Job Seekers Beware: Watch for These Red Flags in a Job Interview That Predict a Potentially Toxic Employer

Interviewer holding piece of paper and glaring at interviewee

In the thick of an intense job search, it can be easy to forget that you – the candidate – are also interviewing potential employers during the job interview. Not only are interviewers tasked with evaluating whether or not you’re a good fit for their organization and the role, but you also should take every opportunity you can to evaluate if the position, company, and team is a good match for your own career goals and needs.

But it’s tempting to lose sight of this responsibility when you’re just trying to provide the best answers you can in the job interview, especially if you’re particularly excited about the role. So when potential red flags about the employer, team, or organization crop up in the interview, many candidates are so focused on conveying their own skills and background that they miss these all-important signs and, in the worst cases, accept job offers that they end up regretting after the fact.

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When you’re in the job interview, keep your radar up for the following red flags that may indicate a potentially toxic employer:

Vagueness around the company or position

If your interviewer or hiring manager is overly vague when answering your questions or providing information about the position to which you’re applying or the organization in general, then you may wonder what they’re trying to hide. While your interviewer understandably may not be able to convey sensitive company information to you before you’re hired, they still should be able to provide thorough, detailed, and thoughtful answers to all of your questions.

Underlying tension among interviewers

This is especially easy to pick up on if you interview in front of a group of people or a hiring committee. In this scenario, pay attention to how the interviewers interact with one another and whether or not there is any underlying tension in the room. Are they subtly undermining one another or jockeying for position? Or, are do they seem to be in sync and genuinely like each other? These could very well be your potential colleagues, so tune in to the dynamic. 

Complaining about the organization or coworkers

If your interviewer slips in a few complaints about his or her coworkers or the organization during your interview, this could be a glaring red flag that you may be entering a toxic workplace or one teeming with negativity and problems. As you ask questions about the employer, don’t just pay attention to what they say about the department, the people, or the company as a whole, but also how they say it. What is their attitude or energy level conveying? Do you sense a lack of enthusiasm, or do their praises of the company ring hollow and insincere? Complaints can take overt or more subtle forms, so keep your radar up for any level of dissatisfaction with the organization.

Lack of organization, at the company or in the interview process

Are your interviewers slow to respond or unable to give you basic information about the job or the company? Does the office environment seem chaotic and unorganized? Have there been some mix-ups in the hiring process that indicate some internal mishaps? If the company doesn’t seem to be running like a well-oiled machine, this could give you a sense of the kinds of challenges you’ll have to deal with if you accept the offer.

Lack of preparedness in the interview process

If you can tell that your interviewer is reading your resume for the first time while you’re sitting in front of them at the job interview, that’s obviously a red flag. But, a general lack of preparedness – whether in the questions they have (or don’t have) for you, the lack of information they can tell you about the job you’re applying to or the company, or just an overall sense of unprofessionalism – can come through in multiple ways. If you start to pick up on an information breakdown, you may want to ask a few questions around processes and the structure of the organization to determine if this is an individual issue or a system problem throughout the company.

High turnover rates at the organization

In doing your research on the organization, try to find out as much as you can about their turnover or retention rate. While some companies go through temporary periods of higher turnover (for example, in or just after an acquisition or if there has been a change in leadership or in funding), in general consistently high turnover rates over time indicate a problem.

Pushing the position on you

Your internal alarm bells should sound if your interviewer spends most of the time aggressively trying to “hard sell” the job or organization to you without asking many questions around your background or qualifications. If they’re trying to bring you on board without properly vetting you for the position, this could indicate a troubling sense of urgency or desperation that does not reflect well on the organization.

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