Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

13 Warning Signs That a Job Candidate is Wasting Your Time.

By Mark Wilkinson | Nov 16, 2015 | Assessing Applicants

Man on the phone saying 'jumping butterballs'It’s a hard life being a recruiter…

You spend hours coming up with a job spec and ad, screening CVs, interviewing people and then, finally, when you’ve found the ‘perfect’ candidate (and turned everyone else down) – they go and reject your job offer.

What went wrong?

Assuming that you offer a candidate the same salary, role and benefits as initially advertised and you genuinely got on well during the interview, there’s no real reason that you’d expect them to reject a role.

So why does it happen so bloody often?

Why bother wasting your time?

Candidates drop out of the running all the time and in our experience there are 4 main reasons why…

  • They aren’t motivated. If a candidate is relatively happy with their current job, they won’t be as motivated to change career. These time-wasters could flake when an offer is actually made or accept a counter-offer from their current company.
  • They are merely driven by money. Some sneaky candidates will simply use a job offer to leverage a better position at their current company.
  • Desperation. It may sound harsh, but candidates who really need a new job, are more likely to accept any job offer (whether suitable or not) but will swiftly leave when something better comes along.
  • They need temporary work. Some candidates only need a new job to fund other long-term goals, like a round the world trip or even starting their own business.

So, how can we separate the time-thieves from the genuine candidates?

By looking out for the 13 warning signs we’ve outlined below!

Pre-Interview Warning Signs.

a woman saying I don't want to do things, I want to not do thingsWarning Sign 1. Lack of effort.

99% of job seekers will know that they should include a relevant, compelling and bespoke cover letter and CV with every application… so you’ve got to wonder why some don’t. It could be an immediate sign of laziness, disinterest and a lack of commitment.

Sloppy or generic CVs (clearly blasted out to many employers) indicate that a candidate isn’t genuinely serious about your role (perhaps they’re just desperate for any job right now…)

Warning Sign 2. Lack of communication.

As a general baseline, you can expect serious candidates to get back to you within a day.

Warning Sign 3.  Inappropriate communication.

If a candidate is too relaxed or even lazy in their contact then it would imply a level of disregard for the job opportunity. Do they use slang and shortened words? Are they over-friendly?

Warning Sign 4. Constant communication.

Of course, you should also be worried about a candidate who hounds you throughout the process – this is a sign of desperation. If a candidate makes you feel uncomfortable with their level of contact, you may need to dig deeper into their reasons for looking for a new job.

kitten hopping aroundWarning Sign 5. Job hopping.

You can expect a certain amount of “job hopping,” especially at the start of someone’s career as they settle into the world of work, but if you can see a consistent pattern of resignation for no real reason, then this could reveal a tendency to get itchy feet.

Warning Sign 6. Loyalty.

I feel like I’m going to get in trouble for this one. Look, loyalty is of course a good trait. But if a job candidate is suddenly ditching their workplace after 30 years of service, you’ve got to wonder why.

It’s worth clarifying this point during the telephone interview (see below) – often these candidates are more likely to change their minds about leaving or to receive counter-offers.

Warning Sign 7.  Worrying social media confessions.

Social media is a fantastic tool for screening candidates, so I always recommend having a glance over LinkedIn – and Facebook if possible.

You’d be surprised how much information people are willing to share, including their own morals and opinions, which could give you an indication as to whether they’d fit in well with your team (or not).

Honestly, we once found out that a job candidate was planning a round-the-world trip the following year because his most recent status update bragged about it!

Recruiter Pro Tip.

Don’t be too harsh when it comes to social media.

These profiles are personal and as such, might not reveal an accurate reflection of how someone would behave professionally.

For more info on how you could and should be using social media to recruit, check out our recent blog post on this very topic.

The Telephone Interview.

Including a telephone interview at the start of the process is a great way to cull bad candidates and time-wasters early on, saving you time and money.

  • Unplanned. If you wish to catch a candidate off guard, then calling for an unscheduled ‘chat’ is a great way to suss out their real interest in the role.  They won’t be prepared so it’s your opportunity to get a natural, unrehearsed view of the candidate (just don’t expect them to know everything there is to know about your company!)
  • Planned. If you schedule a formal telephone interview then your candidate should be more prepared so you can ask more detailed questions to find out how much effort they’re willing to put in to impress you.

We previously collated the top 10 interview questions you must ask when recruiting, but the examples below work particularly well to wheedle out your time-wasters.

Immediate Observations At Interview. 

The moment your candidate walks through the door, you must put your judgmental hat on.  Immediate observations should include…

Warning Sign 8. Lateness

penguin running late in a top hatSensible (and serious) candidates will arrive in the interview vicinity early and wait somewhere nearby.

However, delays will sometimes be unavoidable and you don’t want to miss out on a star employee, because of uncontrollable circumstances.

A serious candidate who arrives late will…

  • Be worried and apologetic.
  • Call to let you know that they’ll be arriving late.
  • Have tried every possible route to arrive on time (alternative buses, a taxi, a panicked jog).
  • Have a valid excuse that comes naturally.

You’ll have to judge for yourself!

Warning Sign 9. Scruffy Attire 

Whether your company adheres to a strict uniform policy or not, most committed and serious candidates will turn up dressed to impress, in professional (ironed) office attire.

Warning Sign 10. Body language

We can’t all be behavioural experts, but it’s important to look out for natural hints from a candidate’s body language.  (In our previous post 20 Body Language Warning Signs, we discuss some key methods to effectively reading a candidate’s body language).

Interview Questions and Answers.

A quick Google search will uncover thousands of example questions and guides on how to conduct the perfect interview but don’t forget – to wheedle out the time-wasters – you’ll have to ask specific, targeted questions that will reveal each candidate’s true intentions!

Recruiter Pro Tip.

We previously published 7 Essential Interview Questions Every Employer Must Ask during interviews.

A balanced combination of those and some of the more targeted questions highlighted below is guaranteed to heighten the success of your interview technique!

Warning Sign 11.
Lack of preparation

Candidates should have researched your business, the industry and competitors (successful interview technique 101 for ambitious jobseekers) and (as with the telephone interview) will be able to answer questions like…

  • a muppet shrugging“What do you know about the company?”
  • “Who are our competitors?”
  • “What do you know about the role?”
  • “Why did you apply for this job?”

Of course, the face to face interview is your chance to really get into the nitty-gritty and dig even further into all of your candidates’ true commitment to the opportunity…

  • “What did you like or dislike about our website?”
  • “With our ethos in mind, tell me why you think you’d be a good fit for our business?”
  • “What are the differences between our company and your current/past company?”
  • “Did you read about {insert a popular piece of industry news} this week?”

If your applicant gives generic answers that don’t relate to your industry or business, then there’s a pretty big chance that they haven’t researched thoroughly (particularly if they can’t comment on your website).

Warning Sign 12. Lack of commitment

Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants rubbing his hands togetherIt’s incredibly hard to work out how committed a candidate is, prior to offering them a job, but sometimes a direct and upfront question will reveal some clues; if nothing else it gives you a chance to gage their reaction…

  • “What would you do if your current employer offered you more money to convince you to stay?”
  • “What are your long term plans for the future?”
  • “If I were to offer you the job, when could you hand your notice in?”
  • “Is there a reason why you’re leaving your current place?”

Try to gain as much information about why exactly they’re looking for a new job (without coming across too aggressive and intrusive.)

Warning Sign 13. Lack of Passion

Ideally, you want to employ someone who’s genuinely passionate about the role, not just about getting a new job in general. Make sure some of your questions give the candidate an opportunity to show their enthusiasm for your business and the role (don’t just fact-check)…

  • “What part of the role excites you the most?”
  • “When would you hope to start with us?”
  • “What motivates you right now?”

…and of course, that all important pièce de résistance:

  • “Have you got any questions for us?”

There’s a reason why recruitment guides, blogs and consultants always advise you to end with this question. A candidate who’s passionate and committed to taking on the role will already have a bank of sincere and investigative questions ready for you.

Devil wears prada - miranda priestly saying "bore someone else with your questions"
They’re likely to ask questions that reveal how well they’d fit into the position, the team and the culture and will attempt to find out more about the depths of the business. (As opposed to someone who asks about holidays, hours and pay.)

More importantly, the passionate candidate will be able to expand and adapt their questions, improvising as fresh topics naturally arise and you’ll be able to check their reaction every step of the way!


Try not to be too cynical throughout your recruitment process!

There are far more genuine candidates out there than there are time-wasters and if you allow your cynicism to constantly sway your decision – you’ll never find anyone to work for you.

Keep an eye out for the above warning signs and use them as a basis for further questioning – if something doesn’t seem right, dig deeper.

Recruiter Pro Tip.

As a side-note, another great way to tell if someone is genuinely interested in your actual job vacancy before interviewing them, is to get them to fill out an application form as the first stage of the recruitment process.

If a candidate takes the time and effort to fill in a detailed, bespoke application form (you can usually tell if they merely copy and paste their CV) then there’s a good chance that they’re genuinely interested.

Want more hints and tips on how to distinguish the great candidates in your process (from the absolute shockers)?

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Good luck!

- Mark Wilkinson
Mark Wilkinson

Mark Wilkinson

Mark is one of the founders of Coburg Banks and heads up the permanent recruitment division of the business.  Every day he helps companies with their recruitment projects, sourcing the very best individuals for their vacancies.  He understands recruitment inside-out.

> More blog posts by Mark Wilkinson

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