Candidate Dealbreakers? Let’s Hear ‘Em.

Candidate Dealbreakers? Let’s Hear ‘Em.

by Kerry Scott on 7 October 2009


Since a lot of Clue Wagon readers are HR/hiring people, here’s another one of those ask-the-audience things:

What are the things candidates do (aside from the actual content of the interview or experience) that will get them disqualified?

I don’t mean the stuff that annoys you.  I mean the stuff that, if the candidate does it, you will immediately put them in the “NO” pile.

I ask because I’m starting to feel a little uncomfortable with some of the stuff I’m reading, both in my email and out in the world.  I see a lot of candidates who are saying, “Oh my gosh, I thought my resume had to be one page, so I shrunk it down, and then I just read your post, and now I’m like, is this the reason I’ve been unemployed for 10 months?

No.  The reason you’ve been unemployed for 10 months is more than likely the fact that there are six candidates for every one job opening in the United States.  In some places, the ratio is slightly better.  In some it’s worse.  But the math sucks from coast to coast, and although I give advice to job hunters three times a week, I can’t think of a single thing I’ve posted (aside from the Tales of the Cluefree) that would actually make me disqualify you for a job before an interview.  For example, I talked about not calling women with double-surnames “Mrs.,” and the truth is that it annoys the crap out of me when people call me that.  But would I disqualify a candidate for doing so?  Of course not.  I’d suck as a recruiter if my personal preferences trumped my mission to find the person who is the best fit for the position.  The same is true for most every other little peeve I’ve written about…even the follow-up calls.  It all factors in, but when I hear from candidates who are stressing over small details like this…well, I feel bad.  Because job hunting sucks hard enough without people telling you that you will never work again if you get some tiny detail wrong.  Plus everyone’s tiny detail is different, so how the hell are you supposed to know what they are for the person you’re emailing?  You’re lucky if you can even find out the person’s name.

So anyway.  Dealbreakers.  What are yours?

Photo by .Liz

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Stumbleupon Email

Other posts you might like:


Debbie October 7, 2009 at 7:32 am

Dishonesty and or unprofessionalism .
I have had a candidate chose to tell one story about their work history and then when they found out I had a connection, they corrected information. My grandmother used to say “honesty is the best policy” and I believe qualified candidates should keep that in mind. Regarding professionalism- I have received a hand written thank you note (nice) , on a piece of blank white note paper versus professional notecard or stationery- not good.

Evil HR Lady October 7, 2009 at 8:13 am

Debbie, you would actually reject a candidate because of the type of paper she wrote a thank you note on? That’s harsh.

Total deal breakers for me are: inappropriate e-mail addresses (I had one bull[badword], inappropriate dress, and resumes that include your 9th grade basketball team.
.-= Evil HR Lady´s last blog ..Feedback, Feedback, Feedback =-.

Kathy October 7, 2009 at 8:24 am

If you get to the interview stage, dealbreakers are showing up late with no explanaition, acting as if filling out paperwork is a chore, or giving the admin staff a hard time.

Sabrina October 7, 2009 at 8:28 am

Are we talking like just regular white paper or a college ruled paper?

Kimberley October 7, 2009 at 8:52 am

If a candidate ever trashes her former employer I am very reluctant to hire. Or if she tells me that she left her past 3 positions due to some sort of “personality conflict”. What would the lowest common denominator be there? And of course, being late for the interview – I hate that!

Ask a Manager October 7, 2009 at 8:55 am

Yes! Thank you. I tried to touch on this a little when I wrote recently on why people shouldn’t stress over conflicting advice about their resumes — we all have strong preferences/opinions about how to do resumes, but it’s hard to image a resume style I’d reject a candidate for.

A deal breaker for me: chronic long, rambling answers that don’t just answer the question directly. One of these is okay. But constant ones? No. And it’s not because it makes the candidate a bad person or anything — it’s just that I know they’d be a bad culture fit, irritate all their coworkers, and possibly feel bad all the time by having people rush them along to their point.
.-= Ask a Manager´s last blog ..recruiter I met at career expo asked me on a date — what do I do? =-.

Marty October 7, 2009 at 9:28 am

How long can you write articles if you are going to tell people that all of the advice is bad? It seems like all you do is bash people who give advice.

Ann October 7, 2009 at 10:15 am

If a candidate applies and their cover letter has the name of another company in it (ie., I would love to work for Company A! and my company is called B), they go in the NO pile. If someone applies through our website and writes creepy comments in the additional comments section, they go in the NO pile. I have had candidates write things like, “I love long walks on the beach, sunsets and polka music.”

Steph McDonald October 7, 2009 at 10:17 am

I agree with the dishonesty and unprofessionalism, and would add spelling errors. At least with frequency. In this day of spell check, why wouldn’t you hit that little F7 button and let Word take over? And have a friend read (over and over) for content. It’s the easiest part of finding a job!

Also, if someone treats my support staff with anything but the utmost respect, you can kiss the job goodbye. My assistant is an extension of me and should be treated that way.

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 7, 2009 at 10:24 am

Marty—I don’t bash everyone who gives advice…just the ones who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. I get frustrated by people who advise candidates on how to get hired when they haven’t hired a whole lot of people themselves. I’m especially frustrated when these people are telling folks, “You must do THIS or you’ll never get a job,” or “Never do that or NO ONE will hire you!” It’s bullshit.

There are a few universally bad moves (being rude, threatening people, showing up dressed like a streetwalker, etc.). I’m not talking about stuff like that. I’m talking about when I get an email where someone is terrified because their resume is one page instead of two, or they used the wrong font, or they sent the letter to “Dear Sir or Madam” instead of “Dear Ms. Smith” or whatever. The responses to those things are not at all universal, and to tell people otherwise is just crap. Worse, there are people out there who are actually CHARGING folks for this bad advice. They’ll tell you that for $X, they’ll tell you everything you need to know to get a job…and these people, these desperate people who just need a paycheck to eat…they bite. And it sucks. The font on your resume is not going to keep you from getting a job, because not all of the people who receive resumes agree on what the right font is.

But yeah, you’re absolutely right that I can’t do this for long, given my frustration with this. “Use some common sense, don’t be a jerk, and hang in there” doesn’t really make for three blog posts a week, and it doesn’t compete with all of the people who are trying to make a buck off of candidates’ desperation and confusion. On that I completely agree with you.

Susanne October 7, 2009 at 10:24 am

Dealbreakers for me: Ditto with the inappropriate email addresses, whether vulgar or just plain unprofessional. Shows immaturity and poor judgment. Also, people who put Bible verses on the tag line of their email address. (or for that matter, I’m not a fan of most of the personal info some people feel belongs on a resume — how long they’ve been married, how many kids they have, etc. WHY do I want to know any of that????) And people who feel a need to provide “reason for leaving” for every job, and then launch into paragraphs that just scream “whiny crazy person”. I can overlook maybe one typo for most jobs — hey, we’re human — but I have zero tolerance for people who don’t bother to make their resume match the job they are applying for. (i’ve received cover letters that state they applying for “abc” job when my opening is for “XYZ” job.)

Susanne October 7, 2009 at 10:27 am

* that is, Bible verses on the tagline of the email, not email ADDRESS. See, I have to tolerate typos because I am such a crappy proofreader of my own work!

Abby October 7, 2009 at 10:36 am

A dealbreaker for me is how the candidate treats my assistant. I have experienced candidates who treat me very nice and professionally but treat the assistant like she is an idiot or not important, etc. I always ask for staff support impressions as they are often the ones who call to schedule an interview or something. I also don’t like it when a candidate argues with me such as when I state that I need a transcript and they spend quite a bit of time arguing with me over whether it is necessary or something. Really, it is our policy. Either you want to work here or you don’t. I do have a happy story in that once a person was hired (not by me but I did all of his onboarding stuff) and he managed to alienate every person he had contact with on his first day from payroll, to getting a pager, my office, etc. I called his supervisor and explained the inappropriate behavior etc. The supervisor called him on it. It took him awhile but when he left, he was one of the favorite employees. I never would have dreamed it possible. I wouldn’t have hired him if he had done all this in the interview but it is nice to have a happy ending for once.

Crystal October 7, 2009 at 11:42 am

The two things that have actually caused me to NOT hire a candidate that otherwise would have been hired:
1) Claiming a degree the candidate did not earn – for a job that did not require a degree!
2) After learning the salary range in the interview, accepting the job on the condition that the salary be increased by 50%. You read that right. On learning that the offer was only for the stated amount, trying to re-negotiate the job into a 75%-time part-time job. Um, no. We’re done.

Sarah M October 7, 2009 at 11:53 am

I am all over the email addresses one. My favourite was banana_hammock@emailaddress… I’ll immediately eliminate candidates as it shows a huge lack of maturity. I’m also on board with eliminating candidates who don’t update their cover letter (I don’t want to hire you if you don’t even put our company name into it and leave the other company you’re applying at in it). Although I work at a creative company my favourite deal breakers are candidates who submit “creative” resumes that are not legible. You resume as a take out food tray, kind of cool but if that’s it and I can’t easily find your contact info it’s a huge FAIL. Creative folks out there, I’m not opposed to you getting creative with your application submission but submit a traditional resume with it!

Erin October 7, 2009 at 1:13 pm

I will eliminate any candidate that I see or hear of engaging in rude behavior to any member of our staff or the public. If you are rude to the security personnel, receptionist, janitor or the lady at Starbucks* before or after your interview, you will not get hired.

*We had one candidate who completely yelled at the Starbucks barista because her drink didn’t have enough of something or other – it was a loud, rude, innapropriate display. Well, one of the members of our management team happened to be in line behind her. He encountered her sitting in our reception area a few minutes later, he found out she was there for an interview and he approached her and said, “Didn’t I just see you in Starbucks?” He says the look on her face was priceless. Needless to say, she was not hired.

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 7, 2009 at 1:27 pm

That reminds me of the time I was driving to work. I was going just a little over the speed limit, on a road where people frequently go 15-20 mph over during rush hour. This guy behind me was pissed that I was going so slow, and he started playing reindeer games with me…following a few inches from my bumper, leaning on the horn, etc. I hate people like that, so I just kept going a few mph over the speed limit.

When I turned in to the parking lot at work, he turned in behind me. Then he parked, and I got a little scared that he was going to turn out to be some kind of road rage freak. I took a deep breath and opened the door, and he yelled at me, “What the hell is the matter with you? I’m late for a job interview. Thanks a lot bitch.” And since I was the only person in the building who scheduled job interviews, I thought, oh, this is not going to suck one bit.

So as he’s going in the front door, I’m going in the back. I took off my coat, and the receptionist called and said my 8am appointment was here. The look on his face when he saw me walk up was 47 kinds of priceless.

Dude went through the entire interview without referring to the incident at all, too. What a piece of work.

Bohdan Rohbock October 7, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Disrespect, for me, my company, previous company, boss, whatever. If someone is being rude or a jerk in an interview then they are going to be even worse once they’re comfortable with their job.

As for resume stuff, depends on the position. Is it an admin position where a high level of skill with Word is required? I’m fairly strict. Repair technician or truck driver? Far less concerned. I’ve never not considered anyone because of font, that strikes me as silly. If your company is (strangely) fixated on a particular font then just make sure the new hire knows to use that.

I don’t care about email addresses too much by themselves. Just one more data point. If everything else is solid and respectful, no worries. I might bring it up and give them a tip about getting something more professional (and watching their reaction).

novice-hr October 7, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Wow, does that guy have road rage or what? But I’m surprised that he actually went through with the interview… Did he think that he could redeem himself afterward? How can you call someone a bitch and act like nothing happen?
.-= novice-hr´s last blog ..The Value of an MBA =-.

TBA October 7, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Dealbreaker for me is when a candidate knows nothing about my organization! Inthis day and age, is it really acceptable that you don’t know what my very established non-profit agency does? When I get the ‘you are a very charitable organization that helps people…’ spiel, I always ask, ‘what services particularly impress you about us?’ to which they say 1) all of them (puh-lease) or have to admit that they don’t know anything…this is a deal breaker for me. If you haven’t researched the organization at the most basic level, I cannot believe your ‘enthusaism and excitement at this position.’

Tim G October 7, 2009 at 10:30 pm

A clear disregard for personal safety. I interviewed a guy who worked on an assembly line where his task involved soldering. He showed me multiple scars on his forearms that he got from hurrying through assembly so he could have a long break. “We could reach the days quota by 1 o’clock and have 2 hours to sit in the break room.”
.-= Tim G´s last blog ..Do You Motivate With Fear or Reward? =-.

laurie ruettimann October 7, 2009 at 11:10 pm

The smell. You will not be hired if you smell like alcohol or my cat’s litter box. I had a candidate who smelled like yak. I’ve never even been near a yak, but I recognized that odor.

I forgive normal body odor, but I won’t forgive cat urine on clothing.
.-= laurie ruettimann´s last blog ..Freakout-enomics & Unemployment =-.

class factotum October 8, 2009 at 7:52 am

RE: saying negative things about a previous boss. I was in an interview where the hiring manager kept pressing me and pressing me about my former boss. I had been working on an SAP project that was not going well (the company has since abandoned it) and part of it was because my boss, bless his heart, would not make decisions or lobby management to support the changes.

The HM wanted to know why the project was failing and I was trying to explain without indicting my former boss, whom I liked as a person but was just not a good manager. (Three people on my team quit right after I was laid off because he was driving them crazy.)

What do you say when you did have an ineffective boss? I would rather avoid the subject altogether, but it did come up. I didn’t want to say bad things about him, but he was part of the problem. BTW, he is the only boss I have ever had where I had negative things to say.
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..Wednesday photos =-.

class factotum October 8, 2009 at 7:57 am

Sorry — not trying to change the subject or be a whiner. But I would be curious to know how to handle that situation should you wish to address it sometime. If my husband’s plane crashes and he dies, after I get rid of the cats and clean out the basement, I will have to go back to work — there’s not THAT much life insurance and I would be bored staying at home alone.
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..Wednesday photos =-.

Lorraine October 8, 2009 at 12:26 pm

When conducting a phone screen, I was asked to hold while the candidate answered his cell phone. I heard him say, “Hi hon, can I get back to you? I’m on another call. Yeah, it’s going great, slam-dunk, know what I mean? Talk to you later.”

Needless to say, he FAILED.
.-= Lorraine´s last blog ..Why Outplacement Counseling is So Critical in Your Job Search =-.

HRPufnstuf October 8, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Do not drop anything racist, sexist, ageist, or anything else that illustrates ignorance. Having worked in some large cities, I actually saw that many times in interviews. I’ve had candidates ask me if we provide parking were (insert ignorance) couldn’t get to their cars. Or people would tell me they don’t like working with one group or another. Also using any offensive language to describe a former co-worker will get you the gong right then and there.
.-= HRPufnstuf´s last blog ..Metrics Part III – Source of Hire and Source Effectiveness =-.

Dawn Kubiak October 8, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Doing phone interviews on the fly and treating it too informally. I’ve run into a couple of recent sales candidates that when I’ve contacted them to schedule a phone interview they’ve wanted to do it right then.

One of the problems I’ve run into in doing this is that they are on a lousy cellphone so I’ve had to have them repeat themselves several times or being hung up and it’s hard to get through the actual interview.

I’ve also noticed that some of the candidates take the phone interview too casually especially when they want to do it right then. They aren’t really addressing my questions, are distracted, don’t sound professional and many times don’t recall anything about the position or the company (which is another problem, at least look at our website).

I recognize that when I’m calling a candidate I may not be catching them at the best time which is why I state that I’m calling to schedule the phone interview. I’d recommend that candidates take that opportunity to schedule a good time for them to devote their full attention to me, review their resume, prepare for questions and at least look at our website and job posting all prior to our scheduled phone interivew (I’d recommend having all of that info in front of you when actually on the phone as well).

Class factotum – can you state that bureaucracy within your company led to the delay of the project and missed deadlines and leave it at that? I think most recruiters recognize that candidates are not always be in sync with their boss on everything and it’s ok to recognize that without trashing the former boss but it does have to be done diplomatically. And it’s a small world, you never know if the recruiter and your former boss know each other somehow.

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 8, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Class Factotum—I’d state it pretty much as Dawn suggests. You’re allowed to admit that everything wasn’t rosy; it’s the personal attacks on former bosses and colleagues that get people into trouble.

When you’re being diplomatic, most interviewers with half a brain will see your discomfort and the fact that you’re choosing your words carefully, and they’ll know that there’s more to the story. You’ll get your point across, and you’ll get extra points for not having gone dirty with it.

Geoff October 8, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Re: Alcohol smell. Sometimes that smell isn’t actually booze. One time I had two recruiters report to me that they thought one of my candidates was drunk at the interview, which was a shame because they really liked this person’s answers. Turns out, the candidate was a teetotaler, and the smell was cologne, which was alcohol-based and applied too liberally for the stuffy interview space. The happy ending was that the candidate got the job and did well. But I can see how not all recruiter/interviewers would be willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

clobbered October 8, 2009 at 7:11 pm

I work at an equal opportunities employer. We have a scoring scheme based on qualifications, and as far as I know we can’t technically dismiss somebody on anything that is not already on the score sheet. So while good presentation might be in some of our job descriptions (eg for receptionist) it might not be in others (say, mechanic).

I often wondered what would happen if, as somebody has already commented, we got a very smelly applicant.

Hank Hill October 9, 2009 at 7:42 pm

They must’ve gotten into the medical grade pot at the MPP again, because Ask a Manager’s response directly contradicts this:

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 10, 2009 at 4:40 am

Hank—this post is about things that are personal preferences…being called “Mrs.” versus “Ms.,” resumes that are one page or two, the font used for the resume, etc. These are things that if you ask multiple hiring people, you’re going to get different answers as to which is correct, because they’re preferences. Some people like to be called Ms. and like two-page resumes, and other people like to be called Mrs. and only want one page resumes. There’s no universally agreed-on rule for these things. That’s why it’s frustrating; because the candidate can’t guess what the employer is looking for.

The post you linked is about things that are not preferences, like being a jerk, not getting work done on time, giving employers wrong telephone numbers for references, etc. Those aren’t things on which someone is going to say, “I like the telephone number to be correct,” and someone else is going to say, “No, I like the telephone number to be wrong.” Advice doesn’t conflict on those issues. Advice is pretty universal about not being a jerk, getting stuff done when you say you will, not giving employers wrong info, etc.

So I don’t think there’s a contradiction there.

Hank Hill October 10, 2009 at 8:12 pm

When you get down to it, everything is a matter of preference. Speaking of which, I got an interview earlier this week because I called to follow up mere days after sending in my resume. The hiring manager specifically said that impressed him.

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 11, 2009 at 8:45 am

Hank—hope the interview went well.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: