I’m a CEO — 4 ways I can tell you didn’t prepare for an interview, even if you’re a great actor

Let’s be real: often, it’s usually pretty obvious when a candidate interviewing for a job hasn’t done their homework on the position or the company and they’re trying to wing it. Cue all the cringe-worthy signs that the candidate is unprepared for their interview. These can range from answering “I don’t know” to questions to staring at the interviewer blankly in silence for too long. But some signs are more subtle than others.

Let’s get to it: If you experience any of these signs the next time you interview a potential candidate, they aren’t prepared to take on the position.

1. They forget to bring along referenced documents

Your resume and cover letter should always come along with you for a job interview, even if they aren’t referenced by the hiring manager.

2. They don’t ask the right questions at the end of the interview

“There is a stark difference between a candidate who pulls out a notebook with prepared questions versus one who scrambles to ask even one question at the end of the interview,” says Natalie Morgan, Director of HR at CareerPlug.

Do you need to ask a million, largely irrelevant questions? No. Do you need to ask a few, thoughtful questions about the position and your potential role within the company? Absolutely. Think about a few questions you may ask ahead of time. When in doubt, write them down and reference them as needed.

3. They don’t know what the company is really about

“This has happened to us a few times!” says Marja Verbon, COO of Jump.Work. Verbon encourages candidates to do their research prior to the interview that covers these basic organization must-knows:

  • What the company does, its mission and its industry.
  • The position and its job description.
  • Its cultural values.
  • Key financial statistics, including last year’s profit and stock prices (which may easily be found in the case of publicly listed companies).
  • Current headlines about the company and its leadership in the media.

4. They’re reading a script

Let’s say that prior to the interview you read a listicle about the best way to answer common job interview questions. You memorized the “right” answers, so you’ll totally ace the interview — right?

Not exactly. Courtney Keene, Director of Operations at MyRoofingPal, says it’s actually pretty obvious when someone treats an interview like a script reading that they haven’t done proper research into the company. You’ll have an initial answer at the ready at all times. That is until the interview goes off-script.

“It’s easy to tell when someone is just giving an answer they’ve already prepared,” Keene says, nothing that the biggest tell-tale sign is a candidate’s struggle to answer follow-up questions. Watch when the interview goes off-script. The candidate’s tone and demeanor may change quite a bit and not for the best either.

You may prepare for an interview to some extent, but leave a bit of room to expect the unexpected. Take a moment to pause, even if you know the answer to the question. Use this moment to think for a bit on how to respond. At that moment, you might even discover a different answer you’d rather use that feels more authentic!

A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.