage for a raise. There is nothing more frustrating than a counter-offer at offer stage. If your strongest candidate for a role is money-motivated, then you need to keep looking to have a contingency candidate as a back-up. (There is nothing wrong with being money-motivated of course, but my point is it can cause problems for the recruiter than need to be managed).

2. My phone was, erm, broken…

Recruitment takes place over a number of, often non-consecutive, days. You need your candidates to want your opportunity or you are never going to place them. One of the ways they can show this desire is by keeping in touch with you. Ask them to call you at specific times, such as the morning after first speaking to them about the role, or immediately after an interview – if they fail to do so, then it may be a sign that they aren’t that interested in the role. By giving them deadlines to contact you, you can assess their desire for the position. An incommunicado candidate at any stage of the recruitment process is a major cause for concern.

3. My CV’s fine, thank you!

Recruiters are experts in recruitment – we know what a strong CV looks like, and we know what our clients are looking for. A lot of great candidates have CVs that are somewhat pants, or are OK but need adjusting for the role. Candidates need to work collaboratively with recruiters, so if a recruiter tells a candidate they need to make changes, then they need to make changes. Candidates who refuse to do so, or will do so but only make a minor change (sending a new CV with one extra sentence added in) aren’t going to work collaboratively with you, making your job that much harder. Be wary of such candidates.

4. How very dare you?!

A big part of a recruiter’s job is giving feedback, both positive and negative. When a candidate is rejected, we find out why and will try to pass that on to the candidate. Often the feedback is along the lines of, ‘we liked him but saw someone better’. Sometimes, feedback is more critical – maybe they have a problem with their interview style, maybe they made some mistakes on the more technical aspects of the interview. In this case, the recruiter has to give honest feedback to help them improve.

If a candidate objects, or refuses to acknowledge the feedback, then that is a major issue (I have known candidates to insist that their interviewer, often many years their senior with far greater technical knowledge, were wrong and had made the technical mistake!). This kind of response tells you all you need to know about a candidate – they don’t respond to criticism well, and so will always be difficult to work with and place. At this point you may have to walk away from them.

5. I’m not telling you that!

A key aspect of the recruiter-candidate relationship is trust. Trust is reciprocal; it is about entering into a relationship based on sharing of information. Studies on knowledge-hiding (refusing to share requested information) suggest that the key cause for not sharing requested information is because of mistrust. If a candidate doesn’t trust you, then your job becomes so much harder – you will never know if they are giving you the full story, or hiding things from you. In any industry, knowledge is power. The more you know, the more control you will have over events. If your knowledge is compromised, or incomplete, then you risk the recruitment process falling apart, leaving you with a vacant role and a miffed client. If your candidate is hiding reasonable information from you, or is being evasive and non-committal, be concerned.

The main onus is on the recruiter. Recruiters should understand what the candidate is looking for and ensure that their opportunities are a strong match for the candidate. People’s needs are heterogeneous (a fancy way of saying different people have different needs), and a recruiter’s job is to find candidates whose needs strongly correlate with the opportunity on offer. Most candidates will work collaboratively with their recruiter, and problematic candidates are very much in the minority. However, keeping an eye out for red flags helps you to continually assess your candidate, so you can stay in control of the recruitment process at all times, even if that means occasionally making the decision to withdraw a risky candidate from the process. It is your reputation at stake, after all.

By Andrew Fairley

Andrew Fairley has recently completed an MA in Management with The York Management School, focusing on strategy, innovation, HR, and organisational behaviour, and has just begun a PhD investigating the UK internet startup industry. Prior to this, he spent 2 years as a Recruitment Consultant, working with clients from SMEs to blue-chips, sourcing IT staff.  You can find him on Twitter or LinkedIn.