linkedin Skip to Main Content
Just announced: We now support interviewing in spreadsheets!
Back to blog

These 9 Red Flags Are Scaring Away Candidates During Interviews

Engineering Management , Interviewing

There’s no shortage of advice for candidates on what they should avoid in an interview—don’t wear street clothes, don’t be rude, don’t don’t. You know the red flags that warn you when a candidate might not fit your team.

But what about you, the interviewer?

As the gatekeeper who ensures that only the most qualified candidates make it onto your team, how you act in an interview is very important.

53% of job seekers have had at least one negative experience in the hiring process in the past 12 months. And 52% of job seekers had declined a job offer due to poor experience.

Just as you need to ensure quality on your team, your candidates are going to ensure quality in their employers. If you can’t show them you’re a great person to work with or your company isn’t a great place to work, the candidate will run faster than you can say “Glassdoor reviews.”

If you’re like most people, treating a candidate poorly isn’t in your nature. However, you might be exhibiting certain behaviors unintentionally that don’t reflect well on you or your company.

Here are the top ones you’ll want to avoid if you want to make the interview go well and your workplace a top organization to work for.

Inadequate preparation

When I was a student, I managed to get an interview for a SWE internship in the US. I was nervous as it was maybe the first time of my life that I have to speak in English over the phone, and one of my first job interview ever. That interview was a nightmare!

  • The environment was noisy. Which is probably fine for a native English speaker but it was difficult for me to understand some questions. Often, I couldn’t hear the very first word, but if you don’t know if the question is about “why” or “how” or something else, it’s difficult to answer. So I asked the person multiple times to repeat. And she would repeat the question like I’m a two year old while I only needed to know what was the first word of the question . So embarrassing.
  • No programming questions! Only product questions such as: what’s your favorite software? which feature would you like to add to it? I was really not prepared for these kind of questions!

And after that, no feedback at all, only a bunch of reading recommendations.

Maxime, Director of Engineering

There’s no greater sign of an unprofessional attitude than not properly preparing for an interview. 

Darth vader says "i find your lack of preparation disturbing."

Candidates often spend hours preparing for interviews—sending applications, personalizing resumes, writing cover letters, researching the company, and, most importantly, probably taking time off from their paid jobs.

What does it say about respecting their time when you run late or don’t have questions prepared?

It may seem obvious that you should be on time for the interview and have your questions prepared ahead of time.

Here are some less obvious ways to prepare so you’re not leaving your candidates with a sense of unease about your team’s interview process:

  • Ensure all interviewers know the date and time of an interview (set multiple reminders if you need to remember). Have backup interviewers for emergencies. Keeping track of all this in a shared document may be helpful.
  • In a similar vein, make sure each interviewer asks the candidate different questions so they don’t hear the same thing five times in a row.
  • Ensure you and the other interviewers set aside time to prepare. It’s a good idea to make this a quick team meeting.
  • Ensure you have a quiet environment in which to conduct the interview.
  • Make sure you’re ready to take notes. Everyone helping with the interview should have an easy place to write down their thoughts.
  • If you’re conducting a remote interview, ensure your candidate has a link to your interviewing platform and that they have any materials they need to prepare for the interview.

For example, we have templates we use for each job we post at CoderPad. Here’s a snippet of one that was filled out for a data analyst.

a table that has the following key values:
title - senior data,
manager - Name of the manager
Derpartment - analytics
location - remote in europe
level - senior

Below that it was:

Framework for hiring right
1. Why am i hiring?
2. who am i hiring?
3. how will i assess talent?
4. what is my evaluation criteria?

The document is shared between all our interviewers and contains the questions to ask and the appropriate assessment criteria for the questions.

Candidates appreciate this kind of preparation, as it shows that our care for them as applicants would extend to care for them as employees. 

If you show your candidates you can’t prepare for them before they accept the job, they’re going to think the company will be equally unprepared when they’re full-time employees. Few people aspire to work in a role where ambiguous processes and impromptu decision-making further complicate routine tasks.

Being prepared boils down to one thing: respecting the candidate’s time and effort in the interview process.

Being evasive

I was in applying for a job with a long process 4 steps and 1 case study, I was already at the third step and didn’t manage to get a clear answer on the salary from my various interviewers – they stayed evasive: it depends on the experience/profiles they were saying.

I finally got the info when they were ready to move me to the last stage. It was way under what I was earning in my previous job for the same type of mission. The way they approached it was to try and hook the candidate enough for the salary not to be important.

I turned down the job and It felt like a waste of time for everyone.

Alice, Content Manager

Some of the questions candidates ask you will be easy: What’s your tech stack? How many people are on the team? Does pineapple belong on pizza?

Other questions will be more difficult. They may enter into grey areas or have answers that may scare away the candidate.

A woman shouting at a cat saying "it's not fully remote if i have to come into the office!"

Is the PTO really unlimited? What are the core working hours? Why did the last person leave your team?

Lying or twisting a true statement to mean something else that misleads the candidate is dishonest and unprofessional and only hurts your hiring process. At best, your candidate accepts the job and stays on for a little while until they realize you lied, and then you can expect their productivity to drop and them to start looking for a new job.

At worse, you’ll find yourself paying out unemployment and trying to find a new employee days after spending all that time hiring the one you lied to.

The solution? Be honest. The candidate can judge whether a less-than-desirable working arrangement is worthwhile for them. 

If candidates keep turning down job offers because of these uncomfortable truths, you may need to rethink your policies and processes until you can create an environment your future employees will enjoy working.

Using leet code interview questions

I did an interview for a company that wanted me to do a computer science leet code type of test. Basically this exercise:

The interviewer was on a video Zoom call while I stumbled around trying to figure out what to do. He was getting visibly frustrated that I was taking so long and not making any progress finding imaginary islands from a given array of 1’s and 0’s. It must have been an hour and half later when he eventually gave up.

I said “Well. I suck at finding islands but I can show you how I build WordPress sites which is what I do in my day job.”

His sense of humor was about as good as I was at depth first search algorithm exercises.

Russell, Marketing web developer

Leet code questions – also often known as “whiteboard” questions – measure a candidate’s ability to remember how to implement algorithms and theories from computer science courses rather than their ability to perform the real on-the-job needs of the role.

A man hesitating between 2 buttons, one labelled "answering white board questions" and another labelled "bathing in hot sauce".

In other words, they’re tedious and boring and don’t really tell you how a candidate will perform as an employee of your team.

While they may be useful with the most junior candidates, they will absolutely annoy higher-level candidates, and you’ll see them regularly turn down your job offers.

We’ve written whole articles on how to design great technical interview questions, but it can be summed up like this:

  • Use a question that reflects an actual business task.
  • Use an appropriate IDE for the candidate to code in.
  • Make the question instructions readily available.
  • Make the question collaborative.
  • Allow the candidate to ask clarifying questions.

Pressure tactics 

I was in an interview, facing a tandem of interviewers – the first is conducting the interview and the second one is never talking or responding when I answered questions, never engaging with me.

I had the impression to be in a bad cop/good cop situation. I later learned that it was a posture he adopted on purpose to see how candidates reacted to pressured/uncomfortable situation. Nothing to do with the set of skills I needed for the job at the time.

Alice, Content Manager 

As an interviewer you should be focused on eliciting information and insights, not on persuasion like a car salesperson.

A 2 panel meme. on the left is an uno card that says "accept our offer today or draw 25". in the 2nd panel a man is holding over 25 cards.

Trying to see how your candidates work under pressure or forcing them to accept the job with an unreasonable deadline will likely backfire. Unless you’re interviewing for a police officer or firefighter, there is no need to put your candidates in a stressful situation to see how they’d respond.

Some “popular” tactics to create high-pressure situations in the interview process:

  • Giving the candidate a very short deadline to accept a job offer.
  • Asking intimidating questions.
  • Asking multiple difficult questions.
  • Testing under severe time constraints.
  • Panel interviews.
  • Making the candidate wait before the interview and in between interview steps.
  • Being intentionally rude to the candidate.

Other than being completely off-putting—and candidates will spread this message about your company—it’s also a great way to eliminate great candidates from your talent pool.

Some people are great creative and problem-solving minds, but they need time to think over their solutions. Others will see how ridiculous a high-pressure interview for a software developer position is and run in the other direction. Some are just not good interviewees, and the high-pressure situation just makes them even more flustered.

Your goal as a hiring manager is to bring out the best in your candidates. You won’t do that by stressing them out unnecessarily.

Unclear expectations

Developers really appreciate getting an overview of the whole interview process, from the get go. I like to be aware of how many rounds there’s going to be, and a rough timeline. When is the company looking to hire by? What kind of coding challenges am I going to be doing? It’s hard to come in and be put on the spot with no context around what you’re doing and the aim of the exercise […] Just give us a little time to prepare mentally.

Ricardo Tovar, Software Engineer

Extract from our Webinar “What Developers Hate Most About the Hiring Process & What Recruiters Should Do Instead

If you assume your candidate knows all the rules of completing a technical exercise, you’re expecting your candidate to be telepathic.

Can they use ChatGPT, Google, or third-party libraries? Is there a time limit? Can they exceed the time limit if they are close to a solution?

Likewise, even if you think your job listing fully explains the job’s duties, you’ll find that there are many ways to interpret them, especially if they’re couched in ambiguous language.

Is the list exhaustive? Will duties be added to my job role without notice? Will I be compensated for additional job duties not listed? Does “supervise employees with minimal coding yourself” mean I’ll code for 2 hours a week? 10 hours?

You need to be as clear as possible in your communications with candidates. Otherwise, you may make them feel like they’ve been misled. Getting several sets of eyeballs on the listing is a good idea to ensure you’ve covered everything.

Additionally, removing ambiguity in your sentences will save you hours of correctional meetings or – curses to you if you spring this on an employee because of your communication mistakes – a performance improvement plan (PIP).

Contradictory information

During the interview (with the CEO), there was double talk about my junior status.

Sometimes, the employer would say that I was useless as a beginner, that I wouldn’t be efficient and that I’d be a burden on the company. This argument was used to negotiate down my salary and push me into taking the job, making me realize that I was already lucky to be offered anything at all.
On other occasions, the employer would say that the company was going through a crucial period in its development and that I was going to have to give my all to learn extremely quickly, because all the team’s strengths were needed and there was a lot at stake! (not very consistent with his idea that I was going to be useless for a year…)

Emilie, Junior Developer

There needs to be consistency between team members when describing the job to candidates.

This image is a four-panel meme featuring Gru, a character from the animated movie "Despicable Me". In the first panel, Gru looks excited and is holding a sign that reads "List working hours as flexible". In the second and third panel, the sign reads "During interview, tell candidate core hours are 9-5", and Gru has a mischievous expression with one eyebrow raised. The fourth panel shows gru looking at the sign confused.

This is often not intentional. If you or your HR team are reusing job templates, for example, and you forget to update some of the information, you may find yourself in this situation.

Like the unclear expectations above, this can be solved by proofreading your job listing and having a few other people review it to ensure the information is correct and up-to-date. 

Other times, though, this “tactic” is done to get candidates into the application process and then hope they don’t mind the bait-and-switch. Don’t do that.

If you’re struggling to get candidates because of policies that turn them away, raise that issue with your management and solve it rather than mislead the applicants.

Bad attitude

When I was looking for my first role, I went through a very long interview process. It took about eight interviews. It consisted of two initial, “get-to-know-you” interviews […] and then we transitioned into four different live coding interviews […] and then it ended with another two interviews where I met members of the team. I was finally told to wait for about a week to get a response and to see if I was a fit for the company. A week went by, I sent a follow-up email, got no response. A month went by… nothing.

Ricardo Tovar, Software Engineer

Extract from our Webinar “What Developers Hate Most About the Hiring Process & What Recruiters Should Do Instead

This one is simple.

Interviewing is often another thing that takes up time you don’t have, and it’s tempting to think of it as a burden.

However, if you treat interviewing like a chore rather than an exciting (if possibly exhausting) process, your bad attitude will make candidates extremely worried about working with you.

This goes for all aspects of the interview. Are you being polite when introducing yourself? Do you make them feel like a burden when they ask questions? Do you ghost candidates when they request application statuses?

Yes, finding well-qualified candidates can be challenging. But bringing a bad attitude to your interviews will only make that quest even harder.

No conversation

I was interviewing for jobs in SF before I actually moved there.  I had flown up to interview with this financial services company with a very famous CEO, and was pretty excited about it.  When I got to the interview, the first session was pretty easy, but the second session was the dreaded whiteboard interview, this time with a kid who couldn’t have been more than 1 year out of college.  His task: implement a LISP parser on the whiteboard… which sounds tough but really should just be some stacks/queues management.  Anyways, I couldn’t handle it in the moment and got zero help from my interviewer.  When it was over, he walked out of the room and talked to the person who was waiting outside to interview me for the next session, then they walked away.  A few mins later the recruiting coordinator told me I could go home.

Jonathan, Principal Engineer 

Building your product is a collaborative process that involves regular stakeholder feedback. So why would you have a technical interview where you’re just watching your candidate code?

The image is a three-panel meme that depicts a man in various states of isolation, meant to humorously illustrate the feelings of a person going through a one-way coding interview.

In the top panel, the man is sitting alone on a yellow swing in a playground, looking pensively to the side, away from the swing set. He is dressed in a light blue button-up shirt and dark pants.

The middle panel shows the man sitting alone at a small table in a dimly lit, empty room. He's leaning forward with his hands clasped, and his head is down, looking at his phone, which is the only object on the table.

In the bottom panel, the man is standing alone in an empty swimming pool, hands clasped behind his back, gazing down at the bottom of the pool. The pool has blue walls and there's grass and a few plants around, but no water or other people.

Across these three images, a text overlay at the top of the meme reads "HOW MY ONE-WAY CODING INTERVIEW FEELS".

Every interview you conduct should be an exercise in collaboration with the candidate. They will see you take a genuine interest in helping them do their best work, which goes a long way when it’s time for them to accept your job offer.

Remember: you’re not just interviewing them; they’re interviewing you, too. In addition to working with them through the interview questions, you’ll also want to ensure they have ample time to ask their own questions and that you have ample time to respond.

Asking inappropriate questions

No matter where you live, there’s a good chance there are a set of laws that bar discrimination against applicants based on their appearances or lifestyle choices – maternity status, religion, race, gender preference, and sexuality, to name a few.

If you ask the wrong questions in interviews about these areas, you can open your company up to many lawsuits. 

Apart from the legal ramifications, it’s just bad form to ask people questions about things (like their private lives) that won’t have any impact on their job performance.

It’s wise to avoid questions like:

  • How old are you?
  • When did you graduate high school?
  • Are you married?
  • Are you pregnant? Do you have kids?
  • Do you have any health issues?
  • What political party do you support?
  • Are you religious?

An interviewer’s job isn’t to analyze the private lives of their candidates; it’s to ensure that their skill set and working style are the right fit for your team. 

To sum up

The interview is not just a test for the candidate but also a reflection of your company. You should avoid poor preparation, evasive answers, irrelevant questions, excessive pressure, unclear expectations, inconsistent information, negative demeanor, and a lack of interactive dialogue. These errors can dissuade potential hires and damage your company’s image.

It’s a great idea to continue refining your interviewing approach, even if you already feel well-prepared, transparent, relevant, clear, consistent, positive, and engaging. Using candidate feedback, you can create a more attractive and effective recruitment process. This approach will help you identify the right talent and portray your company in a favorable light, making it a desirable place for top candidates to work.