Recruiter beware: The candidate red flags you need to know
Recruiters live and die by the quality of the candidates they put forward to their clients.

We asked the experts what red flags they look out for, in their search for the perfect person for a role.


“A serious candidate would have a well-structured CV,” says Jennifer Rees-Gay, manager of the HR recruitment team at Robert Walters. “Contact details, link to online profiles, general profile, experience, qualifications, and career summary. Good grammar and spelling go without saying.”

“I’m looking to see months as well as years on CVs,” says Debbie Davis, general manager NSW at Davidson. “Otherwise, candidates may be trying to mask gaps. And if someone writes ‘various temp assignments’, I want to know which companies, what roles and how long. Career objectives on resumes should match the role they are applying for."

Davis points out that most recruiters and companies have a database that stores past applications.  “If I notice that employment dates of past jobs have changed or jobs have been dropped off, this raises questions of a candidate’s honesty and integrity.”


“If someone won’t give us their referee details, we won’t represent them,” says Rees-Gay. “We’d never jeopardise someone’s existing position, but there must be someone in the last five years that they’ve reported to, even if that person has left the company. For our clients, we need to make sure we do our due diligence and the candidates we represent are quality.”

Phone screening

For Davis, apart from understanding a candidate’s experience, salary expectations, interest in the role, and other roles they are applying for, phone screening is an opportunity to ‘dig deeper’ on issues like job-hopping or gaps in employment. Job hopping “could indicate boredom, or being unsettled in their career.” Other areas include querying career regression, being overqualified for a role, or reasons for leaving. “I’m looking for patterns, such as, ‘I didn’t get on with my boss’.”

“I’m looking for someone who can communicate effectively, who knows what they want, and why they want to leave their current job,” says Rees-Gay. “Someone who knows what the position involves and why they think they’re aligned with it, and has good salary expectations. All of these are red flags if they can’t.”

“My general advice is, always qualify a CV,” says Davis. “Their reasons for leaving, their role, dates of employment, their motivators in looking for a new role and what they’re really looking for in their next role. Always drill down on their reason for leaving, as it may not be the first answer they give you!”

Davis and Rees-Gay both note that if a candidate doesn’t know what job they’ve applied for, they’re applying for everything.

Social media

Agencies and employers alike will look into a candidate’s social media presence, and Rees-Gay has seen at least one candidate knocked back by an employer simply because of an inappropriate Facebook picture.

Another area of scrutiny is blogs, to see what kind of commentary a candidate is engaging in. “If the candidate has posted negative or derogatory comments, a future employer may ask, is that the kind of behaviour they may carry over into their work life,” says Davis.

“And a candidate’s LinkedIn profile should always match their CV. Otherwise, it’s a definite red flag.”


A face-to-face interview is the opportunity to determine whether a candidate could really fit with the position under consideration. As such, issues such as speaking negatively about a past or current employer, lack of eye contact, lack of research on the company, lack of passion, and even the effort they put into their appearance all come into play.

Both Rees-Gay and Davis use face-to-face interviews to ask behavioural questions.

“I ask them, how do you like to be managed?” says Rees-Gay “What challenges have you faced, and how have you dealt with them?”

“Some candidates use examples from old jobs, when we’re interested in more recent examples,” Davis says. “And some candidates try to lead you on to another question where they feel more confident, rather than answer the question you’ve asked them.”

Davis also looks out for candidates who use language such as ‘we’, ‘assisted’, ‘jointly responsible for’. “What part did they actually play, and was it their idea?”

“Candidates need to know their CV inside and out – their strengths, and what improvements they can make,” says Rees-Gay. “They need to be ‘self-aware’.”