5 Red Flags That You Made A Bad Hire

What do you do when your promising new hire lands with a thud?

5 Red Flags That You Made A Bad Hire
[Photo: LucenaMedina via Wikimedia Commons]

The interview process went well, and you were excited to bring on the new employee, but the person who showed up the first week doesn’t seem like the person you thought you hired. It’s possible that a candidate passes your screening process with flying colors and then lands with a thud when they take their desk, but how do you tell the difference between new-job jitters and red flags that you’ve made a mistake?


Start by discerning red flags from overt problems like dishonesty or illegal or immoral actions, says Shani Magosky, author of The Better Boss Blueprint. “Those aren’t red flags; they are more like baseball bats hitting you over the head, and thus require swift action or termination,” she says.

Less serious behaviors should be noted and handled immediately because they could be signs of something worse to come. Here are five red flags that may indicate you’ve made a hiring mistake:

1. They’re Looking For A Promotion—Now

While asking about career pathing during an interview is a fair question, it could be a red flag when a brand new employee inquires about the next growth opportunity, says Ian Caullay, director of employer relations at Oakland University’s School of Business Administration.

“Employers appreciate enthusiasm and a gung-ho attitude, but promotions are earned over time,” he says. “Employees need to take the time to get to know the culture, the work, and the people before plotting their next move.”

Asking about the career path could be a sign of naïveté, or it could be a red flag. “The person might have seen your job as an opportunity to get into the company and a stepping stone to something bigger,” says Caullay. “That could lead to turnover if they don’t have patience to wait.”

2. They Continually Ask For Help

It’s normal to allow for a learning curve about the specific work at hand, but an employee who doesn’t grasp their tasks within a reasonable amount of time could be raising a red flag.


In her role as a leadership consultant, Magosky has heard of senior managers who ask interns for help and hire outside consultants to do aspects of their job. “The behavior and performance are inconsistent with the experience presented in the hiring process and the expectation of the respective role,” she says. “It pretty quickly becomes obvious that this was a hiring mistake.”

3. They Talk About What They Will Do Rather Than Do It

Some new hires spend time talking about all of the things they’re going to do rather than rolling up their sleeves and getting to work, and that’s not a good sign, says Karson Humiston, founder and CEO of Vangst Talent, a recruiting firm that specializes in the cannabis industry. “The interview is over,” she says. “You’ve hired someone to do a job, not talk about doing it.”

This hesitation to get started could be a sign of being afraid to ask for help, especially when expectations are defined but aren’t being met. “This is certainly a red flag, however, the bigger red flag is if the new hire hasn’t reached out for support,” says Humiston. “A new hire who doesn’t meet expectations and doesn’t acknowledge they aren’t meeting expectations is an immediate red flag and a sign for future missed expectations.”

4. They’re Immediately Asking For Time Off

A new hire that starts work and then tells you about a preplanned vacation for the next month is a bad sign. “It shows dishonesty, since they already knew about the trip before accepting your offer,” says Humiston.

If someone is forthright in the interview process, it’s not usually a problem, adds Caullay. “Barring a true emergency, when people unload information at the time when they should be showing their worth and value and commitment, this could be a red flag,” he says.

5. They Spend Work Time On Their Phones Or Social Media

If your new hire is texting or checking social media within a week or two of being hired, consider it a red flag, says Caullay. “Even a seasoned pro takes the time to learn the new culture as well as their place on a team,” he says.


“If somebody is comfortable enough texting away on their phone or having Facebook up on their computer during the first week, this person is way too comfortable, spending time on the clock on activities outside of their work,” says Caullay. “This brings fear in my mind, heart, and head; what am I in store for six months down the road?” he asks.

What To Do About Red Flags

With any red flag, the behavior should be addressed immediately. “Stay on point about the specific issue so it’s not coming off as a personal attack,” says Caullay. “Start by asking, ‘What is your initial impression of the job thus far?’ Then share your initial observations. For example, ‘You expressed energy and excitement about this job; however, I’ve noticed you have Facebook up. Is there a problem?'”

Some red flags can be used as coaching moments. For example, if you have an overzealous employee who wants to move up the corporate ladder, take them aside and talk about the timeline around your company’s career path process. Spell out the milestones that an employee needs to reach to be eligible and considered for promotion, says Caullay.

And make sure you’ve set up your new hire for success. “We can’t expect new hires to be perfect,” says Magosky. “But we can expect them to be self-aware, open to feedback, and to put forth the good-faith efforts necessary to be successful in their role and within their organizations.”