Main image of article 3 Warning Signs Your 'Great' Candidate is Faking It

When the right tech talent is difficult to find and the work piles up, skepticism takes on added value. The sad truth, recruiters say, is some candidates will submit an outstanding résumé, post code samples on GitHub, and yet are still blowing a certain amount of smoke to obscure the fact they’re not really the fit you hope they are. They may know enough about technology and process to muddle through their interviews, but their lack of nuts-and-bolts knowledge or sense of teamwork are sure to spell trouble down the road.

The presence of such candidates is “a consistent issue but not an everyday one. Spotting them involves more than vetting résumés and studying work samples. Instead, in interviews and other communications, look for often-subtle signs that the candidate’s story doesn’t quite add up.

Yes, we know you’re scrambling to fill open roles right now, but take a bit of extra time to make sure your favored candidates actually fit with the job and team in question. Here’s some warning signs to look for.

Painting with a Broad Brush

On their résumés and in conversations, candidates should speak not only to the individual contributions they’ve made, but also about the work of their fellow team members.

Try to learn specifically about the candidate’s role in a project and how they fit in with their team’s dynamics. Also consider asking about the languages and frameworks they’ve used. They should be able to rattle all that off and then talk about their experience in that particular development environment. If they can only speak generally, that’s a warning sign.

Sometimes, it's worth being wary of answers that are more about “storytelling” than precise explanations of how a candidate tackled a specific project. If you listen closely enough, a candidate’s stories may offer hints about what they don’t know.


If an engineer appears hesitant to provide code samples and a GitHub profile, or if they haven't attended appropriate technology conferences, it may be worth keeping your guard up.

Beyond that, pay attention to how candidates react when you propose technical interviews. When it comes to pair programming, whiteboard tests or a coding exercise with a 48-hour turnaround, it's often believed that the real technologists get excited. Often times, pushback of any kind can be a red flag.

Been There, Done That, No Need to Learn It

While recruiters naturally expect confidence from a candidate, they also warn of those whose message is, basically, that they can do everything.

Is there anything they say they can’t do? Do they believe they’re the best at everything? If the answer is no, this could be a warning sign. The best tech professionals are those that strive to learn more, and to learn something means that you start at the basics. At the same time, it can be a bad sign when a candidate says they don’t have to (or want to) learn anything.

In fact, it can be beneficial when a candidates are honest about their knowledge gaps and how they’ll bridge them. This can be a sign that they're aware of where they can improve, and is a sign that they'll be willing to do so to better the company and team.

A great hire is proactive and honest and willing to ask questions. Faking it isn’t just about dishonesty, but also speaks to cultural and team fit. Even great developers can be problematic if they can’t work well with their colleagues.