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Red flags in job interviews

20 red flags for interviews

If you don’t have any hilarious job interview stories, you just haven’t been in the workforce.

My favorite is that time back in 1990 when I was interviewing for a job as a speechwriter for then vice president Dan Quayle. His chief of staff, Bill Kristol (today a respected conservative commentator), spent much of the time picking his nose.

I found this oddly reassuring, thinking it must mean he was comfortable with me. At any rate, I didn’t get the job.

Employers have their own array of stories, which cease to become funny the minute they realize they have hired the wrong person.

Kevin Sheridan, a “human capital management consultant,” has released a cheat sheet: “The Non-Negotiable List: Twenty Red Flags for Interviews,” listing twenty things that should immediately put a job candidate out of the running.

Most of them are fairly obvious (but then it is often useful to be reminded of the obvious):

“Could not look me in the eye.”

“Moved slowly and had very little energy.”

“Looked at their cell phone, fielded a phone call or responded to a text during the interview.” (Probably also a good disqualification for a first date.)

“Displayed behavior that showed a lack of politeness, disrespect, or messiness.”

“Provided inconsistent and/or conflicting information or answers.”

“Expressed weaknesses that clearly did not bode well for the job position (e.g. an introvert who prefers to work alone interviewing for a customer service position).”

Others were more sophisticated: “Could not share an honest and candid response to the great interview question, ‘Please share the single greatest mistake you have made in your job in the last three years.’ (According to a national SHRM poll, 43% of Chief HR Officers believe that the number one reason new employees do not work out is that they cannot take feedback. [e.g., they are perfect people and do not make any mistakes.])”

Another one: “Clearly interviewed for ‘a job,’ as opposed to showing passion for wanting to do THIS job.”

This certainly holds true in the produce industry: if you want a job here, you’d better adore fresh fruits and vegetables or convincingly pretend you do. But I wonder how it might work with, say, undertakers (“I just LOVE being around dead people!”).

On the other side of the desk, Forbes has this advice for interviewees: “Once you are clear on the next steps in the process, it’s time to find out where you stand. Here’s the question: ‘Can you think of any reason why we wouldn’t be able to take the next step?’ After all, isn’t that what you really want to know: what’s in the way of you and me working together? This question must be asked with sincerity, and you have to be prepared for any answer. . . . Now you have an opportunity to elaborate on that area—to take another bite at the apple, and see if you can reframe your skills to fit the role.”

Probably good advice. Some pundits contend that everyone is involved in sales one way or another. So, it’s probably a good idea for everyone to master one or two closing techniques.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.