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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Red Flag or Green Light? Deciphering the Signals Your Candidate Sends

Red Flag or Green Light Deciphering the Signals Your Candidate Sends

Navigating through the selection process to find the next strong addition to your team can feel like navigating through an obstacle course.

The direction that seems like a safe bet may be mired with hidden traps. The direction that makes your internal “red flags” go up could be just as dangerous, though. How do you know what the right decision is?

Let’s walk through some common “red flags” and “green lights” hiring managers experience with candidates. They may not always be what they appear to be.

Red Flags

It is easy to overlook red flags if your spidey senses aren’t trying to sense the right things!

  • Lack of preparation or research: If a candidate shows up without even knowing the basics about your company or the role they're applying for, it shows a lack of interest and commitment. It’s a surefire red flag that the candidate will also show up to meet with their prospects and clients unprepared!

  • Inconsistent or vague answers: Integrity should be the name of the game. If a candidate is unsure how to answer one of your questions, they need to ask for clarification. A candidate who values honesty may also tell you, “I don’t know how to answer that question.” You would rather have someone who is transparent than dishonest.

  • Poor face-to-face communication: If someone isn’t connecting with you through their body language, asking follow-up questions, and “reading the room,” it isn’t something that will get better with time. Contrary to popular belief, emotional intelligence is a talent that is hard-wired in someone at a very young age. Don’t overlook this red flag by thinking it’s a skill you can help develop over time.

  • Lack of enthusiasm: The interview is the first opportunity you have to get a taste of someone’s ability to influence others. A candidate’s sales talents should shine through during the interview process. By the end, you should be completely sold on them. Not feeling that way? Don’t make the mistake and think it’s just because of someone’s “nerves.” Do you really want a salesperson who can’t even sell themselves?

  • Unreliable work history: This one is pretty obvious, but it’s still overlooked quite often. Be cautious if a candidate has a track record of jumping from job to job. This could be a sign that someone is uncomfortable with the status quo and always looks for the next best thing. How long will they commit to you before they find something newer and shinier?

Pro Tip: Your first impression of a candidate will almost always be the same first impression your prospects and clients walk away with. Don’t make excuses for someone; instead, focus on the impression they made on you.

5 Important Lessons Every Hiring Manager Needs to Learn

Green Lights

Now that we've highlighted the red flags, let's shift our focus to the positive! Keep an eye out for these green lights.

  • Discusses personal goals: Someone with a strong understanding of their personal goals and how to achieve them will naturally set stretch goals for themselves. Look for candidates who demonstrate self-motivation and a proactive mindset. Those are sales talents that can’t be taught!

  • Asks thoughtful questions: A candidate who asks intelligent questions is someone who has thought deeply about the role and your company. Their questions will also show you what is important to them in their next position.

  • Provides specific examples: Talk is cheap - actions speak louder. A candidate who can back up their claims with concrete examples of past successes and achievements is someone with a proven track record. If you aren’t receiving specific examples during the interview, consider responding with, “Tell me more…” because someone with a proven track record will!

  • Follow-up after the interview: A follow-up interaction is a solid green light. You expect your sellers to follow up with their prospects and clients, so a strong candidate should always follow up with you. Bonus points if someone tries to narrow you down on a specific hiring timeline – that means they’re eager to join your team!

Pro Tip: During an interview, you should get someone’s very best. If you sense you’re getting less than their very best, always reflect on what that means you’ll get once they start working for you.

6 Hiring Scenario Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Best Practices

Now that we’ve gone through some common red flags and green lights, here are a few selection best practices:

  • Take notes: During the interview, jot down your red flags and green lights. You may think you’ll remember, but interviews happen frequently. It’s easy to forget! Notes help you compare candidates later and make more informed decisions.

  • Use behavioral-based questions: Ask candidates about their past experiences and use behavioral-based questions to uncover their ability to solve problems, maneuver, and adapt.

  • Conduct thorough reference checks: Don't skip the reference check! Any red flags that didn’t come out through the interview process will typically come out during your reference checks. The best reference checks aren’t limited to those a candidate provides. Do a little research within your network to see who you and the candidate may know in common.


By recognizing red flags and green lights during the interview process, you can make more informed hiring decisions. Every hire you make will either add to or detract from your team. Do everything you can to ensure you’re bringing the best people on board!

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Topics: hiring salespeople