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5 Green Flags to Look For When Interviewing (And 5 Red Ones to Steer Clear Of)

Contributor: Judy Liang, aPHR

June 1st, 2023 | 6 min. read

By Tony Calavitta

5 Green Flags to Look For When Interviewing (And 5 Red Ones to Steer Clear Of)

Hiring the right candidate is a make-or-break decision.

It may be the difference between EITHER securing a long-term, high-performing, all-star employee OR struggling with an ongoing cycle of employee turnover.

Because candidate interviews play an important role in this hiring decision, knowing how to intuitively maneuver interviews can help you procure top talent and prevent turnover.

Here at Combined, our HR team has assisted many employers, just like you, with their recruiting and hiring practices – We can help you fine-tune your interview process so you can effectively identify the right candidates for your company.

In this article, we will discuss how to navigate interviews in today’s employment environment. By reading it, you will learn what to look for (and what to look out for) when interviewing prospective employees.

The entire interview process can tell you a lot about a job candidate

We all know how a job interview works.

First, the interviewer asks a question. Next, the applicant answers the question. And this back-and-forth repeats for a number of questions.

There’s not much to it.

OR is there?

Outside of this verbal exchange, think about all the other parts of the interview process.

Interviews follow a set schedule. Interviews follow a designated dress code. Interviews follow a standard Q&A structure. And (as anyone who has ever googled “how to prepare for an interview?” knows) interviews even follow a set of commonly asked questions.

By paying close attention to these types of auxiliary interview components, you can learn as much (if not more) about a candidate as you can from the actual interview conversation itself.

But, to do this effectively, you have to know the good (and bad) signs to look for when conducting an interview.

Green flags – 5 signs to look for when interviewing job candidates

Here are the top 5 things to look for when interviewing job candidates.

1. Punctuality

93% of all hiring managers agree that being late to an interview significantly reduces a candidate’s chances of landing a job.

With this in mind, arriving early or on time for an interview may seem like an unspoken rule – But it is a rule that, when followed, speaks loudly on behalf of a candidate.

When a candidate is punctual for a scheduled interview, they exhibit:

  • Respect for the interviewer’s time
  • Interest in the open position
  • Reliability

These three qualities are a winning combination and, when evaluated alongside other positive indicators, can help you select your best-fit candidate.

2. Clear verbal communication

Yes, a candidate who is able to clearly articulate their thoughts demonstrates strong verbal skills.

But, in an interview setting, the manner in which a candidate communicates can also help you assess their problem-solving skills.

Think about it. An interview is like a spoken test – Every question you ask a candidate is a problem for them to solve. Sure, you will always get some sort of answer. But the way they communicate their answer gives you insight into how they cognitively arrived at it.

A few examples:

  • Did they answer the question thoroughly? 
    If so, this shows their ability to carefully listen, insightfully understand, and purposefully process in order to provide an appropriate answer.

  • Did they over-answer the question? 
    If so, this could mean that they lack focus, attention to detail, or the necessary awareness to communicate information concisely.

  • Did they answer a tangent question?
    If so, they may have difficulty organizing and coherently communicating information.

When interviewing, how a candidate answers questions is just as important as what their answers are. By evaluating a candidate’s ability to clearly communicate in an interview, you can better gauge how they would communicate in your workplace.

3. Confident nonverbal communication

What would your reaction be to a candidate who leans back in their chair, puts their feet up on your desk, and looks every which way while you attempt to speak to them?

Not good (In fact, you’d probably end the interview at your first opportunity and spend the next 15 minutes in shocked silence, wiping your desk down with as much Lysol as possible).

This goes to show that nonverbal cues do speak to a candidate’s suitability for a position.

Strong, positive nonverbal communication like attentive eye contact, proper posture, and the classic firm handshake demonstrate confidence, professionalism, engagement, and interpersonal skills – all traits held by the highest workplace performers.

Note: With more and more interviews being conducted over online video platforms, nonverbal communication can extend to encompass a candidate’s environment, background noise, internet connection, and more. This is because the candidate can, generally, control their interview setup. With this in mind, just as nonverbal communication during an in-person interview can impress professionalism and interest, so too can a candidate’s awareness of their background during a virtual interview.

4. Personalized Preparation

When searching for a job, candidates often apply to many different jobs.

So, when interviewing a candidate, how do you know if they are genuinely interested in working for your company or if they view your open position as just one more in a stack of serial applications?

The answer – By determining whether they researched your business.

Start by asking questions about your business like:

  • What makes them uniquely qualified to work for (your specific business)?
  • Why are they attracted to the open position with (your specific business)?
  • How do they plan to contribute to the mission and vision of (your specific business)?

Then provide them with an open forum for them to ask questions about your specific business:

  • Are the questions they ask authentic?
  • Do the questions they ask demonstrate an understanding of your specific business?

If a candidate is well-prepared to discuss the ins and outs of your specific business, they not only demonstrate initiative but also enthusiasm for your open position.

5. Appropriate, follow-up correspondence

How many candidates do you interview when you’re trying to fill an open position? My guess, and coincidentally the national employer average, is 6-10 candidates.

Let’s say that 2 of the candidates you interviewed send you a thank you letter expressing appreciation for the opportunity.

Which of your 6-10 candidates are you going to remember most favorably? My guess, also coincidentally shown in a 2023 employer survey, is that you will have the best impression of the 2 candidates who sent appropriate follow-up correspondence.

Why? Because candidates who send appropriate follow-up correspondence display a degree of commitment to the open position and posture themselves as long-term hires.

Red Flags – 5 warning signs to consider when interviewing job candidates

Here are the top 5 things to look out for when interviewing job candidates.

1. No-call, no-show

I am going to assume that, when hiring, you are looking for an employee that shows up to work. Why then would you hire a candidate, vying for an open position, who doesn’t show up for a scheduled interview?

A candidate who does not show up for their scheduled interview should instantly set off your alarm signals. Granted, a valid reason may excuse this but, as a rule of thumb, missing or repeatedly rescheduling an interview suggests that either they are unreliable or they are not very interested in your open position.

2. Inappropriate attire

Typically, an interview serves as the first impression a candidate can make on a potential employer (After all, 1-2 pages of Times New Roman can only tell you so much about them).

That being said, a candidate who fails to dress appropriately for an interview, makes a statement (and not a good one).

By dressing inappropriately for a scheduled interview, a candidate demonstrates poor judgment, a lack of professionalism, and a flippant attitude toward your open position only rivaled by the above no-call, no-show.

3. Indirect, roundabout communication

In 2023, effective communication tops the charts as the #1 most sought-after skill that employers look for – After all, communication skills are critical to nearly every job.

When a candidate’s interview answers are vague, indirect, or confusing, it may be an indication that they have poor communication skills, difficulty making decisions, or a lack of confidence.

Note: Given that a candidate may be nervous about the interview itself, it may be helpful to ask clarifying questions to see if their difficulty communicating is situational or if it will be reflected in your workplace.

4. Lack of accountability

We all make mistakes. But do we all learn from them?

When interviewing a candidate, asking about previous failures can be an extremely illuminating question.

Will they explain a shortcoming and qualify it as a learning lesson? Or will they play the blame game and identify others’ faults in it instead?

An employee who fails to take accountability, especially in a position involving collaboration, could be detrimental to your workplace dynamic. So, using the interview to identify this aptitude (or lack thereof) can help you avoid hiring the wrong team member.

5. Complaining

Speaking on previous work experience is an interview staple. And the way a candidate discusses it can be telling.

Do they explain how their past work experience helped them to grow and develop? Or do they complain about all the roadblocks that led them to pursue new work?

If a candidate complains about their previous work experience, whether it be their boss, their colleagues, or their responsibilities, it may foreshadow their attitude toward any potential workplace challenges should you hire them.

Need help with your interviewing process? Take the next steps

If you are here, you want to assemble the best team for your business but, because interviewing is critical to identifying your best-fit candidates, you need the right interview strategy to do so.

By reading this article, you learned how to evaluate every aspect of your interview process, from initial scheduling to final follow-up, in order to identify positive and negative candidate qualities.

Here at Combined, our HR experts have helped many employers, just like you, refine their interview process so that they can confidently hire long-term, high-performing, all-star employees. We want to help you do the same.

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This article is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.