4 Warning Signs You’re Dealing With an Unreliable Candidate

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The concept of emotion expression in businessThere are plenty of figures about the cost of a bad hire. Some research has pinpointed the cost at $50,000 or more if a candidate turns from superstar hire to dud employee. But what about the candidate who seems like a great bet throughout the interview process, only to flake out once an offer is on the table?

It’s hard to pin a number on these candidates, who eat up precious time and resources without ultimately committing to a job. These candidates are the bane of every recruiter’s existence, yet they’re often not the candidates you imagine will check out at the last minute.

Most would assume the superstar, highly sought after candidate will be the one to leave you high and dry. These candidates, however, often come to the table confident in their abilities and willing to honestly talk through their value and what they expect from a position. Their negotiating position gives these candidates a sense of clarity and purpose, and makes them more likely to be upfront with recruiters.

Thankfully, there are warning signs the candidate you’re dealing with might turn out to be unreliable. Here are the four red flags to look for to avoid wasting your time and aggravating your clients:

Warning sign: Pulling at your heart strings

This might seem counterintuitive, because most people assume the superstar candidate will be the cagiest about settling down. Candidates who come in the door with five offers are the same candidates you’re talking to on Day One about what they’re looking for and what they need out of a job. Whether they’re a top-tier analyst at Goldman Sachs or a lead developer at Amazon, these candidates have a good idea of what they want—and what they don’t.

What you need to watch out for are the candidates who pull at your heartstrings and cause you to silence the inner voice telling you they might not be right for the job. These are often candidates who have just been laid off unexpectedly. They might still be in a state of shock, the wounds too fresh to allow them to focus on what kind of position they want next.

Knowing their story, you might naturally assume they would jump at a great opportunity, but this isn’t always the case. I’ve seen many out-of-work candidates eagerly agree to interview for any job that comes up, and only genuinely distinguish between what they want and don’t want after the offers start coming in (and after the recruiter has done all the work to get them to the offer phase). Don’t let your sympathy get in the way of thoroughly evaluating whether or not your search makes sense for every candidate to whom you speak; stick to your normal script when talking to all candidates, regardless of impulses to feel sorry for candidates in tough circumstances.

Warning sign: Too cautious

As a recruiter, sometimes you need to be willing to walk away. It’s easy to get too caught up when you find someone you think would be a perfect fit, and ignore the warning signs the candidate just isn’t that into the job being offered.

Once, the perfect candidate cropped up for a position with one of my clients, and I convinced him to take the job, although he had tried to walk away from the opportunity several times. Three days after starting his new role, the candidate resigned due to concerns the role didn’t align with his career aspirations. The warning sign was there; I just didn’t want to see it. If a candidate isn’t 100 percent excited about the job, you need to be able to walk away. The most successful candidates get what makes the role a great opportunity right away; the excitement and energy is visible right from the start.

Warning sign: Delaying the process continuously

If a candidate consistently puts up roadblocks, this is a huge red flag. Candidates who are genuinely interested in an opportunity will do everything in their power to lift roadblocks out of the way, not erect speedbumps in the process.

If they say they’re interested but find every opportunity for delay, there’s a real disconnect between their words and their actions which merits heightened caution from the recruiter. This delaying tactic probably means they’re shopping the offer around, and not being honest with you about their search strategy. These candidates aren’t serious about the opportunity, and they’re likely to leave you and your client in a lurch.

Warning sign: Demanding candidate

Sometimes, it’s easy to justify a candidate’s demanding attitude if they’re highly qualified, highly skilled, and perfect for the position. After all, they’re just being demanding because they have confidence in their abilities, right?

This actually isn’t always the case. Sometimes, the candidate is being demanding in order to give themselves an out from a position or a situation where they feel they can’t be honest about the real reason. For instance, once a candidate kept coming up with an increasingly long list of demands for a position. She wanted a four-week vacation, she wanted to be out every day by 5 p.m., and it seemed like every conversation came with another set of demands.

Later, I would discover the candidate’s familial responsibilities precluded her from taking the job, and she was looking for excuses to say no. As a recruiter, you always have to be willing to walk away if the candidate seems too cagey, no matter how perfect the fit. Always have multiple backups, so you avoid putting all your eggs in one unreliable basket.

Finding yourself at the end of a search with an increasingly unreliable candidate is oftentimes an indicator that the entire process is about to go sideways. Thankfully, as a savvy recruiter, you can keep an eye on these warning signs and move on before a flaky candidate leaves you high and dry.

What do you think? What warning signs do you look for in candidate? Share in the comments!

By Mary Gay Townsend