Talent Acquisition

6 Warning Signs Your Candidate Will Flake

Few things beat the exhilaration of finding the right person for the job. They generally come along a bit too late for comfort, after many revised job spec drafts, and much too much trawling through the internet. But then you’ve got them! Woo hoo!

You call them up, give them the run-down, let them know what’s what with the prospective company, and generally groom them to be more diamond, less rough. Then the worst happens. They either ace the interview and refuse the offer, or bail on the whole process completely. All of your time and work is wasted.

Now, any recruiter would want to avoid the above, but try to remember that the person you’re dealing with is just that – a person. Another human being. Rarely are people out to lie or waste your efforts.

You yourself know how competitive the job market is today, and while ideally we want to find a candidate who has presented a brilliant, tailored CV – someone who only has their sights set on the job you’re advertising – the reality is, it’s possible that your candidate currently has multiple applications on the go because of the scarcity of available avenues of employment.

And while much has been done in recent years to quell bad practices in human resources and talent acquisition, you should appreciate that some candidates may have had terrible experiences with other recruiters, including through biases against race, gender, and sexual orientation.

No matter how guarded or ‘flakesque’ your candidates may appear, you need to be nuanced in your assessment to avoid losing the candidate through irritation or ignorance.

You must also understand that Millennial and Gen Z candidates often have different career aspirations and habits than people of other ages may have. In the past, for example, career-hopping may have been a sign that applicants are fickle and prone to restlessness, but today, major career changes every few years is the norm.

It’s generally considered that the onus is on the employer to create a career system that truly benefits the company and the employee in a symbiotic way, rather than it being an employee’s responsibility to remain loyal in a top-down working environment.

Now, this may all be a lot to take in, but don’t fret. The real take away is that while there are signs that point to an inappropriate candidate, they aren’t always obvious to spot in the ways people often assume they are. Below are six actual indications that your contender isn’t committed to your project and six that only seem to say so. Read them with an open mind, and you’ll be able to spot a flaker for miles.


A real warning sign: Candidate is unwilling to adjust CV to better suit the job spec.

Not a real warning sign: Candidate is unwilling to present work in a face-to-face interview.

It may come as news to many of us that applicants don’t always know to edit their CV for a particular job. Most orientation done around this in school emphasises the importance of creating one, solid CV that is assumed suitable for a bevy of opportunities.

So, if you see that a candidate has potential, ring them up to see if they are willing to adapt their CV to the job at hand. If their answer is no, they’re not altogether very interested in what’s on offer. Flake alarm!

However, asking aspirants to present on a relevant subject, or come up with some ideas or designs for the company they’re applying to is asking for free labour. This is only okay in instances when presentation is an integral part of the job description. With creative roles, it’s never alright to ask for usable samples when an existing portfolio is available for view.


A real warning sign: An eagerness to disparage a current or past employer.

Not a real warning sign: When asked, an applicant is honest about former employees.

There are nasty employers out there, but it’s considered inappropriate for candidates to give a long list of complaints against a current or former employer. Tact shows that an applicant is respectful, and more likely to follow-though. But don’t confuse this with frank answers to probing questions from you.

It’s easier said than done, but spotting the difference between a person who has shown emotional intelligence in their dealings with former employers, and someone too quick to point to mistakes and shift blame, is key.


A real warning sign: Shows clear indications of not having researched the company and how they relate to it.

Not a real warning sign: An applicant is unable to answer a very specific question about a company, or hasn’t got a grasp on industry stats.

Please, people. Can we stop trying to catch out candidates with questions few of the current employees themselves could answer? Again, unless it’s part of the job description, don’t expect applicants to know the names of competitors or the like.

Instead, ask questions that will evoke answers that reveal whether a candidate has actively thought about their contribution to the company.


A real warning sign: The candidate does not express interest verbally, or through their portfolio, or CV.

Not a real warning sign: The candidate appears reserved.

To find the best person for any position is often to find the most passionate applicant. You want your candidate to show interest in a company’s work and values. Sometimes this might be as simple as someone saying, ‘I love X about this company,’ other times, you may need to prompt with a question, or read genuine interest through their past career choices and projects.

However, don’t make the mistake of mistaking reservation for a lack of interest. Unless the job calls for a people-person or extroverted demeanour, you can’t expect every applicant to have an excellent telephone manner.


A real warning sign: A candidate presses to know about benefits early on.

Not a real warning sign: A candidate has frank questions around compensation.

We can’t all live the lives of tragic artists who sacrifice a steady salary for doing what they love, and neither can rent be paid with the feeling of a job well done. Salary is important, and asking after it does not designate an applicant as money-hungry.

However, when it comes to company extras, these should really only be an addition to a great place of employment, not the reason they’re there. If your candidate pushes to know more about benefits before the interview stage, it may be that they aren’t very keen on the job as it is in the description.


A real warning sign: The applicant is always delaying communication.

Not a real warning sign: The candidate has unexpected issues come up in the recruitment process.

Finding a job is an important part of a person’s life, but it’s not the only thing that calls for an applicant’s attention. There may be some delays, lateness, or confusion as candidates go through what is understandably, a daunting change in their day-to-day.

That said, candidates who are truly interested in the position will make these challenges clear, and crucially, find solutions for them. Someone who repeatedly delays communication between them and yourself aren’t all in.

About the author: Alez Odendaal is a careers advice writer for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in finding candidates their dream internship.

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