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What are the warning signs of a bad candidate?

What are the warning signs of a bad candidate?

I’m fairly new to PR and recently completed my first set of Round One interviews. Now we are at the short-listing stage,  there was something about the manner of one of the candidates that just didn’t sit easily with me, although he said the right things and looks good on paper. In this instance, should I go with my gut?

It’s hard for me to judge from your email whether or not this candidate is a wrong ‘un. All I can advise is that these are the main warning signs I’ve learned to watch out for, that may mean a bad candidate:

  • Behaves unprofessionally. Our receptionists and PA’s are briefed to note candidates’ behaviour while waiting to be called, looking for polite, mature and professional composure. After all, you want a candidate who is consistently professional in their dealing with all roles and levels within your organisation. Within the interview, even if it seems friendly and relaxed, candidates should not get too comfortable or too familiar but maintain an air of respectful professionalism throughout. One obviously makes some allowances for nerves.
  • Is late. Mature, organised, keen and responsible job candidates will leave no stone unturned in planning their route and timings to be on time or, preferably, a little early for the interview. 9 times out of 10, late means irresponsible – someone without the care or forethought to plan ahead. Very occasionally, there can, of course, be unavoidable mitigating circumstances. These must be left to your judgement.
  • Hasn’t researched your company. If the appointment is external, a prepared candidate will be able to make an educated guess about how his skills and experience fit with the position within your organisation, when asked: Why do you want to work here?
  • Isn’t a team player. When asked, “Give us an example of when you had to show leadership”, the candidate relates the tale from their perspective only, failing to mention the team element of the story.; for me, this raises at least the question: egocentric glory-grabber?
  • Lacks insight and/or accountibility. It is always worth straying into negative areas with questions such as, "Give us an example of a wrong turn have you taken or bad decision you have made in your career." This allows a worthy candidate to demonstrate their ability to be introspective, honest, analytical, self-critical and willingness to say mea culpa. Probe deeply to explore that they are able to acknowledge the part their choices and actions had in that outcome. If they claim no such instances have ever arisen – apart from seeming unlikely – it makes it hard to judge how they would  deal with fiascos and setbacks.
  • Disparages former employers. Look for tact and respect when a candidate speaks of their former, or perhaps, current employer. Even if they do not really like them, they should still show some loyalty and discretion – just as you would wish when one of your organisation’s employees move on and speak of you.
  • Asks inappropriate questions. The questions a candidate asks speaks volumes about them.  With searching questions about your expectations and how to exceed them, the candidate demonstrates commitment to the organisation’s interests and intentions to succeed. Again, questions that illustrate a candidate’s enthusiasm for being a part of your team while also expressing decisiveness are positive. Questions about what’s in it for the candidate re holiday time, sick time, vacation pay and paid leave should set a few alarm bells ringing.


As you become more experienced, practice will help you form a strong impression of a candidate from the first few paragraphs of their CV. The key is to have created a clear qualities and skills picture of your ideal candidate from the outset. What type of person would be good for the position? What qualities and skills should they possess?

From this, you'll be able to develop your searching open-ended behavioural questions. Finally, pay close attention not only to how the candidates answer but also to how they handle being asked.

Happy hiring!