Be on guard
5 Personality Red Flags You Should Spot in Job Candidates
Stephen Coburn / Adobe Stock
Jane Scudder
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Trying to land a new job is hard. But it can be just as difficult to find the right candidate for a role. After all, it's difficult to really get to know a candidate and her personality after a short interview—even several rounds of interviews. Plus, she'll obviously be putting her best foot forward in an interview and leading with her strongest behavioral traits. So, after working with recruiting partners (or leading recruitment on your own), how can you be sure you're this seeing candidate for who she really is?

Red-Flag Behavioral Traits in Interviewees

Identifying quality personality traits is an art, not a science. However, there are some behaviors and characteristics that should raise red flags for you. Oftentimes, you'll be able to spot them when interviewing candidates. Here are five that should put you on guard:

1. Selfishness or indifference

Kindness is not simply something for “outside of work.” If a professional is behaving selfishly or ignoring the feelings and needs of her colleagues, managers, and employees, she's not someone you'll want in the office.

A less-commonly-asked question, but an important one, is "How have you responded in the past when a colleague has had to handle a personal issue during heavy sales season/closing quarter/another busy period?" What does her response reveal about the candidate? Her humanity.

Why does this matter? You want an employee who works well with the rest of your team. Someone who exercises empathy and responds to the needs of her colleagues, rather than solely focusing on the project or organization instead of the person, is likely a good cultural fit for your office.

2. Avoiding responsibility

You want someone who owns her work—the good, the bad, and everything in between. The person who avoids responsibility lacks self-awareness and confidence. Nobody is perfect, but someone who owns her mistakes demonstrates maturity, while an employee who won't accept responsibility has some growing to do.

Try asking, “Tell me about the last time something went wrong in your career or life. What happened and what did you do?” Opening this up to life more broadly may make allow the interviewee to be more candid and forthcoming in her response.

3. Placing blame

Someone who casts stones is someone who lacks confidence. Confidence is a trait that a worker can improve with effort, but if the candidate seems to put the blame for anything going wrong on others in an interview, where she's trying to present herself in her best light, it's a sign that she needs to reevaluate her approach to teamwork.

Ask, “Has there been a time you felt you were unfairly or unjustly held responsible for something?” It's possible that there have been circumstances under which the candidate has felt that she was blamed unfairly, but the way she answers this question matters more than the incident itself. If she says that it has happened while acknowledging that she might have handled the situation in a better way or owns some of the responsibility, she's demonstrating that she's thoughtful and doesn't harbor resentment.

4. Not actually doing work

Talking the talk is easy, but does this person have the results to back it up? What was her specific role? This is what you are trying to understand as an interviewer. To better understand what the candidate has accomplished ask about results she personally drove.

A coaching session is very different from an interview but this trick helps: I often say to my clients, "Use the pronoun I." This trick changes how a person frames and thinks about an answer and can be powerful in a job interview as well. Be on the lookout for specific projects and proof of her work, rather than vague descriptions.

5. Someone who doesn’t want the job

I’m always surprised when candidates cannot knock the question “Why do you want to work here?” totally out of the park. I’ve written about this from the candidate perspective. but it’s equally important to consider from the employer’s perspective. It’s a critical question to ask because it’s a great litmus test of her thoughts on the role, how it might fit into her broader career, what she's really after, and whether she really wants the job. If she hasn't considered the question or can't answer it thoughtfully and enthusiastically, then she's probably not the right person for the job.

Here’s a twist to help understand this from the interview's end: Ask, “Why do you want to work here and with this team?” That last piece makes it personal, and if you keep your intuition antenna up you might get a gut-feeling about this person.

Finding, hiring, and growing talent is an ongoing challenge for all companies and leaders. But knowing how to spot these traits and why they matter is a step in making the interview process more efficient—and will ultimately find you the best candidate for the job.

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Jane Scudder is a certified leadership, personal development, and career growth coach; she helps individuals and groups get unstuck. In addition to one-on-one coaching, she builds and leads original workshops and training programs, consults with organizations of various sizes. Find out more at janescudder.com.

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