You’ve whittled down your candidates. Only the best made the grade. Soon, you’ll have this buttoned up.

Or not…

With only the interview process left, would you recognise a bad apple?

Making a hiring mistake is expensive. Bad hires cost UK businesses billions every year, with 85% of HR managers admitting their company made the wrong choice.

“When asked how a bad hire affected their business in the last year, employers cited less productivity (37%), lost time to recruit and train another worker (32%), and compromised quality of work (31%).”

With the usual interview process lasting 27.5 days, it’s not surprising the average UK cost-per-hire is £3,000.

Weeding out a less-than-perfect candidate isn’t as easy as it sounds.

There are obvious signs – dressing inappropriately, exhibiting poor body language, asking ill-suited questions – vacation times, sick leave, paid leave, etc. – or taking calls during interviews.

Then there are the hidden clues that signal when someone isn’t going to fit. It can never be foolproof, but you should always look out for the interview warning signs below:

1. Are they interview-ready?

Does this candidate really want the job? How much they want it will stand out in the interview because they’ve researched the company and the role. An enthusiastic applicant is ready with questions for the interviewer. What will be expected of them? What is the company’s vision?

No questions? Where’s the burning interest in the position, the role, or the organization itself?

“I ask what questions they have for me. If someone pulls out a list of questions, or have some ready for me in some way, it shows he/she is prepared. If they have none then it gives me the impression they will take any job that is offered.” – Jeremy Marcus, founder of J Marcus Finance.

2. Top notch candidates have a healthy ambition

A good candidate, when asked “Where do you want to be in five years’ time?” will share their goals and how they plan to get there.

When there’s no reasonable answer, it shows a lack of ambition. If they can’t see progress in five years’ time, they may not have the zeal to develop themselves or your company.

Candidates not hungry enough to drive their own career forward don’t have much to offer.

3. Overconfidence, good or bad?

Can a candidate be too confident? While confidence is good; arrogance is not. Talking excessively or bragging isn’t appropriate behaviour for a job interview in a business setting.

Is the applicant nervous or hiding something? Either way, arrogance is off-putting for others, both colleagues and customers. And a cocky candidate doesn’t make a great team player.

4. Not the right cultural fit

The candidate may look great on paper, but it’s no guarantee they’re the best fit for the job. Plenty of experience and stellar skills won’t make up for an abrasive personality or dodgy behaviour.

Statistics show, “60% of recruiters rate culture fit of highest importance” when deciding whether to hire or not.

According to Robert Walters, over 80% experience improvements in the team dynamic and higher levels of productivity, satisfaction, engagement, staff retention and respect when there is a cultural fit.

The upshot of a bad fit is a toxic work environment and lost productivity. Trust your instincts – if you feel the candidate won’t fit, don’t try. It’s probably true.

While businesses stand to lose, candidates do too; 73% of professionals leave a job because of poor cultural fit. (Robert Walters)

5. Bad-mouthing previous employers

Ever had a negative candidate? This applicant is the classic ‘victim.’ Their manager was dreadful. They were passed over for promotions. Someone kept stealing their lunch…

The victim is an employee who is disloyal and gossips at any chance.

Negative candidates don’t display qualities of maturity, professionalism and discretion.

On the other hand, positive candidates won’t bad-mouth their previous company or teammates. Instead, they emphasize the good they gleaned from their last position with statements like; ‘As much as I like the company and am close with my team, I personally need to develop my skills within a larger organisation with more scope for career progression.’

“[Complaining] about a former job not having enough flexibility, or having trouble at a former job, could indicate unreliability and an overall ‘problem’ mentality.” (MyCorporation)

6. Late or postpones the interview

Is the candidate late or asking to reschedule an interview? Unless they have an unassailable reason – fire, flood or alien invasion – it’s best to take it with a pinch of salt. This isn’t always a deal-breaker.

More importantly, how did the candidate handle the situation? How long before they called to let you know? Did they apologise?

Your applicant may be a chronically late employee – a time management issue – or your company could be their second choice.

“If this candidate is going to show up late for their interview you can bet your bottom dollar that they will show up late on work days as well.” (Travertine Spa Atelier)

7. Personal presentation

Every worthwhile candidate knows there’s never a second chance to make a first impression. At the very least, an applicant should be clean and presentable: no dirty fingernails, unkempt hair or dishevelled clothes.

We learn a lot about a person from their appearance and body language. Clean and confident with a positive attitude points to a candidate who may possess skills that would bring value to your firm.

It’s only human for interviewers to make a snap decision based on a candidate’s outward appearance, personal hygiene, and body language. But, remember, that potential employee is also forming their first impression of you and your company.

8. Ignores or dismisses your receptionist/colleague

The interview starts the moment the candidate enters the building. If the applicant treats the receptionist or your colleague with disregard or contempt before they are even hired, how will they behave on the job?

Candidates should always treat others with respect regardless of their level in the company – from the receptionist to the MD. Discourteous behaviour is a sign their personality may be difficult to manage.


9. Job-hopping

This is more common during the start of someone’s career when trying to gain experience. One survey found 91% of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years.

A pattern of job-hopping may suggest they get bored quickly or struggled to fit into their previous companies. Candidates must justify their reasons for moving from job to job.

10. Can’t back up their claims

It’s common to make small exaggerations, but not over-inflate your skills and experience on a resume. If the candidate “really wants to work for your company” but can’t articulate why beyond the superficial “nice offices and a generous salary,” it could be a red flag.

While a good candidate will be able to recount experiences and elaborate on skills, the poor candidate will gloss over responses, artfully dodge questions and bring the conversation back to points he wants to emphasise.

The solution here is to carefully work through their career, asking competency-based interview questions. Get them to explain how they did these things, ask for statistics on how they impacted the company or set them a task to test their skill and experience.

11. Lacks key soft skills

Hard skills can be taught. Soft skills – also known as emotional IQ – are elusive and hard to quantify. These abilities include verbal communication, problem-solving, analytical thinking and leadership.

Soft skills are hallmarks of great employees and effective team players. If a candidate doesn’t have these attributes, they won’t work well with others.


One skill all recruiters need is the ability to recognize talent.  In our current market, finding the right applicant for the job is especially crucial.

Just as interviewers want to make sure that candidate is right for the company and the job, the candidate needs to know the company and the role are the right fit for them.

There is nothing as valuable as the face-to-face interview. Our interview tips will help alert interviewers to spot those potentially problematic candidates.