What unprofessional attitudes suggest an applicant is challenging to work with?

Interviews are small snippets of time where interviewers catch only a glimpse of the life of each applicant. That glimpse, however, can be very telling. We reached out to human resource professionals to find out what red flags might suggest a candidate could be hard to work with. Keep reading to see what attitudes and attributes at an interview should make you think twice before hiring a candidate.

Matt Erhard

Matt Erhard

Matt Erhard, Managing Partner at Summit Search Group.

Three Unprofessional Attitudes of an Applicant

Here are some red flag candidate behaviors or comments that are a likely indicator they’ll be difficult to work with or manage:

1. They badmouth a previous employer or manager.
A candidate’s focus in the interview should be selling their value to your company, not complaining about previous positions. It’s fine if they voice reasonable critiques in response to relevant questions (ie., if a toxic manager was their reason for quitting their last position, for example). But, if they seem to blame past failures on others or bring past managers or workplaces into conversations where they’re not relevant, there’s a high probability they’ll do the same if they’re hired and become a source of gossip, drama, and negativity.

2. They arrive late or miss a scheduled interview.
Being late or missing an interview doesn’t just show the candidate is bad at managing their schedule, it also demonstrates a lack of respect for the interviewer’s time and shows this job isn’t a priority for them. If hired, they’ll likely show the same lack of respect for their coworkers’ and manager’s time, and likely won’t be fully engaged or reliable in the workplace.

3. They overshare personal information or speak in an overly informal way.
It’s good if someone’s friendly and personable during an interview, but it’s still a professional interaction. A candidate who goes into unnecessary depth about their health or medical history or rants about an ex during a job interview likely has some boundary issues, and that can be very disruptive to your workplace environment. Similarly, if they make off-color jokes, curse, or otherwise make word choices that seem inappropriate for a job interview, this can also be a sign the person is self-centered or lacks self-awareness.

Uninterested and Indifferent Attitude

Showing zero interest in you or the company and instead of talking only about themselves is a sure sign that the applicant will be challenging to work with. Relationships and teamwork are an essential part of most jobs, and people that are only interested in themselves don’t usually collaborate well.

Another unprofessional attitude is indifference. If an applicant doesn’t care much about anything, they’re not going to care much about their work and the job they do.

On the other hand, suppose an applicant is passionate about their favorite activities and cares about how their actions affect others. In that case, you’ll have a pretty good chance of getting an employee who cares about their work.

Melanie Musson

Melanie Musson

Melanie Musson is an HR expert with USInsuranceAgents.com.

Chara Yadav

Chara Yadav

Chara Yadav, Press Director at, AskAnyDifference.

Communicating Unwillingly

Without fail, the one thing that always alerts me to the fact that someone is going to be difficult to work with is monosyllabic answers to interview questions. If a candidate isn’t willing to open up about themselves in a job interview and provide you with any additional information, it usually indicates that they won’t be willing to go the extra mile if they do get the job. One-word answers are always an employee red flag, and always make me cross them off the prospective staff list.

Placing Blame on Others

One of my top interview questions is to ask candidates to discuss a time in which they failed to accomplish something and to reflect on ways they would do things differently moving forward. If they place blame on other people or circumstances as to why they failed, instead of taking ownership on how they could have performed differently to change the outcome, then it shows me that the candidate lacks a level of self-awareness and could be difficult to coach/develop in the role. It shows they may not be open to constructive feedback, and that’s a red flag for hiring managers and HR.

Hilliary Turnipseed

Hilliary Turnipseed

Hilliary Turnipseed, Founder, and President of Hill Street Strategies.
Jeremy Yamaguchi

Jeremy Yamaguchi

Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love.

Badmouthing the Previous Employer

The first thing that comes to mind is when the applicant is overly negative when they talk about their previous employment. While I want applicants to be honest about their previous jobs and why they decided to quit, there comes a point where when they are bashing their previous employers or companies it is just too much.

This often indicates to me that the applicant has a generally negative attitude, especially when it comes to working, or there may have been something more (from their end) that lead to the termination of their position. When I interview someone like this, I will usually try to contact their prior employer(s) to try to get a more accurate picture of what happened. As an interviewer, I want to hire someone who is generally positive but still honest.

Too Timid to Ask Questions

I’m always skeptical of any interview candidate that’s too average. If someone has a decent, but an undistinguished resume, comes across as polite in the interview, and doesn’t ask too many questions or raise too many concerns, it often suggests to me that there’s something they’re trying to hide about their background.

Someone who has some hard questions about salary or working hours has a clear sense of what the job entails, wants to set clear boundaries, and isn’t afraid to state their needs clearly.

Devon Fata

Devon Fata

Devon Fata, CEO of Pixoul.

Gennady Litvin

Gennady Litvin

Gennady Litvin, Attorney at Moshes Law.

Unprofessional Communication Style

One of the signs that an applicant is hard to work with is his communication style. If he answers the questions defensively, or behaves arrogantly, even aggressively, all this shows that he does not relate well to people. Hence, he will hardly be on good terms with the co-workers and it will influence the teamwork negatively.

Defensive and Offensive

Applicants who tend to get offended when they are challenged by a difficult question or contradicted are likely to not gel with other peers. Such individuals show intolerance for a difference of opinion and impulsive behavior in the workspace. To test out this negative trait you can challenge them during the interview with statements such as, “I don’t think so,” or enact conflict situations at work and see how they carry themselves.

On the contrary, some individuals have a problem getting personal in work arguments and discussions, which is also an unacceptable trait. They struggle to keep their personal biases at bay and let their prejudice seep into the conversation or disagreement. Such people are likely to create work drama that you want to stay away from.

Nowadays, most workplaces have a “Culture Fit” interview as well, during which the company HR screens the applicant for behavioral issues and compatibility to the work environment.

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger, Founder of The Impact Investor.
Daivat Dholakia

Daivat Dholakia

Daivat Dholakia, VP of Operations, Essenvia.

Lack of Accountability

A dead giveaway that a person is going to be tough to work with is if they lack accountability. If an employee is constantly throwing other people under the bus or only taking credit for the successes in the workplace, that’s a major red flag. These actions demonstrate dishonesty and a lack of respect for their colleagues and themselves.

Arrogant and Narcissistic Behavior

One of the earliest warning signs in the interview process is when an individual acts as if they’re the solution to every problem a company faces. Often this type of arrogant behavior is a signal that they’ll have a difficult time fitting into a team-oriented culture.

Even if the individual can effectively contribute to the financial success of the organization, an overinflated ego can wreak havoc in other areas not directly related to the bottom line.

Narcissistic behavior disrupts important dynamics like corporate unity, productivity, and employee morale. When any interviewee over-sells their abilities and begins making hasty, unrealistic promises, hiring managers need to be on guard.

Braden Norwood

Braden Norwood

Braden Norwood is the Product Quality Manager for an online continuing education provider called VTR Learning.
Andre Kazimierski

Andre Kazimierski

Andre Kazimierski, CEO, Improovy.

Interrupting Interviewer

Candidates who interrupt during job interviews are never on the call-back lists for second interviews. Interrupting demonstrates a lack of respect, judgment, and patience. If they’re already doing this in the interview, it isn’t hard to imagine what they will do once they are on the job. I wouldn’t want someone interrupting me, and I definitely wouldn’t want someone interrupting my clients.

Lazy, Proud, and Self-Centered

There are people that you are comfortable with when you first meet, and some just get on your nerves. However, as someone in charge of the hiring process, you still need to embrace those differences and try to understand each other. Some employees are hard to work with, and here are some common unprofessional attributes of them:

Laziness
Some people are not just organized as others, but an employee should not be lazy. They should not be late, especially to their first interview as a candidate.

Pride
In candidates, it is typically part of the process to give an interviewer most of their strengths but being too confident can also be a toxic trait. It might suggest too much pride and that they don’t listen to others.

Self-Centered Attitude
Employees with a self-centered attitude are more likely listening to themselves than listening to you, and what matters to him is himself.

Mike Thompson

Mike Thompson

Mike Thompson, Writer, and Contributor at Hyperlend.

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