4 Red Flags for Interviewers to Watch For During Tech Interviews and How to Spot Them



Hiring in the tech space is tough enough, and with the ever-growing demand for talented tech workers, it’s tempting to snatch up anyone with a great resume. But just because someone has a stellar list of credentials doesn’t mean they’re the right fit for your company. There are some red flags to look for in any interview that can indicate whether the person sitting in front of you is going to work well in the role.

Lack of preparation

If a candidate doesn’t prepare for an interview, that’s an indicator that he probably isn’t that interested in the company or care enough about the position. The key giveaway is when the person clearly doesn’t know anything about the company or anything about the job for which he’s applying. Another dead giveaway: showing no interest in the mission or having no questions about the company or role. Ask questions like “What part of the company mission resonates with you?” or “How do you think you can help the company in its vision?” If the answers are vague or the person just doesn’t know, he’s probably not going to be a good fit.

On the other hand, someone who is very prepared will be obvious. A few years ago, we had a candidate who walked into the office 10 minutes early and greeted the receptionist by name. He had done extensive research on each of his interviewers and had conversations about their personal hobbies and interests. His investigating on the company was thorough: he downloaded and used the company’s app, he read up on the co-founders’ story of how and why they started the company, and he asked insightful questions about the company’s vision and business model. It was clear to everyone who interviewed him that the candidate was very interested and well-researched.

Bad attitude or lack of respect

Most likely, you’ll know right off the bat if someone falls into this category, but there are some specific things to look for. You can tell by her smile, and whether they take on challenges optimistically or pessimistically. Ask about a challenge she had to face and note how she handled it: Did she play the blame game, or accept it and move on? Did they meet the problem head on and try to find a solution without butting heads?

Other things to be wary of: If the person is arrogant or has a huge ego, it could indicate that she’s going to be difficult to work with, or if she’s rude to the receptionist, you can place a bet that’s how she’s going to treat his coworkers, as well. Also take note if she speaks unprofessionally about past coworkers, bosses or companies. It’s okay for a person to have been unhappy about his past job, but if she’s very rude about how she talks about his past colleagues, that’s never a good sign–it shows a lack of respect that could carry over into her next role.

Also, sometimes being late to an interview is uncontrollable, but the candidate should communicate if she’s delayed. If she shows up 45 minutes late with no explanation or communication and still expects to be interviewed, that’s a red flag.

Unwilling to compromise

Most teams work better with people who are willing to consider all the possible solutions to a problem. If you have a candidate who aggressively insists his solution to a tech interview question is right without considering other possibilities, this could be a red flag. Obviously, it’s important for a potential hire to be firm about a solution when he knows it’s right, but if he’s unprofessional about how he communicates this or if he doesn’t take the time to consider other possibilities, it shows that he may have a rigid way of thinking, making it hard to adapt to unexpected situations. To suss this out, dig into past experiences. Find out how he responded when a project suddenly pivoted or when the technology suddenly changed. How did he react to that?

Related to this, look out for people who are code language or technology zealots–although the importance of this depends on the company. Candidates who don’t want to work with anything except for a particular technology or programming language, might not be flexible or open to learning.

Poor communication skills

In today’s fast moving teams, good communication skills are vital. If a person is difficult to understand, has trouble articulating ideas or is extremely shy, she’s most likely not going to be able to communicate effectively as part of a team or to managers or direct reports. Note that this doesn’t mean to exclude introverts–plenty of people who aren’t outgoing can be great at their jobs. But it’s important to determine that they can still communicate issues effectively. One way to determine this is through specific lines of questioning, such as “In the past, if there was a challenge you faced, how did you bring it to the attention of your boss?”

Some indicators of a good communicator include a solid handshake (with eye contact), effectiveness at explaining complex topics, good enunciation and succinct answers that show a clear train of thought.

Check your personal flags at the door

Of course you want to be thorough in finding the right person to join your company, but don’t go overboard on the judgement. For instance, things like openly visible tattoos and piercings generally shouldn’t be a concern in the tech space. Also, don’t dismiss candidates in the first five minutes of the interview when they seem nervous. For most candidates, interviewing is a nerve-wracking experience. Give them some time to see if they warm up over the course of the interview.

Navigating the tech hiring waters can be tricky at times, but if you keep an eye out for these red flags, you can avoid hiring people who might not be the best fit for your company.

Image credit: CC by Rutger van Waveren

About the author: Aaron Ho

Aaron Ho is an associate at Riviera which specializes in building top tier engineering teams for some the most promising venture-backed startups.

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