Red Flags to Look Out For During a Job Interview

When you’re desperate to leave a bad job or land any job at all, there’s a temptation to take the first offer you get. But accepting the wrong position can prevent you from landing a much better one. Fortunately, signs of a bad job often reveal themselves during the interview. Here are red flags to watch for.

red flags

Doesn’t Value Your Time

One job applicant was left waiting for more than an hour in the lobby for the interview with her potential boss. “When he finally emerged, he didn’t apologize,” she recalls.

Why this is alarming: If the boss doesn’t value your time now, it's he likely won’t value your time once you accept a position. You could end up working nights and weekends because he forgot to tell you about an urgent project until the last minute.

What to do: This candidate walked. “I knew I did not want to work for someone so arrogant,” she says.

Doesn’t Pay Attention

“I had one interview when the employer spent the entire interview reading her mail—and she had lots,” another job seeker says.

Why this is alarming: There are times you’ll need your boss’s input to move forward on a project. Don’t count on getting it. I didn’t figure I’d ever have her undivided attention,” the job seeker says.

What to do: If you like collaboration and feedback, this kind of situation won’t be a good fit. If you work well independently, you might thrive with this boss.

Position is a Revolving Door

One applicant for a job managing a medical practice was told 29 people had held the position in the last 24 months. He ignored the information and his gut, accepted the job anyway and soon became miserable.

Why this is alarming: These people all left quickly for good reasons.

What to do: Don’t think you can fix this boss or this work environment. Do not take this position. This is the worst of all red flags.

Bad-Mouthing Your Predecessor

One interviewer told the applicant all the things her predecessor did poorly. While hearing someone else criticized may make you feel smug, it’s not a good sign if your potential future boss is bad-mouthing the person you’d be replacing.

Why this is alarming: “They are trying to make you feel superior, but instead they’re showing they will turn on you at the drop of a hat and talk about you to the next person they encounter,” the applicant says.

What to do: Proceed cautiously. You could easily become the next victim in this vindictive, gossipy workplace.

Interviewer Wants the Inside Scoop

Some interviewers don’t want to know about you—they want intelligence on your current or previous employer. That’s creepy and wrong  “I interviewed in-person with a marketing VP,” one applicant recalls. “The guy kept asking me about the people and contributors at a previous publication that I had worked for. ‘What do they look for in photos? Do you still have contact with photo editors? Who were the best landscape photographers that you worked with?’ Finally, he started showing me his landscape photos and asking my opinion. He wanted to submit photos to my former magazine and that’s why he wanted to ‘interview’ me. He wasted my time for two hours.”

Why this is alarming: This interviewer isn’t looking to fill a position. He’s looking to meet his own needs. He’s also unethical and could ask you to cross the line.

What to do: Cross this one off your list. This boss may not even have an opening.

Don’t Cry For Me

One female applicant was asked during the interview, ‘Do you cry easily?’

Why this is alarming: That question could be a sign of a sexist, hard-driving workplace culture. At the least, this is likely a tough environment where people don’t exercise tact.

What to do: If you take the job, don’t let them see you cry or sweat. This applicant took the job and learned a lot from her boss and coworkers.

Controlling Work Environment

For a teaching position, one applicant was told she’d have to remain in her office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. when not teaching. The kicker: the office had no Internet access. In today’s connected world, that would makes it hard to get research and other tasks accomplished.

Why this is alarming: The requirement to remain in the office for nine hours a day reveals an extreme lack of trust that probably will surface in other areas.

What to do: “I passed on that job,” the applicant said. Good move.

Your Interview Fills a Quota

Most companies are required to show they sought minority applicants. For many of these applicants, this means getting called for interviews with companies that have little intention of hiring them. One potential boss pointed out a man on the phone in the office, announced she wanted to hire that man, but that the applicant might have a shot at the job if she really impressed the interviewer. “Since I’m Latina, she might as well have come right out and said, ‘I’ve already decided, but our corporate offices require us to interview a minority as one of the three finalist, and that’s why you’re here,’” the applicant recalls.

What to do: Consider the interview as practice for a company that’s more serious about hiring you. Then move on.

No Red Flags. Good For You!

If you finish the interview free of warning signs, congratulations! This could be a promising position to help you reach your goals. But keep your eyes open as you begin work. If red flags surface, cut your losses and start looking again.

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