Red Flags. Pink Flags. Which Flags Matter?

Red Flags. Pink Flags. Which Flags Matter?

by Sara Bennett | October 14, 2019

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There are reasons NOT TO HIRE that can be just as important as the Reasons TO HIRE!

Any candidate vetting process worth the title has to be able to spot information about a candidate that might be show up on the job once hired in problematic ways.  In our business we call them “red flags” (or “pink flags” if we’re trying to hedge our bet!)

And if we’re doing our job we know any time we have a group of candidates to vett we’ll uncover lots of red and pink flags.  In fact our experience is that if  we’re reviewing 15 candidates with the basic skills or experience needed to “do the job” there will be 4-5 candidates on that list with bright red flags, and most of the rest will have flags that are shades of red or pink.  We consider it a key element of what we do is help our clients spot the flags that might impact their hiring decision and arm them with the facts about those flags.   We want our clients  to make their hiring decisions after they have objectively considered all known risk factors! NO SURPRISES!

What we’ve found is that there are very few RED FLAGS that can be put in the automatic disqualifier bucket – meaning without additional research. Most flags simply alert us as to the need to ask more questions, do more research to uncover all there is to know about the FLAG – the whys behind the what’s.

We’ve also found that no matter how tempting it is to overlook some of the flags that pop up when vetting any candidate, regardless of how qualified or liked they are, the flags should never be ignored.  Yes, there are times when an issue gets uncovered that represents a hiring risk, but if our client decides to take that risk because it is offset by high levels of high demand skills or work experiences, that is their call to make. We consider ourselves hiring advisors not decision makers.

The key to handling the red or pink flags that come up in every candidate vetting process is taking the time to discover and clarify the facts relevant to the “flag” and making a decision about how to go forward that makes the most sense given the upside and downside of every hiring decision.  The FLAG matters, and so do the FACTS about that flag.  

(And just for the record, there are also things that come up with candidates that we call green flags – things about that candidate that on first impression trigger a hiring manager to believe this is the candidate they should hire. Obviously the candidate that eventually gets hired should have a whole bunch of green flags, but spotting them too early in the process and short cutting any of the steps in the process is often what leads  to hiring mistakes.   Green flags should be researched too…to make sure they’re actually “green.”)

Here’s TWELVE things that we tag as RED (or PINK) FLAGS when vetting a candidate….

1. Showing Up LATE to the interview. 

With traffic grid locks a norm in most of our Puget Sound communities, arriving late for an interview is not the serious red flag it once was. Traffic stuff happens, even for the most prepared. That said, to make sure time management issues get detected before a candidate is hired,  we recommend that our clients organize their hiring process to include 2-3 scheduled appointments or deadlines to see if “arriving or completing work on time” is part of their MO. If traffic is an issue, schedule video rather than face to face appointments. If you’ve built homework into your vetting process (which we highly recommend), make sure it has a clear “due date”. Pay attention to any pattern that looks like an otherwise qualified candidate has issues with organization and/or time management.

2. Showing Up UNPREPARED….

…can signal something about the candidate that needs to be explored IF your expectations of how the candidate needed to be prepared was clearly spelled out in your vetting process.   IOW, to get a good look at how a candidate might show up in your work environment as either prepared or not prepared to do work, make sure your pre hire vetting includes some “homework” that the candidate is expected to complete by a specific time or in a specific way.  

This homework doesn’t have to be fancy.  At the end of your introductory call and before a candidate’s first interview, you can, for example,  ask them to review a written job description and scroll through your website to come prepared to ask questions. Interestingly enough how candidate’s approach homework will tell you a lot about how they will perform on the job. Did they do what you asked? Did they do more than you asked? What short cuts did they take? Depending on the type of candidate you need to hire, how they do their homework can become a key element of your selection process.

3. GAPS in Employment….

….always signal the need for more discovery. For us, gaps are events that need to be explored – either to get them fully explained or to recognize that there might be some risk that the candidate hasn’t told us the full truth about what is behind the gaps.

      “I noticed that you had 6 months between your job at _______ before you took your job at __________.  What were you doing during that time frame?

If they were having trouble finding a job, find out why. Does what they are describing make sense? Is it possible there were gaps in the resume created by a job that went bad and they simply don’t want you to know about it?

One of the ways we tell the difference between candidates who tell the truth and candidates who don’t is that we always look for…..

4. Info Gaps and DISCREPANCIES …  

Yes, most interviewers turn into some version of Sherlock Holmes at some point in the candidate vetting process. At PACE, our recruiters are trained to ask for the same information in a variety of formats and see what information the candidate provides in each of the venues matches, what  information doesn’t, and stay curious to find out why. For example, even though we familiarize ourselves with a candidate’s work history as presented on their resume, in our interviews we always ask them to walk us thru there last 2-3 jobs – what did they do at each job, why did they take the job, why did they leave.  Discrepancies in dates, times, or content between their verbal report and their written resume will be confronted to find out if there is something that the candidate doesn’t want to reveal, or an overall loose relationship with the truth.

The goal is NO SURPRISES.  We want the candidate our client hires on Friday to be the same person who shows up for work on Monday.  


….is no longer the bright red flag it once was, but it is definitely a sign of something going on with a candidate that needs to be explored.  Any resume that shows a pattern of changing jobs every 1 or 2 years, without any obvious signs of progression, needs a second look.  In some cases a job hopper is someone who simply hasn’t yet landed on what they want to do; in other cases it is a sign that as soon as “things get tough”, the employee leaves.  In still others its a sign they are very achievement oriented and have been accelerating their career by changing jobs.

As you make decisions about how to interpret job hopping, keep in mind that job hopper resumes are much more common place than they once were – sometimes driven by the ease with which employees can change jobs, sometimes by the culture of change that is pervasive in our current world.   Some job changes are triggered by things the employee can’t control – a change in a company’s business model, ownership, or physical location are events far more prevalent today than they were just 3 years ago.

The whys behind the whats of for taking and leaving jobs always tells you a lot about a candidate and we never miss going thru a rigorous review of those whats and whys in our candidate screening process.

This brings us to our sixth red flag, which is…


Related to  “job hopping”  there are important patterns that can be uncovered by exploring  a candidate’s reasons for TAKING AND LEAVING each job on their resume.  One of the staples in our candidate vetting tool kit, is a rigorous review of the reasons why a candidate elected to take and then leave each of the jobs reported on their resume. In some cases we’ll go back to all jobs in a career, in others only the last three – but the important discovery is to find out just how focused the  candidate has been on pursuing a career.  What did they gain or lose each time they made a job change.

If those reasons are all over the place, that points out the risks of a hiring decision .  They might leave our job for reasons we could never predict.  If there is a consistent theme as to why a candidate takes and leaves jobs,  you’re learning something very important about their motivators and what they will be looking for by taking your job, working for your company.

Is there a motivational match?  You get to decide. 


Whether they happen in the interview or in the resume, candidates who exaggerate their qualifications, their role in a particular achievement they are highlighting on their resume,  even their job title or scope of work,  need a second look.

While “rounding the edges” and “harmless  embellishments” can be quickly revealed in a structured interview, purposeful deception may be underscoring a personality issue that will show up on the job in a variety of ways.  Taking the time to uncover if a candidate is simply presenting themselves in the “best possible light”  OR purposefully misleading  who they are and what they can do, is time well spent.

Speaking to as many previous employers as possible prior to making a hiring decision is a key step in any best practices hiring process.  While not all previous employers will be willing to go on record about a candidate’s  performance, one of the techniques that we use with “resistant” reference providers is to simply ask them to verify the information the candidate provided in the interview.  That way, they are not being asked for their opinion while still providing us with important information about a candidate’s ability or willingness to give us accurate information about previous jobs.


We think candidates should come to an interview prepared to ask questions – particularly on things that come up in the interview. Candidates without questions are likely candidates who haven’t been engaged by the interview process (why?) or lack interest in the job. It may also indicate they don’t have the depth of knowledge or experience they need to do the job, and simply don’t want you to “go there.” Pay attention, particularly if you want to hire employees who are easily engaged.


Most candidates know they shouldn’t bash a former employer, but some simply can’t help themselves.  It is a lifelong MO that yes, is likely to be repeated in your work environment.

 “I know I shouldn’t say this, but I know this particular boss was very difficult to work for and had a lot of turnover.  I think I was just the “next to go.” 

A better answer “If I had this situation to do over again, I would have done a better job of getting to know my boss and what they expected of me.  I now realize I shouldn’t have been listening to my coworker s about issues with the boss that were very different than mine.”

If the candidate can’t articulate what “they learned” from a difficult situation, consider that a flag.  The habit of “blaming others”  rather than holding ourselves accountable, is typically NOT a onetime happening.


For sure, someone who has been terminated from a job is NOT a disqualification but it does signal you need to know more.  Why were they terminated?  What did they learn?  How motivated are they to change whatever they need to change in their next role?  For some people, being terminated is the best thing that could have happened in their career – the wakeup call they needed  to make them an A+ performer for their next employer.

11. Trying to work around your HIRING PROCESS  

Failure to follow the steps in your hiring process –  not completing an application, not following through on “next steps”, ghosting at some points in the process – are all signs that the candidate either can’t follow direction or is less than interested in pursuing a job with you – or any employer for that matter.

The solution?  Just ask….

“I didn’t receive your  application this morning.  Are you no longer interested in pursuing this job?”

Pay particular attention to a candidate who is not prepared to provide you contact information for work references, or offers up employee peers as references rather than someone who actually supervised their work.

12. Issues with SOCIAL IQ

Even in today’s socially “woke” society,  there are a variety of issues that can come up in an interview that may or may not be important depending on the type of job you are trying to fill and the importance of certain social behaviors on job performance.

We’ve seen them all….

  • Inappropriate interview attire or grooming
  • Unsuitable language
  • Poor grammar
  • Excessive or pointless talking
  • “Unusual/off color” voice mail greetings or e mail monikers
  • Weak hand shake
  • Poor eye contact
  • Poor posture – slumping, arm crossing, etc.
  • Fidgeting behavior

While these type of social or personal interaction issues often become the reasons why an employer doesn’t hire a particular candidate, they are not always good reasons not to consider an otherwise very talented candidate. While we encourage our clients to notice a candidate’s behavior in an interview we also ask them to make sure that the issues they are paying attention to are relevant to job performance. Some of the most talented candidates we represent are overly nervous in an interview and will express that nervousness by avoiding eye contact or fidgeting – behaviors that don’t show up on the job.  Reason for disqualification?  We don’t think so.

Tired of Making Hiring Mistakes?    

Here’s Some Ways We Can Help You Spot the Red Flags That Might Be Signaling Problems Ahead….

  • We can help you create realistic “preferred candidate” profiles that pin point up front the type of candidate who is the “right fit” for your needs.  Hiring Managers should not be spending time with candidates who aren’t good possibilities of being that “just right fit”.  
  • We get to know the candidates we represent up close and personal…….what really motivates them?  What kind of job will spark their passion?       
  • We collect reference information as a routine part of our candidate onboarding.  We think talking to a candidate’s previous employers is a key step in the hiring process.   
  • We use state of the art screening interviews to catch all those “not-so-obvious” flags that can become hiring deal breakers.  Can the candidate actually do the work you need done?  Does the candidate “wanna do” the work you need done? 
  • We use professional skill and aptitude testing to ensure the candidates we refer “are” who they appear to be!
  • We present all the reasons that a candidate might be a good hire plus take the time to uncover all the risk factors that might be part of that same decision.  We discover and then research all the flags, pink and red, and shine a light on them before you hire!


PACE Staffing Network is one of the Puget Sound’s premier staffing /recruiting agencies and has been helping Northwest  employers find and hire employees based on the “right fit” for over 45 years.

A multi year winner of the coveted “Best in Staffing” designation , PACE has been selected by Forbes as one of the top staffing agencies in the nation plus is consistently ranked in the top 2% of staffing agencies nationwide based on annual surveys of customer satisfaction.

PACE services include temporary and contract staffing, temp to hire auditions, direct hire professional recruiting services, Employer of Record (payroll) services, and a large menu of candidate assessment services our clients can purchase a la carte.

To learn more about how partnering with PACE will make a difference to how you find and hire employees,  contact us at 425-637-3312 or e mail our Partner Solutions  team  at

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