7 signs that a candidate is not prepared

The result of a successful interview is not necessarily a new hire. It’s knowing if a candidate is or isn’t a good fit for your company. Since better interviews lead to better hires (as you’re weeding out the individuals who are not a fit), it’s important that you always strive to become a better interviewer and that you are prepared for each interview. You know how to strike the right balance between asking common questions in order to compare candidates and being adaptable enough to dig deeper when necessary to have a meaningful and organic conversation. Furthermore, you are able to instantly identify a candidate who is not appropriately prepared. How? Let’s take a look. 

They didn’t bring their resume

When a candidate has an in-person interview, they should bring copies of their resume for each interviewer as a courtesy instead of expecting the interviewers to either have it memorized or printed themselves. Ideally, they also bring other supporting documents, such as references and any pertinent samples of their work (for instance, a marketing candidate might bring a brochure that they created). 

They don’t have a good reason why they want to work for your company

“How did you find out about the position?” is a slowball and a way to make candidates feel comfortable. Generally, if someone is excited about the opportunity at your company, they remember how they learned about it. If someone says “It might have been [insert website here]”, make a mental note to ask more about their job hunting processes. How do they identify companies that they want to work for? Which brings us to the next red flag. If a candidate can only give you generic reasons, they may not have investigated your company much prior to the interview. If the response is “you seem to have a great company culture”, probe further and ask “What does culture mean to you?” and “How would you describe our culture?” Listen carefully. If the answer mostly revolves around a relaxed dress-code or the “laid back” environment, there may be a misalignment. 

They can’t explain your products and/or services

I like to ask our candidates what they did to prepare for the interview. You’d be surprised at some of the answers. Believe it or not, some individuals responded to the effect of “not much”, or “I poked around on your website”. Find out if the candidate downloaded your whitepapers or signed up for a trial of your product if available. Have them explain your offerings and your value proposition. Depending on the seniority of the position, consider asking the candidate strategic questions such as “what other verticals do you think might be good fits for us?” or “what do you think is keeping our prospects up at night?”.

They don’t know who the interviewers are

One of the most obvious signs that someone is not prepared for an interview is when they don’t know with whom they’re interviewing. Make sure that your HR rep who set up the interview gives the candidate the names and titles (not email addresses – you want to make sure that the candidate is resourceful enough to find them when sending follow-up emails) of each person with whom the candidate will speak. If someone clearly does not remember who they’re talking to and didn’t take the initiative to even write down pertinent information in preparation for the interview, it’s a reason for concern. Some interviewees demonstrate their level of preparedness through comments, such as “I saw that you went to [school]/used to work for [company]”, “So you started out in [department]”, or “I read on your blog that”. Good! But others may be more reserved, so you may just ask them “What do you know about [name of person]?”

They only talk in generalities

A decent candidate proactively researches what types of questions are typically asked in interviews for the position that they’ve applied for. A good candidate is prepared to answer these questions in a thoughtful manner that includes very specific, personal examples. For instance, if the question “Tell me about a time when you went through extraordinary lengths to (close a deal, make a customer happy)”, is only met with general statements (“You have to go the extra mile, and customer service is what I do best”), the interviewee may not have been appropriately prepared.

They can’t answer this crucial question

You want people on your team who are invested in their own professional development. Consider asking something along the lines of “What do you do to get better at your craft?” or “Who is a thought leader in your field that you follow?”. If you catch a candidate off-guard and they can’t name any blogs or books they read, podcasts they listen to, or courses that are being offered, it should give you pause. Not everybody can think quickly on their feet in a stressful situation such as an interview. However, a well prepared candidate may have expected this question.

They don’t ask thoughtful questions

The types of questions that a candidate asks during the interview are just as important as the answers they give – sometimes even more important, as they are a direct reflection of the person’s interest in the position and genuine desire to learn about your expectations, your challenges, and vision. They also reveal critical thinking skills and the candidate’s willingness to identify if and how this could be a mutually beneficial relationship. If the interviewee doesn’t take advantage of having the opportunity to ask questions and or just inquires about benefits and work hours, it’s generally not a great sign. 

Understand, though, that you simply can’t apply the same expectations to all candidates. If you offer an entry level position for recent graduates, you can’t expect the candidates to go through the same preparation process as candidates for a senior Account manager, for example. In addition, the further along in the vetting process someone is, the more preparation you should expect. 

Finally, note that even if a candidate aced the interview, you still want to be thorough in your process and not skip any steps, such as waiting for the follow-up, having them do an assessment with deliverables that are relevant to the position, and a cross-departmental interview to determine culture fit. Fast-tracking a candidate can be one of the biggest (and most expensive) pitfalls when it comes to hiring

What about you? How do you determine if a candidate is not adequately prepared for an interview?

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