My last semester at Penn State, I went on a lot of interviews that felt great. I prepared beforehand, learned all about the company and checked off every other box I could think of.

Through parents and teachers, I had already learned the basic rules like get there early and dress appropriately. I knew that both body posture and eye contact were important, and I put that into practice. So why wasn’t I getting the job?

The thing is, having a winning interview isn’t just about doing all the right things; it’s about making sure you don’t make any interview mistakes. You know, the red flags recruiters look for – and that send your resume straight to the recycling bin.

After the basics, here are five major red flags recruiters look for in interviews, and how you can avoid them:


  1. Giving Cliché Answers

So you’re a hard worker? Fantastic! So is every other applicant interviewing for this position. You may really believe that words such as creative and honest accurately describe you. Maybe your biggest weaknesses really are that you care too much or work too hard. These answers are not likely to score you big points. Instead, throughout the interview, work in examples of those qualities to demonstrate what a hard, creative worker you are. Then, when you’re asked for your best qualities, you can have room to say something significant about yourself.

One of the best ways to avoid giving tepid, overused answers is to prepare in advance. Look over lists of commonly asked questions and answer them aloud. Have a friend or family member randomly select questions, and practice giving the type of insightful answers that truly make you marketable to employers.


  1. Being Dishonest

This can’t be stressed enough. Interviewers are generally bosses, owners or managers whose main job is reading people. If you are trying to be dishonest, these people will know. The last thing you want is to make them distrust you.

People lie in job interviews about everything from employment history to philosophical beliefs. It is perfectly acceptable to put a positive spin on certain past events or personal ideals, but intentionally misleading interviewers will almost always end in a losing situation for the candidate.


  1. Showing a Lack of Permanency

This may be one of the trickiest traits for candidates to show. On one hand, you’re still unsure of where you want to be a few years down the road; but you also need to have some sort of plan for your career.

Hiring employees costs a company money. There is the time to interview, the time to train the new member, a learning curve, administrative costs and more all attached to new workers. Unless the company specifically states that they are only looking for someone to patch a temporary hole, which is rare, you will want to be prepared to answer where you’ll be in five years. If your answer doesn’t include sticking around very long, you’ll likely be overlooked for the position.


  1. Speaking Negatively

It’s very likely that the interviewers are going to ask you about your previous jobs, bosses and co-workers. This is not the time to complain, to blame or to insult. Regardless of how you feel about your prior employment, negativity doesn’t help you in any way – you sound pessimistic and unprofessional. This is a common question in interviews, so you should be prepared to give an outstanding answer as soon as you walk through the door.

If possible, start with the positives you gained from your experiences. Did you have leadership opportunities? Did you work under a great mentor? Did you receive any awards? Highlight all of the positive aspects to show how much you appreciated your company.

If asked why you are leaving your position, be sure to focus on your personal goals and the reason you want the job for which you are interviewing.


  1. Undervaluing Your Abilities

This point is extremely important. How you perceive yourself will show up in the rest of your interview. How you walk, talk and shake hands will also show your self-confidence, which is often directly tied to how much you believe in your abilities.

Remember, they already selected you for an interview because they believe in your background. Even if you are not the very top candidate on the list, they thought highly enough of your abilities and experiences to consider you for the position. Your interviewers are taking time out of their busy schedules because they believe that you have something to offer the company. Don’t take that honor too lightly; you are there because your interviewers believe that you belong there.

Make a mental note to remind yourself of this fact during the interview process, especially at times when you’ll have a moment to gather your thoughts. For instance, when you first announce to the receptionist that you have arrived, remind yourself you belong there as a confidence boost. Other moments to target are when the interviewers ask you to take a seat or when they are taking a moment to leaf through your portfolio. Those are standard parts in nearly every interview and don’t require too much mental engagement on your part. It’s a quick break to remind yourself that you truly belong.


Bonus: Not Showing Passion. When it comes down to it, employers want more than a great candidate. They want someone who will fit in well with the culture and who is excited to work for them. And, you want more than a job. You want a job doing something you’re passionate about, at a company you love. Even if it’s not your top choice, it pays to show enthusiasm in the interview. Talk about what you like about the company, and how excited you would be to work for them. In the end, it could be a deciding factor.

The following two tabs change content below.
Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

2 Comments on 5 Red Flags Recruiters Look For in Interviews and How to Avoid Them

  1. Wale
    August 14, 2015 at 12:25 pm (6 years ago)

    Thanks Sarah for sharing this tips. While other people we should not blow our trumpet, I strongly believe that if you do not , no one else will. Which is why i valued your tip 5. During an interview, if you have an opportunity to talk about your achievement, I believe job seekers should and show passion about what they did.

    • Sarah Landrum
      August 17, 2015 at 2:10 pm (6 years ago)

      Thanks, Wale! I think you’re absolutely right. Your resume can only share so much, and it’s important to elaborate on your accomplishments so the recruiter knows how valuable you are!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment *