Red Flags Series Part II: Red Flags from the Employer’s POV - Interviews and Beyond


Hiring is a perilous process, for all involved. If it doesn’t work out the consequences can be unpleasant, long-lasting and costly in a number of ways. Whenever possible, signs of trouble should be noted so serious problems can, hopefully, be avoided down the road. In this three-part “Red Flags” series, we’ll look at some causes of concern for both employers and applicants. Some of these “red flags” may cause only mild hesitation, while others are absolute deal-breakers. In Part I we discussed resumes and cover letters. Part II covers what employers don’t like to see in an interview, and other worrisome signs.


It can be a real challenge to get an interview today; employers are choosy and the competition is strong. Avoid these interview stumbling blocks to have the best chance of getting the job offer.

  • Not preparing

With so many well-qualified job hunters out there, it can be very difficult to get an interview. If you get one, don’t waste the opportunity or the interviewer’s time by showing up unprepared. Study the job description, research the employer, prepare answers for questions you are likely to be asked, and do a mock interview.

  • Being late

This is a simple thing that makes a very strong negative impression. It may seem like a no-brainer, but many job applicants just don’t get that punctuality is not optional. If you show up late the hiring manager may assume that this is what you do all the time; don’t be surprised if s/he says, “We won’t be interviewing you.” Calling or texting to say you’ll be a little late doesn’t make it OK either; this is a job interview, not meeting a friend for lunch. Be there on time or, even better, slightly early (five or ten minutes).

  • Inappropriate attire or behavior

Dressing in a way that is too casual may indicate that you are not taking the interview seriously. It may also appear to be a lack of awareness of what is appropriate. Either of these can derail your chances at the job. Even if the dress code at that workplace is casual, wear a suit to the interview.

Inappropriate behavior in the interview can also quickly put you out of the running, especially any kind of negativity: complaining, bitterness, anger, sadness, badmouthing a former boss or employer, excuses, blaming others, etc. Focus on presenting yourself as a confident, positive, enthusiastic professional, and leave any personal drama outside. An applicant who is too relaxed and informal can also be a turn-off for the interviewer. Even if you think it is going really well, don’t forget you are being scrutinized and evaluated every moment of the interview.

  • No references (or weak ones or none related to work)

If you cannot provide strong, recent references from people who have worked closely with you, employers are going to wonder why, and may assume that there was a problem with your work performance or some other issue(s) with you as an employee.

  • Not having any questions for the interviewer, or having questions only about salary and benefits

Asking about the job and its duties and responsibilities indicates that you have given thought to this particular position, so you should always have at least a few questions for the interviewer. If you have no questions you run the risk of appearing as if you just want any job, anywhere, or that you are overconfident and feel you already know all there is to know about the position. Questions about salary, perks and benefits should be saved for after an offer is made.

  • Rudeness to anyone on staff

This is simply unacceptable. You should expect that if you are impolite to anyone on staff it will get back to the person making the hiring decision, and will end your chances of getting that job. Make an effort to be polite to everyone you meet at the interview.

Other areas of concern

In addition to red flags that may emerge when you are engaged in an interview, be sure to put your best foot forward on the Internet as well. Here are some things to avoid in order to make a good impression, online and otherwise

  • Little or no online presence 

This is a problem, especially in the field of library and information science. You don’t want to seem as if you have nothing going on, or are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with social media, technology, and career networking. Remember that LinkedIn is only one part of your online presence; additional options include a blog, e-portfolio, webpage, and professional writing.

  • Online negativity

It can be tempting in the moment to vent or engage in an online argument or attack on someone else, or other negativity in blog comments, in a LinkedIn discussion, or on a listserv. A moment of satisfaction can burn bridges though, and not just with those you’ve addressed directly. Others who read what you’ve written – including hiring managers, and they may read it long after it was posted - may assume you are habitually angry or question your judgment and decide not to call you for an interview. Be mindful of online etiquette.

  • Online public discussion of divisive topics (religion and politics are the two big ones) or highly personal topics

This can raise concerns that you might be vocal about these things in the workplace and/or that you’re showing poor judgment in discussing these things publicly. As with expressions of negativity, discussion of these topics is best left for private venues.

  • Errors or discrepancies in your career information online

Mistakes in the information you put online can tarnish your image and cost you opportunities just as they can in your resume and cover letter. Remember that all these serve as writing samples. Your online career information and your resume don’t have to match exactly in every way, but there should not be any discrepancies. If there is conflicting or outdated information, at best it will look like you are not paying attention to detail, and at worst it will appear that you are engaging in deception.

  • Bad reputation

Employers should check the references you give them, and if they're smart they’ll also try to get feedback from others who know you and have worked with you. The field of library science is more like a small town than a big city and if you are dishonest, were fired for cause, are difficult to work with or otherwise have a negative reputation, you can expect that word will get around. Even someone saying only, “I cannot recommend him/her” can be enough to cause a hiring manager to decline to consider you further.

  • Demanding behavior 

Pestering a hiring manager about the status of your application, or for a decision following an interview, or for any other reason, can lead directly to a rejection message. Follow up appropriately or you’ll appear desperate, unprofessional, and/or entitled.

Next, in Part III – Potential signs of trouble from the job applicant’s point of view.

Ellen Mehling received her MSLIS from Long Island University and works as a librarian, instructor and writer in and around NYC. Her professional experience includes work in special, public, and academic libraries, as well as archives. She is Director of the Westchester Graduate Library School Program and Director of Internships for L.I.U.’s Palmer School and since 2009 has been METRO’s Job Bank Manager / Career Development Consultant. She teaches classes and workshops on job hunting, information literacy, researching, and other subjects at METRO’s Training Center and other venues within and outside NYC.