Many recruiters and hiring managers are plagued by skill set shortages, both hard and soft skills. There is a very strong temptation to compromise to fill an open assignment rather than reject candidates that “will do.”. But very often the wrong hiring decision can be more expensive than keeping the vacancy open and continuing with the interview process. However, we think we have some hard and fast guidelines but there are many anecdotal stories that suggest there are exceptions when rejecting candidates is not the best way to go.
I am not talking about searches for the elusive purple squirrel, or even development or stretch roles, but cases where realistic qualifications, experience and skills have been allocated for a position and the candidate is found lacking. Here, to compromise means hiring below the benchmark. Very often these red flags appear early in the interview and are legitimate reasons to reject a candidate, without further ado. They are generally associated with under-developed or completely missing soft skills or misrepresented hard skills morph from tailoring into lying.
Esther Perel said in a recent interview at the Unleash18 conference in Amsterdam:
“People are hired for skills but fired for behaviour.”
Here are 9 (mainly) good reasons and soft skill tells that should send alerts that the candidate is not of a high enough calibre. I agree that there are always exceptions and special circumstances. But how many of these boxes indicate you should reject candidates from the interview process? Or is it a case of exceptions make the rule?
1. Poor time keeping
Not being on time, or even early for an interview is a major deal breaker. Excuses that will not hack it in my book are:
- I overslept
- I went to the wrong place
- The train was late. If it was one 30 minutes before the interview – for sure.
Exceptions: There can be good reasons why someone can be late. I was in a cab on the way to a meeting last year and we hit a cyclist. I was detained by the police for a witness statement. I did phone ahead and the company was very understanding. A networked contact reported hiring a candidate on the spot when a car accident blocked the road and he jogged in the rain to get to the meeting! If the 6.00am train was derailed, then discretion can also be exercised – but that would probably be on the news. There are always exceptions so I agree, it’s OK to park that thought for now before checking off the other deal breakers.
All candidates should be suited and booted and dressed according to industry norms. Some sectors are more relaxed than others. Generally I would expect candidates to be over-dressed in those circumstances. Jeans, sneakers or an unkempt appearance of any kind, means that candidates should hit the reject pile. If this is how they are when they are trying to impress, then imagine how they will dress when they are not.
Exceptions: I did have a situation of interviewing someone in an airport hotel. He was en route from the Maldives and his luggage was lost by the airline. The interviewee was dressed in Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. He had bought a tie in the duty-free which was appreciated and added humour to the situation. One panel member felt he should have bought a whole new outfit or put the critical items of clothing in his hand luggage and it showed a lack of foresight. I thought that was a bit harsh. It was a mid-level role and we all know how expensive clothes are in airport stores – so discretion was exercised. He went on to receive an offer. They may also have exceptional skills so once again check in your own biases before making a final decision.
3. Poor non-verbal communication
Many candidates are very nervous before interviews which impacts their non-verbal communication. This is normal and the role of the skilled interviewer is to make the candidate feel at ease as quickly as possible. If this lack of confidence persists, it is usually a warning sign. There is very little to be gained by making an interviewee uncomfortable.
I pay particular attention to fidgeting, lack of eye contact, poor posture, weak handshake and other sloppy body language. If any of these are “off” then interviewers can legitimately reject a candidate.
Exceptions: It could be because of a neurological difference: ADHD, ADD, anxiety disorders, autism or other issues. Tact and empathy are really important. Many companies ask candidates if they want to declare any diversity situations, but some feel they will be discriminated against. This is one that could be examined in greater detail. Some people just get nervous in interviews but are great in their roles. It also depends on the role. Perhaps will be working alone or non customer facing and how they interact with others is less important. These deficits also could be trained.
4. Poor Verbal Communication
If candidates are unable to respond to questions concisely, precisely and with relevance (what I call CPR) they tend to lose me.
“Upspeak” is also something that is a deal breaker for me especially in a client facing situation. Everything they say sounds like a question?
Exceptions: Look at other qualifications and assess if these deficiencies are “trainable.” They could have excellent basic skills but need some polish.
All candidates should be able to demonstrate interview readiness and preparation including at least superficial knowledge of the company and the role. Any candidate who is not reasonably familiar does not deserve to be progressed to the next level.
Exceptions: when the candidate has been given no information because the interview was called at short notice, or the search is confidential. This does happen, especially at a senior level.
6. Poor, no, or the wrong candidate questions
If the candidate cannot answer basic questions like the old chestnut “Why should I hire you?” showing a strong level of self-awareness, they probably should not make it through to the next round.
Having no questions prepared is also a deal breaker and the candidate deserves to be cut. If you have interviewed thoroughly, even asking for clarification on career development opportunities would highlight a high level of engagement.
If the only questions are centred around holiday entitlement, the Friday tab and Christmas party, that should send some alarm bells
Exceptions: None – but maybe you have a party animal who could be great at his/her job Loop back and check the other credentials.
7. Display of device addiction
If a candidate has not switched off their phone, takes a call or interacts in any way on a device during the interview, unless it is to show you something connected to the process, it should be brought to an end immediately.
Exceptions: Absolutely none unless a family member has died. It is not a sign of an ability to multi-task. There is no such thing.
8. General courtesy and good manners
“Manners maketh the man” … and woman. You would be surprised how many candidates fail to engage correctly with those in the process from the receptionist, to secretaries, drivers. Anyone who doesn’t say please and thank you or is rude in any way, to anyone at all, should be cut.
9. Inattentive Listening
Candidates who don’t process information, follow instructions, flood, or interrupt, all show indications of inadequate listening skills. This has very strong implications for their role as a team member.
So what do you think – harsh or simply sensible? Many of the checks are nudges to handle bias. Others may be vital to doing a good job. You might have to pass on a candidate who seems “good enough.” That’s OK. Don’t settle until you find the right candidate. While it may take more time to find the right fit for your business and someone who truly wants to work there, it’s worth the wait. Or is having hard lines missing a diversity opportunity? What do you think?
The real risk is that you could find yourself recruiting for the same position again in six months.
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I have only had unresolvable issues with men that have been gripped with insecurity, lack of confidence and/or needed a maternal surrogate. Therefore, I am left with a group of men who are talented, skilled, confident and comfortable in their own skin which is exactly what I want.