Gayle Brandel
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3 Interview Red Flags That Are Actually Signs of a Good Leader

Lack of experience doesn’t always mean unqualified. Here’s how to spot the difference. 

While some may say integrity and emotional intelligence make a strong leader, others measure leadership skills based on a person’s drive, ability, and influence. The truth is, when it comes to hiring for a leadership role, what makes an ideal leader typically varies and reflects the company’s current goals, which is why promoting your highest performer isn’t necessarily always the best option.

In fact, the difference between a good and a great leader can sometimes be obscured by relying on traditional traits and first impressions. I often recommend coming into each interview without any expectations from candidates.

Sure, having an impressive résumé and credentials is one thing, but taking a chance on a candidate who shows promise to shake things up a little can impact your team and company in ways you never imagined. So, what’s one way to come into an interview with an open mind? Just like how leadership can easily be redefined, forget what you know about traditional interview red flags and try looking at them in a new light.

Whether you’re looking to hire someone who can drive results, bring everyone together, innovate business, or help develop skills, I’ll be walking you through a few of the most common interview red flags that could potentially translate into signs of a good leader.

1. Do they lack experience, or are they coming into the role with a fresh and new perspective?

An impressive and very detailed résumé that stands out from the crowd can go a long way in the hiring process — just ask any HR representative who has ever screened a candidate who openly lacks relatable work experience but showcases a lot of promise. When interviewing this type of candidate, try to grasp their work style, attitude, and personality.

Ask yourself: “Can I trust this individual to help shape my team?” Determine why they want to take on a leadership role, especially if it is an entirely different industry, and ask them about transferrable skills and similar experiences outside of work.

Depending on the goals you’re hiring for, experience doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unqualified. Sometimes a fresh and new perspective from an outside hire can help shake things up in your team and positively impact your company. With that said, because candidates like this are more of a risk to consider, prepare yourself for a lengthier interview process.

2. Are they job hopping from one company to another, or are they ambitious?

Lengthy résumés can either mean one of two things: The candidate has years’ worth of growth and experience in their field, or they have a tendency to hop from one job to the next before gaining real seniority.

If you notice a résumé that lists an alarming number of experiences that ran less than a year, before assuming anything, ask the candidate about their personal experiences and thoughts working for each company.

Ask them why they chose to leave and have them lists skills they’ve gained from each experience. Did they leave because they got bored? Did they leave because of disagreements? Ultimately, the goal is to figure out their career plan and determine how this position would benefit them and your company.

To question and change your mind about jobs and careers is human. And depending on an individual’s circumstances, some may be more inclined to leap into a new role. While this might seem an alarming move at first from HR’s perspective, it can also mean that the candidate isn’t afraid to go after what they want, which can be a great sign of leadership.

If risk-taking and goal-reaching are the traits you want to hire for, ensure that the candidate’s goals align with the company’s before moving onto the next step of the hiring process.

3. They’re too eager to know salary and benefits details, or have they done this before and they want to communicate directly?

If a candidate has proven to have the right experience and traits for the role, don’t be shocked if they come into the interview with a list of questions about the role, job structure, and employee benefits. This just proves that they’ve done their research about the company and industry.

Oftentimes, when a candidate does this they’re looking for a role (and pay) that compliments their work style and history. They know exactly what they are worth and want to ensure that all their expectations are met before moving forward or committing to future meetings.

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Mandy Gilbert is the author of Just Go With It, a book that shares how to navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. She has been recognized as the United Nations Global Accelerator and completed the Entrepreneurial Masters Program at MIT.

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