Interviews should be challenging in nature and provide your prospective employer with an accurate assessment of your fit with the company. But interviewers behaving badly during the selection process isn’t something to ever be tolerated. It isn’t a sign of your employer just being “tough” or “selective.” It’s a red flag in the interview that signals that your prospective employer’s treatment of you only stands to worsen once you accept an offer.
Think about it. Hiring managers are on their best behavior when they’re looking to fill the position.
If your prospective employer doesn’t treat you with the respect you deserve while they’re courting you, they most certainly will not when you’re an employee.
I had to learn the hard way. As a wide-eyed recent grad, I was so excited to have landed a job in my field that I failed to pay attention to my future boss’s behavior during the interview. And I neglected to consider what that behavior may signal about the realities of working for him. Sure enough, my boss turned out to be a less edited version of the man I met during the interview process.
For better or worse, people aren’t that great at hiding who they are. Even when they want you to come work for them. So take note of what you see and resist the urge to discount these red flags in an interview, even when you’re convinced you’ve landed your dream job. Because they could be dead giveaways that your prospective workplace is toxic.
1. Your first impressions were negative
I’m not advocating for superficiality in judging others or writing off a potential boss based on some minor quirk of theirs. But, I do see the value in taking note of your general impressions of everyone you meet. If one or more people rub you the wrong way, you don’t need to justify or brush that feeling off.
First impressions tend to stick and for a good reason. They tend to be pretty accurate.
In conjunction with some of these other signs, it could be a reliable tell that you’re not a fit with the company. And that’s okay. It’s much better to be disappointed now than to find yourself back on the job market in a few months.
2. The other employees look miserable
You may have had a great interview. But on your way out, ask to take a walk around. Briefly observe the other employees at their desks. Even better if said employees have not been anywhere near the interview room.
During the interview process, everyone in the room will be spinning their answers in a positive light. Just like you will be doing as a candidate. But if you catch the other employees looking worn out, eating at their desks, or immediately tensing up, the second management walks onto the floor, make no mistake that this will be you in a matter of months. This might not be a red flag in the interview, but it’s a red flag nonetheless. Get out while you can.
3. The interviewer makes disparaging comments about you or your credentials
If a company has decided to bring you in for an interview, you’ve already beat out hundreds of others sending in their resume. If your resume-level credentials truly didn’t make the cut, they wouldn’t have asked you to meet them. Either that or the recruiter didn’t do their due diligence. Neither of which is your problem.
Interviews should challenge you. And employers should have high standards for who they hire. Insulting you in any way is not that.
I once had a recruiter and a senior manager repeat the same wildly inappropriate line to me while interviewing at a large eyewear company. In essence, they told me that my interning at a name-brand consulting firm in college and then accepting a full-time position elsewhere meant that I must not have been good enough to secure a return offer. To them, the idea of me taking my career in another direction at age 22 just never could have happened. I wasn’t impressed with this firm and declined their offer.
4. The interviewer is more focused on tripping you up and ‘testing’ you
While interviewing with the same company I discussed above, I had another interviewer ask me insultingly basic questions on the meaning of acronyms and processes I referenced in my resume and interview responses. When I answered them correctly, he smirked and replied, “good, that was a test.” He also said, “you can stop talking now,” after I answered another one of his questions.
While assessing a candidate’s skills in the interview process is entirely fair, there’s a right and wrong way to go about this. Asking ‘gotcha’ questions only signals that your prospective employer doesn’t put a lot of trust in their employees. Worse still, this may even be a sign that your potential boss doesn’t plan to invest much in your onboarding and continuing education.
5. The interviewer is late, ill-prepared, or unfocused
An interviewer being a few minutes late to meet you is entirely understandable. It shouldn’t be seen as cause for concern by itself. But multiple prospective teammates of yours showing up late, blowing off phone interviews, or just reading your resume for the first time during the interview, could indicate that your prospective employer isn’t one that values your time and contributions.
Remember that the hiring team is likely on their best behavior during the recruitment process. Neglecting to review your resume before meeting you or showing up late to multiple interviews could translate into many things. Meetings being moved minutes before they are due to start, missed or cut short 1:1s with your boss, or not being provided with the basic information you need to do your job if you take the position.
6. The interviewer appears self-impressed
Even in the most unfavorable of job markets, you deserve to be treated with respect as a candidate. The attitude projected to you by an interviewer, your recruiter, or perhaps the company itself is unlikely to reverse when you accept the position. Instead, that same arrogance today will likely translate into management overworking and underpaying you because they believe that you’re lucky to be working for them.
I wish I had taken my own advice here when interviewing for and deciding to accept one of my first jobs. When I interviewed with my future boss’s boss, he met me with almost disdain. At the time, I foolishly chalked his behavior up to a tough interview style. However, I quickly realized that he acted this way toward all of his employees. It turns out it was, in fact, a big interview red flag.
This tendency of his came to a head when several large local employers announced layoffs. Instead of him listening to and attempting to address valid concerns voiced by another team, he told us all that we were lucky to have jobs. Yes, we were lucky to all be employed at the time. But the “you’re lucky to work for us” mentality is toxic and need not be tolerated. There are much better employers out there that are more deserving of your talents.
7. The interviewer isn’t receptive to questions
To fully appreciate how red of a flag this is, flip the situation on its head. Imagine you’re interviewing candidates to join your team. One particular candidate’s resume stands out, but said candidate is evasive in their responses and even refuses to answer some of your questions during the interview.
Such behavior would be unacceptable and raise some significant concerns about their candidacy, if not remove them from consideration outright.
Don’t allow employers to do this.
Being early in my career and eager to gain experience, I understand the power dynamic at play in an interview. But there’s a difference between showing enthusiasm for an employer and neglecting to answer the questions that will provide you with real insight into the company culture and the day to day realities of the position. Ask the questions you need. And if an employer is evasive, that may be a sign that they may have something to hide. Or, that they are trying to fill the position before you have time to have your doubts about it.
8. There’s high turnover, particularly in your role
Your prospective boss may seem like a saint in the interviews. The job posting may look like a dream. But if you see high turnover in your role, it could be a red flag. Resist the urge to toss this critical observation aside before accepting an offer.
I made this exact mistake when I accepted one of my first positions. Although I asked briefly about turnover during the interview, I was too quick to buy the hiring manager’s myriad excuses for the figure. While what he had to say sounded plausible as someone brand new to the industry, I should have noted his studious avoidance of taking responsibility for the frequent departures on his team.
If turnover emerges as a theme in the role you’re interviewing for, or at that company overall, do the following;
- Ask a few questions to understand why that is. Perhaps turnover is high because onboarding resources or continuing education courses are scant to nonexistent. Or maybe employees have a lot asked of them but are paid below the industry standard.
- Ask about the onboarding curriculum and the first 90 days of the role. This will help you to better understand how much support and training you might receive as a new addition to the team.
- Do some research on Glassdoor. Or, ask a few trusted contacts in your industry about what constitutes a fair salary for the demands of the position. Having that data will allow you to avoid firms that don’t invest in and value you appropriately. It will also be beneficial in your upcoming salary negotiations.
9. You have a gut feeling
Sometime, the red flag in an interview isn’t obvious, it’s just a feeling. Even if you’re unable to point to anything specific to justify your negative impression of a particular employer, you shouldn’t discount that gut feeling. If your body is telling you something’s wrong, don’t stick around to find out exactly what that is.
Keep in mind that taking a new position constitutes a multi-year commitment on your part. You owe it to yourself to take your time. Be a little picky and choose the job you don’t have to justify or convince yourself.
Sometimes, there will be no red flags in your interview, but you can still walk into a toxic workplace environment. As Thom Gallet writes, “It’s easy to be fooled by today’s trendy workplace environments. The standing desks option, the daily gratitude huddles and Taco Tuesdays all work to convince us that this job will be an amazing experience.”
Always be on the lookout for signs of toxicity, right from your application process to your day-to-day life at work.
You don’t have to put up with it!