I have interviewed hundreds and hundreds of candidates over the last 15 years. That means I have easily spent into the thousands of hours engaged in this challenging activity.


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I’ve interviewed some real doozies in my time. Like the guy who snuck into a foreign country to do a client project because he was tired of waiting for his visa. But wait, it gets better. When he finally got caught and was deported, he decided to sneak back in. Needless to say he didn’t receive an invitation to the next round of interviews.

As I reflect on those thousands of hours I come to the realization that I have wasted some of the best hours of my life with unqualified candidates. Sad, but true.

Your time is way too valuable to waste, and so is mine. So one thing I’ve learned is that there are some questions you need to ask toward the beginning of the interview. If they fail any one of these “tests” it is time to politely say “goodbye.”

I know that may feel awkward…no really awkward. And, I know you had an hour or more set aside for this interview, but you need to end it now. I’m dead serious. There is no reason to explore any further because these are absolute deal-breakers in my opinion.

It’s your decision, of course. But I’m confident that if you can overcome the barrier of awkwardness that you’ll agree with me. Let’s take a look.

Three Reasons to Cut Bait

1. They don’t know anything about your company. In the modern technology age in which we live, where a fair percentage of the people who will be interviewing with you own a smartphone, and a tablet, and a laptop, all which have access to the worldwide web, there is simply no excuse for this.

Even if you don’t have a website, which most of you do, this is still unacceptable. Google has way more info about you and your company than you can possibly imagine. Just do a Google search on your name and/or your company name and see what you find.

If they come to an in-person interview and know nothing about you or your company it is an obvious sign of laziness, lack of initiative, and lack of meaningful interest in your company. You should be insulted.

Ok. Maybe being insulted is going a little too far. But, you don’t want this person on your team. You don’t want someone who has to be led by the nose, bribed or kicked in the pants. So, be kind, but show them the door.

2. They don’t acknowledge they have any weaknesses. In every in-person interview I lead, I ask people to do a self-appraisal. I start by asking them what they believe are their strengths, the things they like about themselves, and the things they do well. For most people that is fairly routine. They expect it and are ready for it.

Some people don’t like to brag on themselves, but at least they can struggle their way through it.

Then, I ask them to describe for me their shortcomings, weaker points, or areas they feel need improvement. You’d think that if they were expecting the previous question, this would be a no-brainer. And, for most people it is.

But some fall strangely silent when it comes to this question. It’s really quite astonishing when it happens. I’ve actually had people tell me that can’t think of anything. Can you believe it?

At this point, if you should encounter this, red lights should be flashing and sirens should be sounding. This is a clear indication of some disorder that you want to stay very far away from. Either the person is brazenly dishonest or they lack a requisite willingness to be vulnerable and acknowledge (or see) the truth. So, at best, they are self-deceived. At the worst, they are a liar.

Either way, the door is the next best action.

3. They make excuses or blame others for their failures. For this I have a few different questions that I ask:

  • What is the worst decision you have made in the last 12 months?
  • What are the biggest mistakes you have made in the last 5-10 years and what did you learn from them?
  • What are the biggest lessons you have learned in your career?

I am looking for three things here. First, is a person’s willingness to admit their failures. Second, are they willing to take full ownership of them. Lastly, I want to see that they’ve learned from those situations and how they’ve made adjustments.

If they refuse to do these three things, this is another kiss of death, especially for leadership roles. But, for any role, if you don’t want to be a babysitter, picking up after the kid, you’ll turn and run if they fail this test.

We want people who are willing to take responsibility for their actions and the results they produce. Anyone who isn’t is toxic. Sayonara. Arrivederci. Adios. Hasta la “never.”


Your time and talents are way to valuable to waste. So don’t.


Step Up to the Plate

Remember, your time and your talents are a scarce resource and need to be focused on high-value return activities. Spending time with people who are lazy, liars or blamers doesn’t qualify.

I encourage you to structure your interviews so you get at these things early. If you have any questions about the type of answer you’re getting, dig deeper. Don’t let the discomfort quicken your pace. Be deliberate and get a clear response.

If you see a green light, proceed. If you see a yellow light, proceed with caution. And whatever you do, don’t run a red light.

Question: What is your biggest hesitation in following my advice? What pushback would you like to offer? [question]end-interview[/question]