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I’ve handled senior-level recruitment for more than 15 years and I’ve become an expert in spotting candidate red flags – those little behaviors that signal a candidate’s true interest in the role. Some of the most common red flags pertain to communication and turnaround time. A motivated candidate will be responsive, forthcoming, and communicate in a timely manner. A candidate who isn’t enthusiastic will drag their feet, miss deadlines, and be hard to get a hold of. Unless you know how to read these signals, you may be caught unaware, placing your entire hiring timeline at risk.

I’ve identified five key stages where these red flags tend to crop up – and where it pays to be vigilant:  

  1. INITIAL CONTACT
    You’ve made initial contact and the candidate has agreed to come in for interviews. How long should it take them to get back to you with their availability? An ideal timeframe is within 48 hours. There are always exceptions—travel, end-of-year compensation, end-of-year reviews, vacations, etc.—but a serious candidate will disclose these conflicts upfront. If 48 hours fly by without an apology or credible explanation then your candidate may not be fully engaged. Experienced recruiters can tell the difference between a genuine delay, a passive candidate who needs to be sold, and someone who’s simply not interested.
  2. INTERVIEWS
    After the candidate goes through rounds of interviews their emotional investment should climb. It’s a definite red flag if you need you to pursue them more and more the further they get in the interview process. The 48 hour mark is a useful benchmark here as well. When it comes to job interviews, silence is not golden, and candidates who are excited about a role will get back to you no matter what. I’ve had candidates text me from cabs on the way to the airport and call me on the weekend. Now that’s a motivated job-seeker.
  3. OFFER LETTER
    Let’s say that your candidate made it through every interview and agreed on a compensation package. If your offer letter contains the candidate’s terms you should expect to have that signed letter returned to you as soon as possible. If it takes more than a few days, that’s a red flag. If they still need time to think about it, that’s another red flag. If you need to reach out to them for a status update, well, you know. Delays are common at this stage because candidates often use this opportunity to get a counteroffer from their current employer. This is understandable, but if you suspect your candidate is fishing for a counter you should set a firm deadline and move on from there.
  4. BACKGROUND CHECK
    If the candidate accepts the offer and returns a signed offer letter but drags their feet going in for their background check without a reasonable explanation, that’s another red flag.
  5. GIVING NOTICE
    Stay close to your candidate and know when they plan on giving notice to their employer. Follow up with them before the end of the day to ask how it went. A seasoned recruitment professional will be able to assess the candidate’s answer and know whether a straight resignation was given or if there’s a counter-offer waiting in the wings. It should be a done deal at this point, so any stalling by the candidate here is a giant waving red flag

Candidates bow out of the hiring process all the time, but experienced hiring managers and HR recruitment professionals are seldom caught unaware because they know how to identify the timing and communication issues that portend future problems. Consider these red flags a blessing. When you see them you know that it’s time to turn your attention to your silver medalist and move additional candidates into your pipeline stat.

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