3 red flags to watch out for when interviewing potential employees

Always look for people who have read your entire website and have a genuine interest in your industry and company.

by Diane Faulkner
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

There are a few things you need to know about interviewing potential employees.

Whether your business is growing, you're replacing workers, or just setting out to hire your first employees, there's an art to interviewing. The more deliberate you are in preparing for the process, the better off you'll be.

Follow these tips to excel at interviewing potential employees and find out which red flags you should be keeping an eye out for.


Hiring red flags

Some signals are glaring and should not be overlooked:

Lack of research

Nicholas Stuller, founder of MyPerfectFinancialAdvisor.com, says, "You should always look for people who have read your entire website and have a genuine interest in your industry and company. If they don't have industry experience, depending upon the role, that, too, could increase your turnover risk."

Poor communication

Dawn D. Boyer, Ph.D., CEO of D. Boyer Consulting, says that people who raise red flags for her can't:

  • Talk succinctly
  • Speak clearly
  • Write well

It shouldn't take them three hours to boil down a two-minute story, Dr. Boyer says. As for speaking clearly, "so many middle-aged and older workers have trouble with hearing, and younger workers tend to slur words or fail to speak clearly, that means potential failures in communications with clients and peers."

And with writing, she warns, "You shouldn't rely on the resume or cover letter to showcase an applicant's skill at writing. These may have been professionally written. Test the applicant. Give a work-related story to write about in memo form."

Questionable behavior

"I believe that a red flag isn't necessarily how questions are answered but more of how the candidate behaves," says Matthew Dailly, managing director at Tiger Financial. Dailly likes to see confidence and a desire to learn and grow.

"If a candidate doesn't show enthusiasm and confidence in an interview, it may show that they are not serious about the job, which raises the question of how long they will last in the role and whether the work they do will be to the right standard," he says.

Hiring yellow flags

Other signals may only need some further probing to determine whether they portend a hiring failure:


These days, a job-hopper is "one who has multiple jobs in short stints for underwhelming reasons," says Jennifer Barnett, director of staffing services at The Headhunters LLC.

If their answer to why they moved around so much is "I left for more money," or "I didn't get along well with my boss," Barnett would consider those answers red flags.

What are some acceptable answers? If the candidate was doing things like:

  • Gig-work to help with bills while attending school or raising a family
  • Gap jobs to pay the bills while job searching
  • Strategic job-hopping to gain specific experience

"The important thing to keep in mind," Barnett says, "is why they left their past jobs. You can always check references to confirm that information."

Employment gaps

Once upon a time, gaps in a candidate's resume were an immediate red flag. But with the economic collapse of 2008-09 and the current coronavirus pandemic quarantine, some gaps are easily and understandably explained.

"I'm not sure why any interviewer would automatically consider gaps in employment a bad thing nowadays," says Dr. Boyer. "The only reason a potential employer needs to ask about gaps is to determine if the interviewee was in jail or undergoing some other negative activities during that period." Years-long gaps, she says, can be assumed to be for:

  • Family raising
  • Family caretaking
  • Full-time schooling
  • Gig work

"The bottom line is," she says, "who cares if the person has gaps in their employment? How does that affect the hiring company? It more than likely doesn't. So, why ask about it?"

Additional hiring tips

Joanna Zambas, CV and career expert for CareerAddict, suggests that "before hiring, you should have a checklist of what you want the candidate to be like." Think "persona," as you would if you were in marketing and defining a target customer. You are, in fact, marketing your company to a target employee for each position you have open.

"You need to understand what skills, abilities, and experiences are relevant to the job," adds Rebecca Dioso, vice president of human resources consulting at HRPro. "Spend 15 minutes with the hiring manager to understand what is needed for the job [and the departmental culture] if the position doesn't report to you." A methodical learner in a fast-moving department will fail.

Then, come up with questions that will get you the information you need. Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva, suggests creating an interview flowchart to help direct the interview. "For example, when [a candidate] answers a question in a certain way, the chart will prompt a follow-up with question X." Very helpful for hiring managers to keep the questions germane.

When putting together questions, avoid any questions that will get you into trouble with federal, state, or local laws. "Read through the CV," says Zambas, "and draw out points to discuss and elaborate on. Also have industry-related questions on hand."

Lastly, "tap into the power of behavioral interview questions," advises Max Woolf, career expert at ResumeLab. "They help you gauge how a prospective hire handled real-life situations at their previous job(s) to see if they'll fit your company culture like a plug in a socket." Then, follow up with probing follow-up questions.

Along the way, look for warning signs that the candidate might not be a good fit.

Have more questions about hiring best practices? LEARN MORE

About the Author

Diane Faulkner

Diane Faulkner is a ghostwriter, content marketing strategist, and editor based in Jacksonville, Florida. She specialize… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.