6 traits that should automatically disqualify a job candidate

by Staff Writer

Truly brilliant people always seem to have a quirk or two. They can be weird, rude, sloppy, socially awkward, and often completely unpredictable. And putting up with it is totally worth it in many cases.

Some cases more than others, I’m sure. [image credit]

There was an excellent article in the economist a few days ago called: In praise of misfits. It’s a fascinating read about how people with what has traditionally been considered disabilities, like ADD, Asbergers Syndrome, and Dyslexia are actually more successful in business as a direct result of their afflictions. Now, recruiters and employers are beginning to overlook certain social qualities and quirks in candidates that might have traditionally been considered negative, particularly for tech work.

But where should a business draw the line? What unforgivable qualities in workers can employers simply not put up with? Here are 6 deal-breaking traits with tips on how to avoid hiring people with them.


Not the bigotry kind, I’m talking about the dictionary definition of ignorance:

Ignorance: lacking knowledge, training, or awareness in general.

It’s a quality most businesses would do well to avoid in their employees. Ignorant employees are less suited to the task, harder to train, and less focused while at work. And even the most menial of tasks can be disrupted by employee ignorance.

Lack of training aside, it’s always more desirable to find employees who show an interest in the products they represent, whether manufacturing, selling, or anything in-between. Workers who show effort to remain well informed and current within their industry or perhaps are even passionate customers themselves not only tend to be better suited for their jobs, but they’re generally more confident and proactive as well.

How to avoid ignorant employees: screen resume’s carefully by strict minimum education & experience requirements as the position requires. For entry level jobs, look at relevant education or personal interest.  Interview candidates who have additional training/certification.
In the interview: see what they know about the company & its products. An ignorant person would have done little to no research before the interview, even if they did, they might not fully understand it enough to discuss it.


Apathy is the ugly cousin of ignorance and it’s arguably just as bad – if not worse. In fact, in most cases, I’d rather hire a person who cares about doing a good job but is under-trained than a person who is qualified but doesn’t care about their work.

An apathetic employee is just in it for the paycheck. They’re extremely difficult to motivate, and can act generally inconvenienced by doing their job – let alone anything above and beyond. Apathy is the killer of motivation, a detriment to quality, and a catalyst for poor customer service. But worst of all, apathy is contagious. A virus that can spread from a single employee to the entire staff in the matter of a single work day. It’s something most companies should avoid at all costs.

How to avoid hiring an apathetic employee: Look at their work history. Do they seem to jump from job-to-job without any clear career path? Have they never received a promotion?
In the interview: Ask them why they applied for this position in this company. Gauge their response on the relative passion for the work, company, or industry they express. Also, can they demonstrate how they’ve ever improved anything at a job, a product, process, etc. or went above and beyond their normal duties?


“Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”
Warren Buffett

There may be a place in business for those who can spin a story, those who are good on their feet, and those can talk their way out of anything. I’m thinking sales, here…mostly – that person who can sell ketchup to a woman in white gloves [as the saying goes].

But something that simply can’t be tolerated, in any way, is flat out dishonesty.

A dishonest person is generally only feels bad for the bad things they do when they get caught. Otherwise, they really don’t care who they’re getting the better of, be it their employer, co-workers, or (worst of all) your customers. They tend to overstate their abilities, can be lazy in the most unproductive ways, and are generally a liability within just about any company. There’s a time and a place for rule breakers in any company. But when you’re doing the good kind of rule breaking, you shouldn’t need to lie about it.

How to avoid hiring a dishonest employee: 40% of employees distort information on resumes and applications. Do your research: follow up on employee’s claims and you can rule out a good amount of dishonest candidates.
In the interview: ask them about their most impressive claims, see how convincing they are. You might be surprised how many lies you will catch.


A short step up from the employee who consistently under-performs is the one who performs brilliantly only so often. Few worker traits frustrate managers more than inconsistency. Especially when it’s an employee who’s potential is clear during their rare spans of brilliance.

An inconsistent employee is generally unreliable. They might miss work regularly or show up late, they can be full of excuses and personal problems, and they only seem to do their best work when it’s on their terms. In a pinch, they’re the last person you will be able to lean on and they can even become the cause of the pinch themselves. Depending on the employee, it may be something you can put up with for a while, but the irony is that inconsistency tends to be the most consistent trait on this list.

How to avoid hiring an inconsistent employee: This one is tough. They can be well educated and have an extensive work history. In fact, one red flag might be too many breaks in work and a lack of length from any single position.
In the interview: Inquire about punctuality/absences from previous employers if possible.


Greed can sometimes be good. Commission and performance based employee’s especially. There needs to be the hunger for more and in these situations, it’s a mutually beneficial trait. But with these situations sometimes comes a more sinister sin: selfishness. Those that think only of themselves.

Selfish employees may sometimes work hard when there’s a payday in it, but beyond that, there’s little that will motivate them. It’s not that they’re lazy, they just don’t see what’s in it for them. They’ll do almost anything to get a sale, but once the commission is in, they couldn’t care less.

Selfish workers also tend to be terrible in team situations. They’ll go out of their way to do as little as possible while claiming the maximum credit for the group project. It’s another trait for those who are just in it for the paycheck. The last person you really would want as an ambassador of your brand, and a cancer in the workplace. Greed can be good if it lead to drive, but beware of selfish candidates.

How to avoid hiring a selfish employee: selfish people tend to gravitate towards performance based incentives and are generally overlooked for management positions. They also tend to have little career aspirations or have little true passion for their industry beyond the paycheck. Look for this lack of focus.
In the interview: Ask the candidate why they left their previous positions. A selfish person will talk less about the work or company and more about the benefits (or lack thereof).


Whenever there is a hard job to be done I assign it to a lazy man; he is sure to find an easy way of doing it.
“Walter Chrysler

A certain type of laziness can be an asset, I suppose, if you’re looking for an easier way to get a specific task done. But as fun as this quote is, and as true as it can be in a very limited capacity, true laziness is perhaps the most debilitating trait to have in an employee.

Truly lazy employees won’t just find an easier way to do things (which may not necessarily be a good thing, FYI) they’ll look for a way to not do anything at all, if they can. They happen to be great at re-assigning tasks, but often make terrible managers. Lazy workers use up their vacation days early and take “personal” and “sick” days (often without pay). Yet they might even be the first person in the office and the last to leave, their defining trait is that they do the least amount of work in the time between. Another candidate for ‘in it just for the paycheck’ type – perhaps the worst one.

How to avoid hiring a lazy employee: Lengthen your application process. Include a questionnaire towards the end with yes or no opinion questions. Leave a large space for the answers: those who put only YES or NO without an explanation, eliminate from the talent pool.
In the interview: Ask what they know about the company. Like ignorance, a lazy person would have done little to no research on the company before the initial interview.


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