Job interviews are nerve-wracking, but when you're in the throes of filling out job applications, rehearsing your best answer to "tell me about yourself" and deciding whether your black or white blouse better screams "I'm perfect for this job," don't forget to observe what you can about your potential employer and company in the interview itself. Start out with these subtle red flags below.
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#1 They Admit They Have a High Turnover Rate
When they complain about the high turnover rate in the interview, there are usually good reasons why they can't retain employees.
#2 You Have to Ask to Go to the Bathroom
“When you need a bathroom break, you need to alert one of the managers and request a quick break. If the phone lines aren’t too busy, we can allocate you some time to log off from your phone and go to the bathroom. If the phones are busy, you’ll need to wait until the calls have died down.”
An actual quote from an interview I’ve had. I took the job anyway. Turns out you ALWAYS had to ask permission to go to the toilet. Not just when it’s busy.
#3 "We Like to Work Hard and Play Hard."
"We like to work hard and play hard." They plan to work you 80 hour weeks with free food in the break room.
#4 They Keep You Waiting
When they keep you waiting more than 15 minutes past your scheduled interview time and make no apologies when you are called in. When they are disorganized and no one seems to know exactly what you're there for. When everyone looks glum—no smiling, laughing, interaction among employees.
#5 They Tell You Not to Take It
I interviewed at one place where the guy interviewing me said, "Look, I like you. You're a smart kid. Don't work here. If you want the job it's yours though."
#6 They Start a Sentence with "Are You Willing To..."
Any interview lasting less than 10 minutes where they don't really ask you anything about yourself. "Are you willing to work a lot for a while until we get more people hired and trained up? We're a little short-staffed at the moment." And pretty much any other question that starts with, "Are you willing to..." and ends with something most people in their right minds wouldn't be readily willing to do.
Offering to start you out at one rate of pay, then increase it once you're trained in, but there's nothing in writing agreeing to said increase. When you walk in, do the people that already work there look like they enjoy it? If not, it's probably not a great working environment.
#7 There's Plenty of Opportunity for Overtime
"There will be plenty of opportunity for overtime" means they will ask you to stay late. A good question to ask is, "Why did the person I'm replacing leave?"
#8 They're Inpatient
I had a phone interview once while I was also in college. The guy seemed kind of a prick anyway, but nonetheless seemed to like me as a candidate. He said, "Alright. And when would you be available for an in-person interview?" I believe it was a Friday afternoon. Monday I had classes all day... from 9 a.m. spread out until 7 p.m., so I said "Tuesday afternoon around 1 p.m. would work for me. I have cla-"
"Uh yeah... as I was saying, I am unavailable all day mond-"
"That's too long to wait" click
#9 They Comment on Your Looks
An interviewer/potential boss told me I had the look of someone who should work in the "back of the office." So probably that.
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#10 They Don't Train
My first job interview ever I asked about how I would know where everything is. His response? “Just watch the others. We don’t train.” I hate that. Just tell me so when I’m asked to go get or make something, I don’t look dumb in front of the customers. Also when I asked about the pay, he kept dodging the question. “Well IF I decide to hire you, I’ll tell you.” “IF I hire you, you’ll learn by watching the others as you work.” “IF I hire you, I’ll tell you how to get your work schedule.” “IF I hire you, we expect that you'll always be available.”
I literally hate the word “If” now. I went on a trip to Vietnam and the second I stepped foot in my house he called me to tell me I got the job. I denied it despite needing a job because I knew I would hate my life working there.
#11 They're Looking for Someone with a "Rockstar Attitude"
If at any point you hear, “We’re looking for someone with a rockstar attitude,” what they really mean is, “We’re looking for someone we can overwork and underpay. You don’t mind working 100 hours a week for $30k a year right?”
#12 You'd Have a Bad Manager
I conducted many interviews in my last job and I came across some really gifted folks who I wanted to succeed and who wouldn't because of my toxic manager. I dropped a not so subtle hint by asking, "Would you rather have a great team or great manager?" Regardless of the answer, I would reinforce how fantastic the team is.
#13 They Patronize You
Someone told me during an interview: "I'm an entrepreneur, so by definition, I know better." That guy is an idiot boss for sure.
#14 They Do All the Talking
If it's not a two-way conversation. Like, I once interviewed with a president of a company and he spent the entire hour talking about himself. Not the company, not the team I would be joining, just him. And he was very pleased. During the same interview, he also mentioned that when he was younger he totalled his car on the way to a meeting, but he acted like it never happened because work was the only thing that mattered. The underlying message was, "I don't give a hoot about you. Get me my coin, or I'll cut your pay." Which he did for the slightest things like showing up two minutes late in an epic snowstorm. Read between the lines folks!
#15 You'll Have Too Much Responsibility
"You'll be working under three managers, and your job will be to treat each one of them as if they are your only priority."
#16 They Say "We're like a Family Here"
We are like a family here. I have never come across a company who says this that wasn't dysfunctional and expected unpaid overtime and acceptance of verbal abuse and overwork.
I had a job interview who were quite blatant about it by following up by saying sometimes I would need to stay after for events. It had been more hours than I wanted anyway and I was already alarmed that their admin people were tired-looking and reluctant to tell the interviewers I was here and that they were interviewing because the last person after seven years had gone on holiday then refused to come back. When they said that line it sealed the deal and I began actively sabotaging myself.
#17 Someone Walks Out
Not me but my SO went to an office interview and witnessed a chick yelling on her way out about how terrible the job is that she didn't need it and then she said, "Eff you everybody," and walked out.
#18 They Don't Have a Big Team
Me: "How big is the team?" Them: "Usually it is four" Me: "So you have three now." Them: "Actually just one."
#19 No One is Talking
Nobody is chatting, even in the break room.
#20 You Can't Call in Sick
At one interview, they literally told me I can never call in sick and shamed the idea of ever doing that as it would “hurt” the store productivity.
#21 They Require Any of These
"Must be able to multitask" = We fired several people and want you to do all their jobs.
"Fast-paced work environment" = We will overwork you.
"Must be a self-starter" = We won't train you.
#22 The Interview Seems Stiff
When you get the feeling that everyone you're talking to is holding their cards close and positioning, especially in group interviews, versus a flowing direct dialogue. This usually means the politics and drama run deep. Another one is interviewers who are overly intense grilling you with questions and don't offer any hints or collaborative feedback, have fun working with that person.
#23 You Will Never Have Time Off
When they say "Sometimes we may ask you to work nights and weekends and you always have to be near your phone."
#24 They Automatically Hire You
When the interview is just them telling you what you'll be doing. Auto hire means run far away.
#25 They Sugar Coating Overworking You
"We like to see someone go the extra mile." Roughly translates to: "You will work late nights, and possibly weekends, but not get paid any more for the time because you're salaried."
#26 They Don't Have Proper Funding
Interviewed at a chemical plant once. I asked what the best part of working there is. The response I got was, "We get to be really creative on a daily basis because when something breaks we don't always get the proper funding to replace it. So we have to come up with solutions ourselves and that allows for a lot of freedom on the job." Noped outta there.
#27 They Reprimand You
Opening with “8:02 is late." I obviously know that it’s bad to be late, but when they open with that, it’s like I’m not even hired and they already plan for me to screw up.
#28 You're the Smartest Person in the Room
When the interview changes direction partway through. Got a (fairly standard) technical interview question, and when I figured out what the problem in their code was in under a minute, and I explained WHY what they didn't realize it was a problem (to their utter horror) in under another minute... I started probing their technical skills. Unless you are THE guy, especially early career, you shouldn't be the expert when you walk in the door. If you're the smartest guy in the room, you're in the wrong room.
#29 They Ask Personal Questions
I was interviewing for a job as a receptionist and they wanted a list of any medicine I took at the interview. Umm. No.
#30 They Can't Give a Straight Answer
When they can't give a straight honest answer about wages, hours or opportunities to be promoted. Some employers get upset when you ask about it, but it is the entire reason for a job.
#31 They Have "Great Office Culture"
We work hard and we play hard. Translation: Minimum of 10 hours of overtime a week, and you're expected to commiserate with your coworkers over drinks after work on Friday... you pay your own way. You don't show up, that looks bad.
#32 They Don't Offer Benefits
I went for a job interview in October 2017 for what evolved into a management position as the interview went on. Everything was going well until I asked what the benefits and pay were. The response from someone in the meeting was "chuckle Benefits? The position is 40 hours a week, $10 an hour as an independent contractor. If we like you after the probational period we'll consider bringing you on as an employee after the 90-day probationary period."
Needless to say, I didn't take the job. Guaranteed a company like this is doing it to avoid classifying you as an employee to avoid taxes and workers comp and they will be letting you go after 90 days once the work they want to be done is completed.
#33 They Lack Employees
They lack employees. There's always a good reason why.
#34 They Have Lots of Open Positions
Even before the interview: if there are lots and lots of positions open for a company that isn't new or otherwise shouldn't have as much turnover.
#35 They Say You Have to Wear Heels
“I’m sorry, but you’re not going to be able to wear heels to work.” This was a very physical job I was applying to. No one would even think about wearing heels for this. And I hate heels so much I wasn’t even wearing them in the interview. So it made absolutely no sense for him to bring it up.
#36 There Are Several People Waiting to be Interviewed for the Same Job
When the waiting area is full of people waiting for their job interview for the same job. I once had an interview for an accounting job. Formal credentials were required. Several guys in suits waiting to be interviewed like it was a cattle call.
#37 They Make You Sign an NDA
When they make you sign an NDA, despite never handling any confidential information. It means the boss is an idiot and he wants the option to sue you if you tell anyone what a terrible person he is.
#38 They Tell You to Smile
Not in an interview, but I got contacted by a recruiter and a line in the job description said to smile. SMILE?! Translation: This job is terrible and we want you to put up with it and everyone else we have considered not suitable for not being happy with the long list of things also listed here in the requirements.
#39 They Don't Have Clear Management
“Are you able to work in a dynamic environment?” = “We have no idea who is running this circus every day.”
#40 They Admit There's Drama
I had an interview at a company where they proudly told me “We fight here, but we fight like family.” Um, I don’t want to fight with anyone...
#41 You'll Always Be on Call
"Be prepare on your days off in case we call you in."
#42 There Are Too Many Benefits
A ton of on-site services and conveniences. If your "campus" has five restaurants, a gym, a health clinic, a tailor and a massage parlor, it's not because it's a super fun happy place. It's because they never want you to leave.
#43 They Say They Work Hard and Play Hard
"We work hard and play hard" usually means they're slave drivers with terrible work-life balance issues, but will probably have a company Christmas party with free snacks and soda.
#44 They're Rude
When the person who contacted you to arrange an interview is mean to you.
#45 They Have a High Turnover Rate
It doesn’t apply to an interview process, but if you somehow find out there’s a high turnover rate, don’t even apply. Glassdoor saved me recently from one company.