Interviewing and evaluating candidates for an organization can be tricky. Does this person have the right skills for the position? Will they fit in with the organization’s culture? Do they have the right attitude and approach for the position? Should the candidate advance to the next step, or should the organization look elsewhere?

Complicating the issue is the potential liability if a candidate is rejected for reasons that run afoul of federal, state, or local laws.

Before you reject a candidate, make sure you’re doing it for a good reason.

Reducing Liability

Keep in mind that the hiring process is heavily regulated by federal and state law.

Generally, an organization cannot reject a candidate based on a protected class, which includes:

  • Age
  • Citizenship
  • Criminal history
  • Disability
  • Language use
  • Marital status
  • Military status
  • National origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Race or ethnic background
  • Sex or gender
  • Sexual orientation

In addition, some states and municipalities prohibit discrimination based on whether the applicant is a parent or has a family. If, for example, an applicant has a large gap in their job history due to caring for a family member (i.e., child or elder parent), this candidate may be legally protected from adverse employment actions such as a refusal to hire.

This doesn’t mean that, in certain areas, you must hire an applicant who’s a parent. But it does mean the organization can’t use that as a reason to reject a candidate.

Potential Red Flags

On the flip side, there are several potential red flags that may not be a reason to reject a candidate outright but are certainly worth considering, such as:

  • Tardiness can be a sign of disrespect; although there may be a legitimate reason the candidate showed up late, if it happens more than once or the candidate doesn’t provide an apology or reasonable explanation, it may be time to move on.
  • Lack of eye contact can indicate confidence issues, or the candidate has something to hide. However, be aware that candidates may not eye contact for cultural reasons.
  • Suspicious work history is critical because past behavior offers the best prediction of future behavior. Employers should always ask candidates to walk through their work history and why they left each position.
  • An inconsistent career path with multiple changes could indicate that the candidate gets bored easily and will grow tired of the routine aspects of the job.
  • Lack of specific work examples to answer questions may point to a lack of experience. A candidate may not have an example for all questions, but they should have real-world working answers for most of them. When candidates can’t back facts on their resumes or answer direct questions, they may have something to hide or have inflated their skills to appear more qualified.
  • Employment gaps may imply that the candidate has trouble obtaining or keeping jobs due to performance or personality issues. Keep in mind, though, that many people were forced to leave the workforce during the pandemic, and a parent who had to take time off to care for a family member could be protected, as noted above.
  • Poor listening skills, especially as indicated by repetitive questions or replying with answers that are unrelated to the questions, could mean that a candidate may not have a genuine interest in the role or know how to show respect for others’ time.
  • Not asking questions may mean the candidate is less ambitious. They may be unwilling to dig deep to find solutions or take on new tasks or try to hide a lack of understanding of the role in general.
  • Typos and errors on resumes or emails may show a lack of attention to detail.
  • An unprofessional appearance may mean the candidate is lazy or doesn’t care.

Cultural Fit and Unconscious Bias

Cultural fit should mean evaluating whether a candidate’s working preferences and values match the company. For some recruiters, cultural fit means, will this candidate get along with others? Is there personal chemistry between the candidate and the team?

It’s perfectly acceptable to reject a candidate if their values or leadership style differs too far from the organization’s preferred style, such as being too aggressive or too top-down.

Be aware of the role that unconscious bias can play when judging cultural fit, such as preferring candidates who went to certain schools or weighing someone’s appearance or charisma over their actual work experience. Managers may tend to hire people who are similar to them, which is a mistake (and may expose the organization to liability).

To help remove bias from the hiring process, organizations should involve multiple people in the interviewing process. The more people who get to know a candidate, the more people can potentially identify each other’s hiring biases. The more structured an interview, where candidates are asked the same set of predefined questions that focus on factors that directly impact job performance, the less likelihood of bias. Reference-checking is another factor that can remove bias. And organizations should train staff to recognize and counter biases during the hiring process.

The Lindenberger Group can help organizations in all industries recruit and select the best candidates for positions at all levels, including C-suite executives. For more information or to discuss your HR needs, please contact us at 609-730-1049 or send us an email.