Five red-flag mistakes that smart managers know to look for in interviews

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This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some of the biggest red flags in an interviewee? Answer by Sarah Smith, VP of Recruiting and HR at Quora.

I’ve had the fortune to interview hundreds of people (maybe over a thousand by now) in private education and technology and have found the following to be the biggest red flags in interviews:

Victim mentality
To me as an interviewer, there is no bigger red flag than victim mentality. When I ask, “Tell me about your interest in this role,” and I get an answer along the lines of, “Well, I’m at Facebook/Google/Microsoft/insert other larger company; and have really tapped out on what I can learn here.  There’s no more room for me to grow,” you’ve pretty much lost me. Are you seriously trying to tell me that there are literally no more opportunities for learning at a 10-, 30-, 100 THOUSAND person company? If you cannot find anything to learn there, how are you going to do when you have to roll up your sleeves and do a fair bit of less glamorous work at a start-up? I’ve worked in some very mundane jobs earlier in my career and have never been “bored.” There is always something to learn.

Similarly, I see a huge red flag when an applicant talks about their boss “hating” them or really anyone in the organization that is “against” them. Talk of being “limited” or “capped” are also words I associate with victim mentality. It’s certainly possible that you are at a company or team that is a sinking ship and you want to get out, but you can always find something to learn in all situations and paint your interest in a role in a positive, learning light.

Lack of product knowledge or passion
I have little patience for candidates who have not used our product. It is the easiest, most straightforward way to prepare for an interview. I’m baffled by candidates who have never used our product or say that they don’t use it much. You are about to spend likely 50%+ of your waking hours on this product. Shouldn’t you love it and be compelled by it?

Take the time to read a few blog posts from the company. Use the product. Ask and answer a few questions. It will help you know if you want to actually work on it and will help you perform better and more knowledgeably in your interviews. As one other guidepost, I recommend thinking about preparing for an interview like you would prepare for a final exam. You should spend hours and hours reading and preparing. Whenever I’ve interviewed anywhere, I spent at least 10-20 hours researching before the first conversation. Show that you really want the opportunity!

Luckily it’s rare for someone to make it too far in our process if they are arrogant but every once in awhile someone gets to on-site. If we hear of anyone treating anyone at our company poorly (receptionist, recruiting team, interviewers, custodial staff), that’s a huge red flag. If you come into an interview with a huge ego, it’s unlikely to go away when you’re working in a team with humble, nice people.

Short terms of employment
I don’t immediately reject applicants who have a shorter term at one company but I’d certainly want to know why. For example, if I saw an applicant at any pre- or post-IPO tech company for less than a year or two, I’d ask why as I want to confirm whether they were involuntarily terminated. If so, then I’d want to understand more about the circumstances and whether the position we’re considering them for is likely a much better fit.

Again, while I wouldn’t completely rule out a candidate for swearing in an interview, it would be a big red flag.  To me, swearing in an interview shows very poor judgment and lack of self-awareness in the situation.

The good news is that the vast majority of candidates don’t make these mistakes and are an absolute pleasure to meet!  Still, for those of you newer to interviewing, hopefully this is a helpful list. Best of luck!

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