New Hires: Spotting Red Flags and Cautions

By Katherine Spencer Lee

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In a perfect world, you could interview an IT candidate and the person would be forthcoming and say, “I’ve had trouble working for my past two managers, I rarely meet deadlines and only want to work at your company until a better job comes along.” You’d know immediately that you shouldn’t hire the individual. However, the reality is that it usually requires careful evaluation to uncover the warning signs.


As you screen resumes and meet with applicants, watch for the following yellow and red flags, indicating “caution” and “stop,” respectively:


Yellow: The individual has short tenures at jobs listed on the resume.


This may suggest the person is a “job hopper”; someone who’s always looking for the next big opportunity and has no commitment to a particular employer or job. While you want to take note of the brief time at different companies, don’t rule out applicants too quickly. Making a phone call may provide you with reasons for short tenures beyond the candidate’s control, such as layoffs or employers going out of business. It’s worth double checking so you don’t eliminate an otherwise qualified contender.


Yellow: The applicant uses vague wording in his or her resume.


Watch for phrases such as “familiar with” and “participated in.” Ambiguous language often is used to disguise minimal experience or knowledge in a particular area. Someone who is familiar with Vista, for instance, may have used it once or every day, so be sure to clarify.


Yellow: The individual has difficulty elaborating on key points.


You ask for a description of how the person used a particular technology on the job and get a brief answer in return. When you press for further details, you receive minimal information. In these situations, the candidate may be hiding something like a lack of significant experience with that technology, or, they may just be nervous. Look for a pattern in how the applicant responds. If the person seems like a promising contender, you might ask references for their insights into any responses that caused you concern.


Red: The resume is full of typos and mis-spellings.


This should be a deal-breaker. If people take a “couldn't care less” attitude with a resume, imagine what they would be like on the job. No CIO would want an employee writing code or managing a network who lacks attention to detail.


Red: The candidate shares more about personal interests than professional ones.


If the applicant includes a personal interests section on the resume that has more detail than the work history portion, this can be a strong indicator that career isn’t a top priority. The same is true during interviews. You want employees who are well rounded, but you shouldn’t conclude the meeting knowing more about a candidate’s love of world travel than you do about his or her professional goals.


Red: The candidate treats people differently based on rank.


A great way to learn more about how someone will act in the workplace is to ask your receptionist or administrative assistant for impressions about the applicant. Was the candidate polite and respectful, or condescending in any way? You want to hire IT professionals who can work well with people at all levels of the company, so an interviewee who talks down to the receptionist can be a major tip off of potential problems.


As soon as an interview concludes, write down as much as you can about your impressions of the individual, including any areas of concern. This will keep critical information top of mind as you evaluate all of the candidates. Then be sure to check references. Verifying an individual’s qualifications and work style can increase the chances of making the best possible match to your hiring needs.


Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.