5 Ways To Avoid Red Flag Candidates

Red flag candidates: these are the candidates that show you before you hire them that they aren’t right for the job.  However, an interviewer may miss these or a candidate may be exceptionally good at interviewing. In short, red flags can be easily missed. Overall, interviewing a candidate is known to be ineffective. According to this study, 81% of new hires do not succeed in their positions. The most utilized method of evaluating candidates today is the job interview.  Candidates are brought in, questioned, and leave in short periods of time.  Companies then repeat this process in a few weeks or months when candidates leave their positions. So, what can you do to improve their retention rate and get to know your candidates? Little Fish has outlined the things that have helped us to discover red flag candidates in our interviews and has led to better success in candidate retention rates.

1. Check Basic Qualifications

You can hire for personality and train for skill, but in an interview you can’t find out much about a person’s real personality.  So, the first thing that is important is making sure that a basic skill-set exists. For example, if you’re hiring someone to be a director of a department, picking someone you like will have nothing to do with whether or not they can perform the basic tasks required of them.  Don’t just look for experience (although that is as plus): look at the pieces of the job that must be performed.  Once you have a pool of people that can perform these tasks, move onto choosing the right personality for the job. Also, recognize the value of translatable skills. Some candidates adapt faster than other candidates. If you fall into the trap of only considering candidates with exact matches of your list of qualifications, you will miss out on candidates that may actually be above average performers. If you have a complex job that includes skills you don’t understand, talk with an expert in that field. If possible, keep them involved so that they can tell you tell you more about the job skills needed. Doing this helps you to truly hire a person that can achieve these tasks.

2. Ask Open-ended Questions

Asking open-ended questions allows you to gauge the candidates response. You can tell if they are 1. Prepared 2. Nervous 3. Prone to over-share 4. Practiced.  Sometimes they will have no answer.  While these are not in themselves indicators of an individual’s personality, they add factors into the person’s puzzle of who they are and who they want you to think they are. Sometimes, these open-ended questions will lead to candidates saying things that disqualify them for the job entirely or make it clear they have no interest in the position.  In actual interviews, Little Fish team members have had candidates say they “just need a job and don’t care where they work.” This kind of response speaks volumes because it immediately shows the candidate doesn’t care about this position.

3. Ask Candidates To Tell A Story

Photo Credit: Bill Smith. Byzantium Books.
No, this isn’t a bed-time story. Red flag candidates will often share a tell by sharing a story about a time they did X.   This is a way to get candidates to share with you a proof of one of their qualities. For example, a candidate informed me that they, “Got along great with everybody.”  Next, I  asked the candidate to tell me about a time they had a conflict and how they managed it.  Their response was a huge red flag. They informed me that they’d “really gotten into it” with a co-worker.  Then, the candidate had gone to the manager, but the manager didn’t address their concerns.  So, then the candidate and the manager, “really got into it.” Finally, the candidate revealed that the manager fired them for fighting with their coworkers. The candidate finished by stating that the manager was just, “out to get me.” This candidate story exemplified poor conflict management skills. This candidate ended up being a red flag candidate that was not hired.  Candidates will often reveal truths that will otherwise remain hidden when they are asked to exemplify their claims.

4. Use Assessment Tests

There are many assessments online that allow you to learn more about your candidate outside of the interview.  It is up to you to decide how to best select these assessments. Sometimes, the most important aspect of a job is a candidate’s personality (such as in a customer service position) other times it is their skills with in-depth thinking and problem solving.  In the first-case, a personality test may be helpful.  In the second case, you may want to give the candidate a problem to solve and ample time to create a theoretical solution. Remember: if you give the wrong test, you may disqualify an excellent candidate. Make sure you consider what you actually need to assess about your candidate.The right assessments provide extra insight into the candidate. If  you want some good candidate assessments check out our list of candidate assessment tests.

5. Get To Know Your Type

startup-593341_1920.jpg If you’ve ever had someone fill this kind of role before that was an all-star player, take some time to consider the traits of this prior (or current) employee. Their success has a cause.  Make a list of traits, skills, and achievements of this employee. Then, look for similar traits in other candidates.  Make sure to observe both hard and soft skills of this employee. Soft skills are extremely important (but often overlooked). The most successful companies type-cast their candidates.  Right down to the schools they come from and the grades that they receive. They make recruiting a systematic process that takes very little internal time and helps them to better target their recruiting dollars towards getting the candidates that are most likely to succeed in these types of roles.  So, collect data on your successes and apply them to improve your recruiting and reduce your pool of red flag candidates.  

The Best Candidate Assessment Tests

A good candidate assessment goes long way in helping you pick the best candidates for your company.  If you’re not sure how to evaluate your candidates, then you’ve come to the right place.  It’s a well known fact that a job interview is not a good indicator of candidate performance.  So, it is important to find additional ways to evaluate your candidate.

As a disclaimer: we receive $0.00 compensation for these mentions.  However, if you choose to purchase any of these items through Amazon, doing so through our affiliate store helps us out. 

Below are the best candidate assessments that we’ve used to date. There are various pricing structures and even free versions. However, using these is only part of the candidate story. Make sure you consider other aspects of your candidate as well, such as their experience, manager references, and any skills that may be unique to the position.

Also, consider the type of position you are hiring for.  If you’re hiring a candidate that needs specific skill-sets, but not a specific personality, you may wan to focus on assessments that are skills-based more than personality assessments.

However, for those situations in which you want an insight into the personality and work-style of your candidate, we’ve got our top picks here.

16 Personalities: Free

This test is a free version of the Meyers Briggs. The test comes with a nicely laid out testing structure. If you just want a birds-eye view of your candidate’s personality, use this. This test is an easy way to get a large scope of your candidates self-image and personal preferences.

However, as with all personality tests, recognize that this test is not all inclusive.  These types of personality tests measure self-perception. They do not necessarily give you a look into how a candidate’s personality effects their working style.

So, if your candidate tests  as an introvert, they may be a fabulous salesperson too.  Some of the best salespeople of all time are introverted. The moral of the story: consider the results, but don’t use them as an end all.  Check  16 Personalities out by clicking on this link. It is also important to recognize that since this test is free, you have no power to get the results without your candidate voluntarily submitting them to you. So, recognize that weakness and prepare for it in advance.

DISC: Paid And Free

You can purchase the DISC assessment from a variety of sources. There are some free versions available as well, but they may not officially be a part of the DISC assessment and may bear its name only. So, if you do a bit of research you may be able to find one that is available for your use, but use with caution.

The DISC test tends to be an in-depth exploration of working styles. It can be excellent for assessing leadership styles.  This assessment looks deeply into how a candidate tends to think and solve problems.  DISC assesses personality too, but does not focus on it.  This helps to fill in the weaknesses of a personality-only candidate assessment.  Additionally, the paid version of the DISC adds the benefit of sending you results automatically. Check out the DISC official website.

Team Roles Test: Free

With a Team Roles Test, you can explore the specific roles in which people tend to fit the best on a team. We have never used a paid version of this test, but some do exist.

The team roles test focuses on working styles, but leaves out personality. This kind of test is especially helpful when looking at working styles as well as the types of roles that a candidate likes to fill. It takes a group oriented approach. This means that the test assesses how candidates tend to work in groups, rather than on their own. This can be especially helpful when adding a candidate to a preexisting team. To learn more about the Team Roles test, try it out for yourself.

Clifton Strengths: Paid

The Clifton Strengths in an in-depth profile of your candidates working styles and preferences. This tests provides around 15 pages of information on your candidate and allows you to read about their best qualities.  You can also request a page that shows every score from highest to lowest.  This has the added benefit of allowing you to know how a candidate will fit into your team overall.

The Strength’s Finder makes team-building easier as well. It helps you define your ideal team and create a good working environment.   By understanding your candidates, you are able to create a good working environment that motivates and inspires your employees.

This assessment is good both for candidate assessment and for employee assessment and team building.  To check it out, you can read more about it on the Gallup Strength’s Finder Website.

Write a value proposition

What is a value proposition?

A value proposition in HR is the key message to employees about why they should want to work for your company. It is a way of attracting the kind of talent that will make your company thrive. It is also the way to focus your strategy more and improve your business.  Remember: the  best employees solve problems and follow your strategic direction and to get them, you need to find them, and keep them.  The best way to do that?  Give your employees what you want.

To give you an example of a value proposition, I’ve pulled a snippet from Deloitte’s careers web page.  While they are by far not the only company with a good value proposition, they are one of my favorite.

Deloitte’s value proposition states:

We seek professionals who see differently, who find opportunity where others don’t, who look within themselves and know that with the right support and team they can impact the world.

This is an excellently targeted message with several key points:

  1. You as the employee make the impact: you are Deloitte
  2. Deloitte wants to hire you if you think differently

These key points are specially designed to attract a certain kind of person, a visionary who wants to make a difference.  Deloitte isn’t looking for people that are ready to accept status quo, they want “A+” players.

If you want good employees, you need to have the right value proposition

Small businesses that want to stand out in the job market must take the time to consider what their value proposition is to employees.  This is more than just the benefits your company offers: it’s the reason that working for your company matters.

When you write a value proposition, you must consider the following questions.
  1. What kinds of skills must your employees have to make your company better?
  2. What are the personality traits that you want in your employees?
  3. How can you attract these kinds of people to your company?
  4. Why would someone want to work for you?
  5. What does your ideal employee value the most in this world?
  6. How will you motivate your employees?
  7. What is your philosophy about employees and how you should treat them?
  8. What will you do if an employee doesn’t meet your expectations?
  9. What can you do to keep an employee like the kind that you are imagining?
  10. How do they spend their days/what is the best way to reach them?
Final words on your value proposition

In general, it is best to keep your value proposition between 2-4 sentences.  Short, sweet, and memorable. You want to communicate your value and convert the employee to applying for your organization, but you also don’t want employees to read a dissertation before applying.  You want to be remembered. Write for impact.

Additionally, you want your value proposition to work well with your overall mission. So make sure you don’t write a value proposition that simply cannot align with your company goals.

Recruiting in Rural Communities

Recruiting in rural communities has many benefits. Rural communities are an excellent resource for skilled labor. They are primary locations for tech schools and career colleges. Additionally, rural communities are full of individuals who lack decent job opportunities.

These communities also come with a very special set of challenges.

Unwillingness to travel.

Within these small communities the lack of career opportunities can stagnate the local economy. As a result, many individuals do not have the ability to travel. Those that do have the ability to travel may remain because they have family obligations.

So, finding people that will travel may be difficult. To solve this challenge, it’s important to ask about a candidate’s willingness and ability to travel. If a good candidate is willing to travel, but unable, then the company has a choice: Dismiss a great candidate or find ways to make travel possible.

Reduced or limited access to technology.

In rural cities, your ideal candidates may not connect to traditional recruiting mediums. This is especially true for skilled laborers. You will need to use a process of trial-and-error to recruit these candidates. In some cases, traditional job boards may yield excellent results.  In other cases, you may find you need to go to local community organizations for results.

Aging populations.

When a city is not economically growing, the population will naturally decline.  This is because working-age residents will consistently be leaving in search of lucrative opportunities. So, most rural communities will have individuals who have decided to retire and are past the years in which they want to work.

Skilled labor often requires heavy manual labor. So, some individuals that still want to work may be interested, but then find that they cannot keep up with the physical demands of the position. REMEMBER THIS: There will always be exceptions.  Be open to having a lot of great older candidates.

Also, be open and honest about the job expectations . Many candidates will hear about the level of physical work required and decide they cannot take on this heavy work. As long as you communicate realistic job expectations, the candidates that take on the labor will likely be able to perform the work, regardless of their age.

Complex social infrastructure that provides barriers to making contact with candidates.

This challenge is actually a huge benefit to the recruiter. In most cases, rural cities are small and close-knit. This means that a candidate will be difficult to reach, unless you go through the appropriate social mediums. Take some time to feel out the social atmosphere where you are recruiting. You may find that the fastest way to recruit is by going to a networking event or holding open interviews, rather than sending emails.

So, beyond facing these key community challenges, there are tips and tricks you can use to get ahead in the recruiting game.

Don’t forget these extra nuggets when you recruit in rural communities:

1. Contact the educational centers and tech colleges.
2. Treat your newly graduated candidates well.
3. Hold open-interviews in community areas.
4. Be willing to advertise with unconventional tactics: bars, gyms, local agencies, churches, and strategic community partners.
5. Always check to see how word-of-mouth travels and use this knowledge to your advantage.
6. Go to festivals, social clubs, and networking events.
7. Be transparent about what the job requires: set realistic expectations for all candidates.
8. Look for entrepreneurs.  These individuals have gone into their field because they intended for it to be a lifestyle.  If your goal is to find people who won’t leave your company because they got a “cushy” office job, then you want to look for people that are committed to the work they do.
9. Be ready to help with travel expenses for those that can’t travel, but are willing to travel.
10. Prepare retention strategies in advance: contracts, incentives, and flexible scheduling.

Stop wishing your employees were clones

If you’ve ever said, “I wish there were ten of me to help in my business,” this article is for you.  Entrepreneurs often take the next step into being employers and run into some serious barriers.

If you’ve been an employer for more than a day, you’ve learned that employees make some really dumb judgement calls.  Employees don’t perform at the level you want nor as quickly as you hope.  Employees are sometimes dishonest or unethical.   Employees are sometimes problems rather than solutions to the problems your business faces. It’s easy to think that these issues exist because employees aren’t you and they don’t have the perspectives and qualities that have brought you so far.  You need to change your thought process just a bit.

As an entrepreneur and an employer, the solution is never to have a bunch of clones made. Here’s why:

Your employees are the lifeblood of your business and having 10, 20, or 100 copies of yourself doing things exactly the way you want is going to cause your business to fail.  Having different people in your business can be the reason it succeeds and it is vital to growth.

As you’ve noticed, you’re just one person.  Your ability to be creative in all the ways that a business needs is limited to your perspectives.  This means you as a small business owner have to be your businesses’s expert in Finance, Accounting, Marketing, HR, Operations, Supply Chain Management, Shipping, Conflict Management, Risk Management…etc.

Creativity, however, is the reason most businesses succeed–and grow.   According to Forrester Research  Inc, creative companies have the following benefits:

  1. Achieve growth and increased revenues (at least 51% compared to 20% of non-creative businesses)
  2. Have greater market share
  3. Win recognition as good places to work (think big names like Google).

Having multiple perspectives to contribute to all the needs your business has means growth, change, improvement, and yes, mistakes on the path to your success.  It is not possible for one person to do everything–and it is not possible for one perspective to compete with multiple perspectives.  It takes a team. When you have a team of people, you learn from them just as much as they learn from you.

Now, having the wrong people on the team is a legitimate concern. There are certainly times when an employee may not be a good fit for your business–and there’s a lot you can do up front to make sure you don’t hire that person in the first place.  See  5 Ways to Keep From Hiring the Wrong Person.

Remember, one of the best things for your business is a competent and well-trained employee who contributes positively to the product and culture of your company. The good news is, you can create this employee right in your business.  Just not through cloning.  If you’re interested in learning ways to creating a winning team, check out this article 6 Ways to Increase Your Team’s Productivity




Forrester Research Inc. (2014). The Creative Dividend: How Creativity Impacts Business Results.

How to Hire (3/3): Payroll and Taxes

Before you extend that first job-offer to your employee, you need to figure out how to pay them.  There are plenty of decisions to be made about payroll–one of the most important decisions is who will run your payroll for you.

Brace yourself here: There are more options than you have hours in the day.  If you want some help, check out our list of payroll providers.

While we can’t tell you which service to choose, here’s some good things to consider as you figure out what you’re going to do.

Who is going to manage the quarterly withholding, tax filings, and annual returns at the Federal, State, and City level?

This is an important item to consider because individuals who want to do this themselves take on all the tax liability associated with filing these returns, tracking records, and withholding the correct amounts from employees.   If you choose a third-party, they may or may not take on the liability associated with these filings.  The truth is that only a CPA or a CPEO take on the full tax liability associated with correctly filing your taxes.  Little Fish is proudly partnered with ADP so that full tax liability is removed from your business starting the quarter that you sign up with us.

Which States/Cities do you need to set up withholding accounts for? 

This is important for you to determine early on.  You not only need to setup withholding accounts with each city in which you do business, but also in each state and at a federal level. If you have a multi-state payroll, you will need to file with both states in order to make life easier on your employees.  In addition to setting up your income tax withholding account, don’t forget you need to withhold Medicare and Social Security taxes (as well as pay your employer portion).

Don’t forget your insurance!

Lastly, don’t forget your unemployment insurance at both the Federal and State levels.  These are mandatory for you to pay on behalf of your employees–and this is not something that you withhold from their checks.  Each state sets the taxable limit of wages, so be sure to check with your State’s department in advance and figure out what your unemployment rates and wages will end up being.

As a bonus tip: Have worker’s compensation insurance to protect you in the circumstance that your employee is injured and/or off work due to a job-related injury or illness.

In conclusion, as you consider the many decisions to be made with payroll, do a quick search and figure out solutions that work for you.  You can always contact Little Fish if want to outsource the hassle to a professional that cares about your business.

Please comment below and let us know what topics we can cover to help your small business.


How to Hire (1/3): Developing Employee Roles

One of the most important parts of hiring an employee is defining the role that they will perform at your company.   No employer wants to hire a brand new employee only to find that they have an employee who doesn’t perform at the level they wanted.

As a small business owner, you can’t afford to hire a bad employee!

Below are 3 important steps that every employer needs to take before hiring a new employee.

Prepare A Job Description

Hopefully this is a first step that has you saying, “Yeah, duh.”  This means that you’re already ahead of other employers.  My client companies sometimes hire individuals and put them to work without a job description. In fact, one client had 300+ employees–and they failed to provide job descriptions.

As a result, Employees didn’t have a baseline for their work expectations. This effected every part of the business. Many employees didn’t perform required tasks. Others would often complain about having to perform certain tasks because it wasn’t ever communicated that this was part of their job.  During performance evaluations, employees and managers alike had no idea what goals they should set for the next year, so they would write in generic and unproductive goals that stagnated the business.

Having a job description that explains baselines for a job and still leaves ambiguity so that an employee can grow as your company grows is extremely important. Make sure you understand how to write a good job description.

Have Documented Processes

This is a step that most employers large and small overlook when bringing in a new employee. Because a job description only provides some baselines about the nature of work your employee will be performing, it is important to have an organized and clear documented process that will explain to your employee how to achieve each of their tasks.  This can take the form of a checklist, a booklet,  a spreadsheet, or even a neat training video.  These materials will allow your employee to understand and carry out the tasks that you’re outsourcing to them, all within the exact parameters of your preferences.

Explain Expectations And Boundaries

When my clients take the time to sit down and set clear expectations and boundaries with their employees–they change their work culture and increase their retention.  Take the time to sit down and explain verbally to every new employee the standards you expect.  This can include: the time of day you want your employee to show up to work, the standards of work quality you expect, the standards of customer service you expect, the acceptable way to schedule a conference room, and the time of day you expect people to leave.  The more specific and open you are about what you expect, the better your employee will be able to meet those needs.

Don’t forget to also explain the boundaries to your employee as well.  For example, if you hire a secretary who is always going above and beyond–is this something you want or do you want them to only perform certain tasks?  How much “above and beyond” is too much? When an accountant is your staff member, can they reach into the petty cash fund at any time or is there a particular process in place for that task?  These and many other boundaries are important to have in place so that you don’t have a miscommunication that leads to performance problems later on in the working relationship.

Closing Thoughts

In short, most new employees want to please their employer.  Their first month with your company will set the tone for the rest of their time with you.  These critical months will define whether or not they stay with you long-term.  Clearly defining roles  as a first step in the hiring process provides your employees with the knowledge they need to do well and have a satisfying work experience.