Much has been written about the red flags employers need to look out for when considering job candidates, but what about when the shoe is on the other foot? From having a bad feeling about a job interview to receiving a job offer that doesn’t feel right, there are plenty of reasons to be extra cautious before you commit to accepting a job offer.
The truth is that you’re interviewing your prospective employer just as much as they’re interviewing you. And, if they’re waving more red flags than at a matador convention, chances are you’ll soon regret taking the job. So, when you’re going through the process of looking for your dream job, here are 10 red flags in job interviews — and beyond — to watch out for before you sign a job offer.
Red flag: The interviewer is late
Sure, sometimes things happen and the person who needs to interview you is held up in some way or has to deal with a crisis. So, them being five minutes late and then apologizing for it isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm. If they’re more than 15 minutes late, however, they should send someone to apologize on their behalf, offer you something to drink and/or offer to reschedule.
If you find yourself sitting there waiting and wondering why no one’s acknowledging your presence, this is a sign that at the very least, they don’t respect your time and, by extension, you. It can also indicate poor communication within the company and poor organization.
Red flag: The interviewer is unprepared
You’ll be able to tell very quickly if the interviewer is unprepared for your interview. They may have no idea who you are or which position you’re interviewing for. They most likely haven’t even looked at that resume you worked so hard on to make it stand out.
An unprepared interviewer is one of the early signs a job interview went bad. It can indicate three things: first, they never were interested in hiring you but are just going through the motions to fulfil some kind of requirement; second, they don’t pay attention to important details in other areas of the job, and this will leave you to constantly have to do damage control rather than focus on your actual job; and third, the person who was supposed to interview you bailed out at the last minute and thrust someone else into the position, which means you might find yourself constantly having to cover for an unreliable boss too if you take the job.
Red flag: The employer is vague about what the job entails
Something that should give you a bad feeling about a job is when the job description and details are vague — whether in the job posting or during the interview. While it’s possible that the reason why someone can’t give you specifics about the job is that they don’t know them (for example, maybe you won’t be reporting to the person you’re speaking to, or maybe it’s a new position). Either way, an employer really can’t decide who would be the best candidate for a job if they don’t even know what the job is about.
One of the criteria that makes a company one of the best employers in Canada is that they offer you support in doing your job. If, during a job interview, the interviewer says anything along the lines of, “We’ll figure it out as you go,” or, “You’ll be wearing many hats,” you’re unlikely to get that support. Instead, you’ll find yourself having to take on duties that aren’t related to your job or your skills and before you know, you’ll be dealing with burnout.
Red flag: The previous people in the position didn’t stay long
One of the handiest job interview tips is to ask how the long person you’ll be replacing and the person who was in the position before them were with the company. If one of them left after a short time, it’s not necessarily a red flag (maybe changing life circumstances prompted them to move to another city or become a stay-at-home parent, for instance).
However, if both of them left within a year or so, it can be a sign of a bigger problem. Maybe the position itself is so stressful that it quickly leads to burnout. Maybe the boss is a nightmare to work for. Or maybe the company culture itself is toxic. Whatever the reason, the company clearly isn’t supporting its employees in their jobs if people are quitting frequently.
Red flag: The interviewer is vague when answering legitimate questions
Hopefully, in order to prepare yourself for your job interview, you did your homework about the company and came up with some questions to ask about the job and the company. When the interviewer hesitates to answer these questions or gives you only vague answers, this should set off the alarm bells. At best, they don’t know the answers. More likely, they’re trying to hide something.
Questions they should be able to answer without hesitation include what they like about their job and the company, what the possibilities for growth within the company are, what the pros and cons of the job are, how they’ve addressed the issues raised in bad reviews and what they can tell you about the person you’ll be reporting to.
Red flag: The interviewer behaves inappropriately
One of the biggest red flags in job interviews is an interviewer who behaves inappropriately. This could include inappropriate physical behaviour, off-colour “jokes” and dissing coworkers or previous employees.
Think about it: if someone feel comfortable behaving like this in front of you while you’re a total stranger they’re trying to entice to work for them, how much worse will their behaviour be once you’ve signed that contract and are even more in their power?
Red flag: The interviewer focuses too much on the fun work environment
Nobody wants to work in a place where everyone is overly serious and jokes are banned. However, when it seems that the interviewer is focusing more on how much fun the work environment is than on what the job or the company’s work is all about, this might be an indication that nobody takes doing their job seriously, which will make doing your job much harder. “Fun” work environments often are an indication that there isn’t much respect for boundaries.
When the interviewer says, “We work hard and we play hard,” it most likely means that you’ll be expected to attend all those Friday happy hours and company picnics. When you decline because you have a life and responsibilities outside of work, you’ll be branded as “not a team player”. When the interviewer says, “We’re like a family here,” run: this translates to, “We won’t respect your boundaries at all, will constantly call you after hours and won’t hesitate to interfere in your private life.”
You might also like: How to set healthy boundaries with your boss and coworkers.
Red flag: An unpaid take-home assignment or trial takes more than an hour to complete
There is nothing wrong with a potential employer giving you a take-home assignment or a trial. After all, they need to know whether you’ve actually learned something in those courses that look so amazing on your resume and that you’re really qualified to do the job.
If that assignment or trial is going to take more than an hour of your time, however, they need to compensate you for it. If they don’t, they’re not actually interested in hiring you; they’re just looking for free work.
Red flag: The interview process takes more than a few weeks
In 2015, Glassdoor analyzed how long the interview process is in different countries and found that in Canada, it takes 20.1 days on average. Factors that impact the duration of the interview process include the type of job, the labour market conditions and regulations and company policy.
If the interview process seems unnecessarily drawn out over months, it can indicate that the company culture is rigid and that they focus more on red tape than efficiency. After all, if a job is opening up, an efficient company would want to fill the position as soon as possible to ensure a smooth transition.
Red flag: The workplace atmosphere doesn’t feel appealing
When you go for your job interview, turn on your Spidey-sense before you walk through the door and keep it on until you leave. If something about the atmosphere of the place feels off to you, consider that a red flag so big it should be unfurled on a football field. Maybe everyone is overly serious, frantically tapping away at keyboards in dimly lit cubicles. Or maybe nobody seems to be working at all. Maybe everyone’s wearing sober suits. Or maybe they seem to be totally underdressed for the job or the industry.
Whatever you pick up about the workplace atmosphere, think about whether it aligns with what you would want in your ideal workplace. If you get the job, you’ll be spending a big part of your life here: will you be able to fit in?
See also: What to do if you hate your job.