CAUTION: The warning signs of a bad candidate

In an increasingly competitive talent market it’s never been more important to find and retain the right candidate. But how can you be sure you’ve found a quality candidate and what are the red flags you need to look out for?

Attracting, interviewing, selecting and hiring new employees is a time intensive and costly exercise, so it’s important that employers know the warning signs of candidates who aren’t going to be a good fit for their business.

Warning signs when reviewing a candidate’s resume

Manisha Maligaspe, the Oceania Transaction Advisory Services Recruitment Lead for EY says there are three main red flags to watch for when reviewing a candidate’s CV.

Employment gaps

Maligaspe says employment gaps are a common warning sign, but only in particular situations. “Employment gaps are absolutely fine if the candidate has an acceptable reason, such as taking a break to travel, to try something new or have children, but candidates should be able to explain the gap with a valid reason,” she says.

While most job seekers will have at least one gap in their work history, the red flag is periods of unemployment that are not backed up with a reasonable explanation.

Lack of attention to detail

“Lack of attention can be seen as a huge red flag for employers or recruiters who are screening resumes,” Maligaspe says. “If a candidate can’t go through their resume and cover letter with a fine toothed comb before hitting the ‘submit’ button, they may be perceived as careless and sloppy.” Ultimately this lack of attention may reflect how a candidate will behave if they were hired. 

Generic cover letter

A general resume and cover letter that could be used for multiple jobs is a warning sign. “If a candidate is serious about applying for a particular organisation, they would do their due diligence and tailor their CV and cover letter to that specific company,” says Maligaspe. “A candidate’s CV should be focused towards the role they are applying for and show exactly what they offer and how it relates to the job.”

Interview red flags

There are certain behaviours, attitudes or ways of communicating that should make hiring managers think twice about a candidate.

Not keeping emotions in check

“An interview isn’t an opportunity for a candidate to have a deep and meaningful session with the recruiter about a previous employer, personal struggles of finding a job, a horrible boss in the past or any other sob stories,” says Maligaspe. “If a candidate can’t articulate why they want to leave their current job or if they say it’s because they want more money or don’t like their boss, this is a massive red flag.”

Instead, it’s important that candidates sell their successes and speak to why they would be the ideal person for the position and how they have outgrown their current role.

Unprofessional behaviour or arrogance

There’s a fine line between arrogance and confidence, but if a candidate presents as someone who knows it all or speaks only about him or herself, it’s a warning sign that they may find it difficult to accept feedback and may not fit well within a team. 

Short on the details

Candidates who aren’t willing to provide necessary information or bring required documents to an interview (such as referee details) are a concern. “These candidates are not doing themselves any favours with hiring managers,” says Maligaspe. “Why aren’t they willing to participate in basic checks? What are they trying to conceal?”

What to do if you have concerns

“I believe employers should give candidates the opportunity to explain their side of the story before making a decision,” says Maligaspe.

Ultimately, identifying the wrong candidate before it’s too late comes down to doing your due diligence from the outset. “Employers should take the right steps, such as reference checking from various sources, speaking to two or three previous employers and conducting a thorough background check (including looking at how the candidate presents themselves on public social media channels),” Maligaspe says. “This minimises the risk of the wrong employee being hired.”

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