Danger! Bad Candidate! Run Away!

Last Updated May 11, 2010 7:06 AM EDT

In the race for talent, companies should know when to flee in the opposite direction. Given the total cost of what could often be avoidable hiring errors, I advise learning to recognize a few not-so-well-known telltale indicators -- and to avoid displaying any of these symptoms if you're a candidate.

Look for the following cautionary signs while performing due diligence. Prospective hires may be seriously flawed or merely damaged goods if:

  • Individual has difficulty talking "off script" about non-business topics, never seems completely natural or unrehearsed. Is there a real person hiding inside? Who, exactly, are you talking to?
  • Candidate struggles to answer the question, "What wrong turns or tragic decisions have you made in your career?" This demonstrates an inability to do honest, self-critical analysis. Do you want someone who lacks introspection?
  • Interview reveals a conspicuous lack of "crash and burn" experience. This makes it impossible to know how he or she deals with situational failures, setbacks and disappointments. Will they fold like a cheap suit at the first sign of serious pressure?
  • Executive can't identify a work relationship -- subordinate, peer or boss -- that became dysfunctional, where the wheels came off. More specifically, he or she is unable to acknowledge or attribute any factors in that breakdown (even marginally) to their own behaviors and choices.
  • Candidate's resume includes unsuccessful attempts at "consulting." (Please note the key word, "unsuccessful." As in profitless and maybe even client-less.) Is this nothing more than a camouflage for "unemployed"? While there's no shame in being between gigs, an effort to mask the truth says something in itself.
  • Person was led at some point by so-called venture capital "buddies" into one or more start-ups with hollow business plans (i.e., not based on a compelling premise, product, service or technology). What was he or she thinking...get rich quick? Maybe not the impulsive profile you want for your organization.
  • Never mentions "the team" while relating stories of conquest. It's all about them, them and more them.
  • Overly cozy relationships with top management -- or, in the case of CEOs themselves, with current or past board members. This suggests that the candidate is a shameless name-dropper, may have been under the "protective care" of friends in high places (as opposed to actually earning their stripes), or both.
  • Lacquered fingernails for men; "raccoon-like" mascara and eyeliner for women. Trying that hard is just creepy. (Sorry if you disagree, but sometimes my preferences should just become formal legislation.)
Hiring managers shouldn't expect to necessarily catch every red flag, but they should seek input and validation from peers and/or assessment consultants whenever possible to ensure that the prospect they are planning to bring in is an individual of exceptional substance -- and not just a polished self-promoter.

If you're about to sign off on an expensive offer package for someone, make sure you have the right someone. And if you're a candidate, check the mirror for these potentially fatal imperfections.

  • Mark Jaffe

    As President of Wyatt & Jaffe, Mark Jaffe has been called one of the 'World's 100 Most Influential Headhunters' by BusinessWeek magazine. His firm, Wyatt & Jaffe, works with a select list of financial services, high-tech and consumer companies worldwide and has been called one of the 50 leading retained search firms in North America.