Looking for signs early in the interview process can mean the difference in a successful hire, verses a future fire! Annelle Barnett and Josh Sweeney take a deep dive into RED Flags and fatal flaws of candidates.

EP 74 – Red Flags and Fatal Flaws of Hiring

Welcome to the epic company culture Podcast, where your host, Josh Sweeney will give you the business leaders, HR professionals and company culture aficionados, the knowledge you need to take your company culture to the next level.

Red Flags and Fatal Flaws

JOSH [0:15] Hello, my name is Josh Sweeney, and welcome to the Epic Company culture podcast. This is the final episode of season two, all about hiring and company culture with my co-host Annelle Barnett.

ANNELLE [0:30] Hi, thanks for having me.

JOSH [0:32] Thank you for joining us on this season two. It’s been amazing.

ANNELLE [0:36] And it really has I’ve had a lot of fun. Thanks for inviting me to co host.

JOSH [0:40] Yeah, anytime. Hopefully, we get another season in the future. So, for our last episode, we are going to talk about red flags and fatal flaws.What are some of the things we see during the hiring process that are the red flags? And what are the areas where it’s a no go, it’s just time to shut it down, pack it in and and set them free from the interview? Right. So what are some things that you’re seeing out there?

Being Late

ANNELLE[1:06] Not to be repetitive, but there are obviously some things that you should be watching. Things like being late that’s kind of given. I guess that probably falls more in the red flag category because we live in Atlanta.

There are all kinds of things that can happen to cause someone to be late. But it’s I think a candidate can be late, but they need to be profusely apologetic when they walk in the door. And there has to be a good reason that they weren’t there on time. I would

JOSH [1:51] I would say, I wonder if it depends on who they’re interviewing with whether something’s a red flag or a fatal flaw. I know being late for us is pretty much a fatal flaw. It’s over, right?

[2:04] We plan ahead too much. We want to make sure that, even if you have to go visit a customer, something’s not getting blamed on something else that’s happening. Normally, that’s a repetitive situation. Like most people I work with are either usually late, are usually on time or like me ridiculously early to everything like almost a negative way.

I’m always the first one there and then everybody else strolls in 10 minutes later there for half an hour at that point. I think some of the red flags and fatal flaws probably depend on who absolutely reviewing. So what are some other things that you see?


ANNELLE [2:40] Yeah, well, I think often there are situations where somebody is maybe more closed off. They cross their arms in the interview, they put their hands on their head, they’re perceived as arrogant. That kind of hands doesn’t work.

Bad Mouthing

[3:09] I kind of more specifically as bad mouthing a prior employer or employee that you were that you worked with.  Those are never good signs. Because if they’re bad mouthing them, and they’re probably going to be bad, nothing new. There are obviously situations where someone had a really worked for a really bad company or works for a really bad person. That happens but it’s kind of the candidates job to figure out a tactful way to express that rather than a bad mouthing way.

JOSH [3:45] yeah, definitely. Because those are going to carry over in the work environment of how they do or don’t tactfully answers a lot of those who are engaged in some of those situations, right.

Arriving Too Early

ANNELLE [3:56] Yeah. Actually back to arriving on time, you mentioned in arriving too early that can actually be a negative review process. If you’re sitting in someone’s lobby for 20 minutes, that’s going to be really awkward. The person who’s interviewing you is going to feel pressure that they may be in a meeting and they have this person sitting out in the lobby waiting for them. S, it’s good to be early, but not

JOSH [4:23] too early. What’s the grace period? Like, 10 minutes?

ANNELLE [4:26] I would say, probably 10 minutes. That’s a good window. I’d certainly remember when I used to interview I would always arrive about 30 minutes early. And I’d sit in my car and review my notes.

[4:41] So, you can get your head straight. Then, you wouldn’t be worried if there is a an accident or something.You’re still probably going to make it on time. So it just gives you a little bit of window concussion.

Plan Ahead

JOSH [4:55] Yeah. I remember being rushed extremely early for interviews. Actually, I worked for Internet Security Systems. At one point, I was going for the interview. I drove all the way to Midtown because there used to be this huge site. It’s actually still there. There’s this big circle sign down by Spring Street and Peachtree shoot and it said that internet security systems on it. I had seen it so many times, like “Oh, I know where I’m back.”

I just drove straight there and when I got there and drove around, was like, “Wait, this is obviously a company side. It’s not even an advertiser. It’s not pitching anything. Their logo, there  sign, they’re nowhere to be found.”

So, I look them up. All of a sudden, I realized they’re up 400. I was early enough to realize the mistake and make it up there on time. And still be a few minutes early and get there. There was that window, that grace period really saved me, but I did the same thing. I would get to jobs interviews early and review my resume. I would look at their job description and their company and make sure. That was my planning time.  

Allow for a Calming Period

ANNELLE [6:06] It just gives you a period of time to kind of settle down and calm yourself from the commute and all of that.  Just kind of get your arms around what you’re about to do in the interview process. So

JOSH [6:17] That’s a good point. Yeah, I never thought of like being super stressed. You had this commute, then you got stuck and made it on time. But you’re all frazzled, run it into it. That could probably be bad.

ANNELLE [6:28] Yeah, I actually was part of an interview process where that happened. The person was just unbelievably stress. They couldn’t find a parking place. They were in this hot garage in heels which was very apparent when she walked through the door. She was definitely late.

So yeah, some people are forgiving of it. And some people aren’t for sure. So, you know, some other things to think about people.


JOSH [7:01] What about a resume? We talked a little bit about being on time, the interview process.  From my perspective, when I look at resumes, for the most part I’m not really getting into the layout. I’ve seen these really creative ones that’s pretty creative. I think they should get points for that.

Then, I’ve seen other ones that were bland. I’ve definitely seen ones that were just not the quality we were looking for. It represents what they would probably do as a work for us if they had to create some sort of document. And so I shied away from those. But how does formatting and graphics and other things kind of play in, in what you’re seeing?

Experience Neglect

ANNELLE [7:40] In some cases it’s significant because a lot of people are now using the more creative and image based resumes which typically look great. But they often neglect capturing the actual experience.

It’s great that you are 90% proficient in like Photoshop. What have you actually done? In some cases, I think the candidates are hurting themselves by having the image based resumes if they aren’t capturing all of the details of their role.

JOSH [8:31] Gotcha. So, there’s some sort of middle ground where it’s like too graphical, too expressive. You have other systems like applicant tracking systems have to consume those and parse it.  If they don’t have anything to consume and parse like, you never even really get seen. Because no human actually sees that resume until a certain point.

Two Resumes

ANNELLE [8:52] I often tell candidates to have two resumes. One is more traditional, one that’s words driven. Then, the other one can be more image base.  Never apply online with an image base resume, only use the one where your skills and capabilities are captured in words and not pictures. But if you go on site, then you can present one.

JOSH [9:22] Prettier one, right.

Red Flags

[9:25] Red flags for me have been interesting as well.  Over the years, it used to be when we did an interview. There’s this one little thing that you weren’t really sure about to question that person, but everything else looked great.

What I’ve come to understand is that intuition is normally accurate. Whatever you found during the resume came up.  Threefold as they worked for you worked in that environment. So, how does intuition and a little bit of gut feel come into into some of this on whether it’s like a red flag or whether it’s a fatal flaw?

Attention to Intuition

ANNELLE [10:03] Yeah, I really pay attention to my intuition. As you said, it is often correct. If someone just doesn’t feel right, then they often aren’t. It was even proven to me recently where I had that kind of feeling. The person left the position pretty early on for another position. If I trusted my gut on it, then they probably would have never been in the role in the first place.

JOSH [10:34] Yeah, I know it’s challenging because sometimes everything lines up. You need that person in as soon as possible, right? And so, you make that a fatal mistake yourself of letting them you know, letting them pass.

Advisement and Intuition

ANNELLE[10:47]  I’ve even had situations where someone, one of my clients has hired someone against my advisement based on that intuition. And they ended up not being the right fit. And then of course I’m the recruiter so I have to find the replacement.

JOSH [11:10] Yeah. So, what are some other things that you’ve seen  when somebody came in and interviewed with you, or did the kind of pre qualification call. What was like a red flag you get?

ANNELLE [11:24] Well, a red flag potentially on the resume is a misspelling. Or someone who says that they’re a great writer and great at communications, but then the resume has grammatical errors or typos. So I’d say, that’s a pretty big red flag, for sure.

[11:50] Yeah. And then when people will answer a text or a call while you’re sitting in an interview.


[12:06] Fidgeting, sometimes it’s not maybe an error, sometimes it’s an indicator of nervousness. So, that’s probably more like a yellow flag that you’re just kind of paying attention to try to understand why the fidgeting is happening. If it is nerves or sometimes fidgeting is a sign of embellishment, or stretching the truth. So, you’re  just kind of watching the body language.

JOSH [12:33] Yeah, so like one or two spelling errors is a red flag. Many is like, probably a fatal flaw. What are some other things that you would say our fatal flaws?


ANNELLE [12:43] I would say, one one type or misspelling, is a, an orange flag and to

JOSH [12:51] orange, yellow, and then

ANNELLE [12:52] To would probably be the fatal flaw. Everybody makes mistakes.

JOSH [13:03] Your resume is supposed to be best foot forward?

ANNELLE [13:05] Have somebody double check? Yeah, proofread it. One of the things that we wanted to potentially talk about was dress code, which is a really interesting thing these days.

Dress Code

[13:20] Because I used to tell candidates that wearing a suit can never work against you. Because you’re respecting the process. You show it putting your best foot forward and making a great impression.

But recently, I had a client who almost not hire someone because they were wearing a suit because their organization was so laid back. Suits just didn’t fit into their organization. So, it actually became a negative thing.

It’s a really interesting time now where a suit used to not be able to hurt you. But it turns out these days that it actually can. So, I advise people to dress for the part and know the company and the culture of the organization. Then, probably dress a little bit more formal way than you would if you were an employee there.

Communicating Dress Code

JOSH [14:22] We’ve talked a lot about the experience through the process. And I’ve generally found that dress code is one of those that they should be communicating. We as employers should be communicating what our expectation is.  Because I’ve talked to people that if they come in a suit, they’re automatically out. I’m like, well, that’s at some degree.

That’s just poor communication to me. Like if you disqualified somebody because they dressed for the role and dress for the part based on what society is expected of them. For the last hundred years? And you just want to back the trend.  What are you really showing? I don’t see the benefit there is. So that’s one of those where it’s this weird gray area where. I see the shift.

But from a traditional sense, I would still go in a suit for an interview at a startup.

Respect for the Position

ANNELLE [15:17] That’s the show of respect for position and for the interview process. I personally don’t find it to be a negative thing. But I’ve now stopped advising my candidates to wear a suit no matter what, because I don’t I certainly don’t want to hurt them.

The process that I thought originally was helping them. The good thing is because I am the middleman between the two, I can tell the client that I told them to wear a suit. But if there’s not a recruiter in the middle, then nobody’s actually communicating that either side.

JOSH [15:54] Yeah, I could definitely see that. I know, it’s very counter to some of the other questions we have, where we’re asking culture questions.  We know what answer we want. We know what we’re trying to solicit. I don’t know how disqualifying somebody for over dressing. I’m more the opposite. I came more from a traditional background.

Traditional Dress

You dress the part like if they’re in slacks, and a collared shirt, you know, a button up collared shirt dress shirt, that’s usually going to be enough to have to be full on suit man. But if somebody showed up in a hoodie like they might in traditional in their last job. What they got used to, that’s actually going to be more of a negative to me. You didn’t quite respect the process. I don’t know what you’re going to think of.

We got to go out to a customer today and everybody else dressed up because we’re in front of a big clients and you decided it was appropriate to wear your hoodie? Like, hey, kind of flows?

Yeah, that’s an interesting one.

Alright, so a little point of I guess contention in the interviewing world is good. What are some other things that you’re seeing that are that are a fatal flaws, like they show up? And it’s and it’s over quickly?


ANNELLE [17:08] I was it’s definitely ever quickly if they haven’t done their research. I mean, sometimes they show up and well this would be more of a phone conversation than would be a face to face.Surely if they show up someplace they might know what company they’re interviewing.

[17:27] Sometimes you’ll get on a call with a candidate and they’re like, Wait, who am I talking to hear, and what company am I interviewing for? And it’s a you know, of course, that’s probably a fatal flaw, another red flag. The research that they needed to have done around the company and understand who they’re interviewing for.


[17:52] And having questions, asking questions. It’s fascinating to me. How many people don’t ask questions in the interview process? If for no other reason than for yourself you’re going to be doing this job for eight hours a day minimum for however many years and you if you don’t want to know anything about what you’re going to be doing, then that’s a huge red flag for me.

JOSH [18:18] Definitely. I’ve generally found over the years that  the best people I’ve worked with have the most questions. Yeah, whether it’s a consultant, somebody trying to sell you something, the best ones are qualifying you as much as you are qualifying them. And that creates a great relationship and one side of that’s lopsided, I don’t generally find that it works out very right.

ANNELLE [18:42] Yeah, as an employer you want to make sure that you give them that opportunity because a lot of times the interviewer will just continue to ask the questions and not not give them that time. And then the candidate walks out feeling totally unsatisfied and just as clueless as they were when they walked in. So, the candidate needs to leave feeling like this is a good opportunity and a good role for me as well as the introvert interviewer, feeling good about the candidate

Two Sided Conversation

So, it’s definitely two sided conversation and as as an interviewee, I think it’s the more that the interviewee can control the conversation, the better. The better chance they have of getting the position to let them talk a little  more.

JOSH [19:35] Exactly. Got it. So, red flags and fatal flaws.

So in closing, think about your company culture, and think about what your red flags and fatal flaws should be for your organization. I don’t generally find that a lot of people have this written down. But if you’re using multiple people to do to execute your interview process, have a written document on red flags and fatal flaws. Share that with the group. Make sure everybody’s in alignment and make sure that you’re hiring the best possible people you can. Thank you.

[20:11] Thank you for tuning in to today’s episode of the epic company culture podcast with Josh Sweeney.


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