8 Telltale Signs of a Good or Bad Job Candidate

We’ve interviewed hundreds of job candidates over the years and have witnessed some of the best and worst behavior that has instantly affected a person’s chances of getting the position.  Based on our experience talking to people for open positions — from entry to senior level — here are some telltale signs that someone will make a good or bad hire.

Positive signs include…

 1) Willingness to go the extra mile (literally): It’s a tough job market out there and, while interviews can be done these days by phone or even Skype, it’s always more effective to meet face-to-face. Candidates who live in a different city from where the job is and take the initiative to get on a bus/train/plane to come interview in person show a true desire to get the position. Recently, Jessica saw two potential hires who did just this — took the bus from their hometowns, each four hours away from New York City, to show up in the flesh for an interview.  Another one, who was a plane ride away, offered to fly in for an interview in case her distance would affect her chances of being hired but Jessica said a phoner would be fine.

2) More than just a working knowledge of the company: In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we talk about the importance of doing your research before heading into a meeting or job interview. It’s so easy now to pull up a company’s website, set up a Google alert to push relevant news into your inbox and/or follow the company or its officials on Twitter.  You can also look up your interviewer on LinkedIn or Twitter to find out his or her professional and personal background/interests. Just don’t bring up every detail you read in the interview (i.e. How’s your daughter feeling?  I understand she was sick.) or you’ll seem like a stalker. But coming prepared with information about the company, its recent announcements and what makes it unique and you’ll demonstrate an enthusiasm and genuine interest in working there in particular (versus just wanting a new job).

3) Mastery of the English language: Sounds obvious, right? Well, we’re serious. We cannot tell you how many times we’ve received a cover letter, resume or thank you e-mail with spelling or grammar mistakes in it or had a job candidate curse or use bad grammar in an interview. Recent examples include a note with “you’re” spelled as “your”; a cover letter that said “I am a highly motivated individual who posses excellent communication skills” (um, maybe not!); and the much-too-frequent use of the phrase “me and her.” All of the above are instant turnoffs. Keep in mind that anything you write or say to a potential employer should be carefully worded and crafted so you come across as intelligent and well-spoken. Have someone else read it before you hit send or, if you can’t do that, set it aside for an hour or a day and then read it aloud. Whatever you do, don’t rely on spell-check alone.

4) Persistence (in a positive way): Again, you don’t want to be a stalker but following up with an e-mail and/or a handwritten thank you note is a good idea and will keep you top-of-mind for a potential employer. Checking in on the status of the hiring process or offering to come back in and meet with other members of the team demonstrates that you’re truly interested in the position. If you read a positive article about the company where you’re interviewing, it doesn’t hurt to drop a note to the HR person or interviewer you met with to congratulate them — it shows that you’re doing your research and staying up on company/industry news.

Bad signs include…

1) Showing up sans resume: It doesn’t matter that we live in a digital age. Bring a hard copy of your resume to interviews. In fact, bring multiple copies and print them on good, thick watermarked paper. Don’t assume that just because you e-mailed it to an interviewer or HR department that they have it printed out and at the ready. Two senior level candidates whom Jessica asked for a copy of their resume said, “Oh. I didn’t bring one.” It’s never a good idea to make someone search for the e-mail that included the attachment or simply have to conduct the interview without having the person’s job history in front of her, putting both interviewer and interviewee at a disadvantage.

2) Talking about what  you don’t want to do: In a challenging job market with so many people out of work or stuck in a job they hate, it’s important to show a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done. We all have to do things we don’t love at work but it comes with the territory. In an interview with a recent college grad, when asked what she was looking for in her first job, she responded, “Well, I don’t want to get anyone coffee.” Really? While no one has a burning desire to retrieve someone else’s caffeinated beverage, it’s something you should keep to yourself, especially if you’re interviewing for an entry level position where you will likely have to do some administrative tasks or “grunt work.” Here’s some advice: Say that you’ll do anything the job entails and you’ll be a more viable candidate. No boss wants to hire someone who reeks of entitlement or a negative attitude.

3) Arriving late to the interview: In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we advise arriving between 10-15 minutes early to a job interview or important meeting and to make sure you give yourself enough time to get there, even mapping out a route and doing a dry run before the day of your appointment. Particularly if your interview is during rush hour or you have to rely on public transportation to get there, always leave extra time to account for traffic or a rerouted/delayed subway or train line. The worst case is you’ll get there so early, you’ll have to grab a cup of coffee at the nearest Starbucks before heading into the interview. Big deal. We’ve seen so many job candidates show up tardy for an interview — using excuses from “I couldn’t get a cab crosstown” to “I was stuck underground” to “My bus broke down in the Bronx” (okay, that one was true and we really felt bad for the guy, who arrived 45 minutes late and very sweaty!). It’s unprofessional and inconsiderate, particularly when the interviewer is taking time out of his or her busy schedule to meet with you.

4) Mentioning your desire to start a family: We are big believers in having a life outside of the office and work/family balance and feel it makes people better, more well-rounded employees. However, we don’t advise bringing up your plan to get pregnant in the near future during your first (or even third!) interview. Three (yes, three!) women mentioned their intent to start a family in our initial go-round and, while we all love babies, no potential employer wants to hire someone she knows will be headed for maternity leave in the next year or so.

Following these do’s and don’ts will hopefully help you land the job you desire and sidestep being passed over for another candidate.  Any other tips to share?  Comment here or share with us on Twitter (@bestpublicist).


  1. My pet peeve is number 3 – the arriving late to a job interview. However, I did see a story not long ago about a man who robbed a customer outside of the restaurant he had just interviewed at. (He did NOT get the job!)

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