It’s important to be able to distinguish between true red flags and the false alarms, so we’re going to talk through six red flags that should cause you to reconsider a job offer.
Note that we’re writing this for job seekers, but if you are an employer or hiring manager, it wouldn’t hurt to have these in mind so you don’t accidentally scare off top talent by practicing some of the behavior we’re warning against.
The interview process is chaotic.
You should always show up 10 to 20 minutes early for an interview. Your interviewer knows this, and from their perspective, you showing up outside this timeframe can be a red flag. Clearly, your interviewer has some unspoken guidelines about the process.
However, you can flip the script. Job seekers should have unspoken guidelines for interviews as well, and your interviewer should also understand and adhere to those. One of the biggest red flags in an interview is that the whole process is chaotic and disorganized.
Have you been called to reschedule? Have you been given two different interview times or locations? Did your interviewer call you by the wrong name? Was someone at the door to greet you when you arrived? Was your interviewer more than five minutes late?
Interviewers get more leeway in being late than interviewees, but only within reason. If your interviewer shows up 20 minutes late, for example, you should take that as a sign that something is amiss.
A chaotic interview process is evidence of a chaotic work environment. If your interview process seemed disorganized, you can be pretty sure the job would be that way too. Do you really want to work for a company that can’t even get their interview process sorted out? Probably not.
The interviewer speaks disparagingly of coworkers or previous interviewees.
If your interviewer speaks negatively about people they’re currently working with, that tells you one of two things. Either that person is extremely unhappy at that workplace, or their coworkers are insufferable. No matter which of these is true, it’s probably safe to say that this is a toxic work environment.
If the interviewer speaks negatively about previous interviews, you know you’re really in trouble. What is that person going to say about you in their next interview? More importantly, what is that person going to say to your boss if you end up getting hired?
Sometimes it’s necessary to blow off steam. We recognize that, and we even encourage people to spend time with their coworkers outside the workplace so they can vent when they need to. However, there’s a time and a place for it. The job interview is, 100%, without a doubt, the absolute wrong place for venting, backbiting, or rude behavior in general.
The interviewer doesn’t seem to understand what your job would entail.
This can be hard to spot if you’re interviewing for an entry-level position in a field you’ve never worked in before. However, if you have several years of experience, it should be pretty obvious whether or not an interviewer understands your career.
Yes, in many cases, the person conducting your interview will work in a completely different field than you. That’s totally fine. However, if the interviewer doesn’t seem to grasp the basics of what you would be doing in the position you’re applying for, they simply haven’t prepared themselves for the interview. That could be evidence of a few different things.
First of all, this could be a sign that they’ve already filled the position and are just doing the interview as a formality. They might feel like there’s no reason to prepare for an interview they already know is bound to go nowhere.
Second, this could mean they actually don’t care. If they do hire you haphazardly, you might not be the right fit for the position and you could end up getting let go after a few weeks. You don’t want to put all this time and effort into a job search – perhaps even turning down other offers along the way – only to find out you were the wrong fit and won’t be working for this company for very long.
Third, this might be a sign that the interviewer is burned out, or that the work environment is a toxic one.
Either way, this is a huge red flag, and you should take it seriously.
The interviewer seems frustrated that job seekers have more power than they used to.
We’ve been saying this for a while now, but the balance of power has shifted from employers to job seekers. People looking for work have more options, and employers are struggling to fill open roles. This means job seekers should be getting comfortable asking for better wages, better benefits, and better working conditions.
If an interviewer expresses frustration over this fact, then you might want to reconsider the position.
Think about it: If the company culture has little tolerance for empowered job seekers, you can guarantee they have little tolerance for empowered workers. Do you really want to work for a company that doesn’t value you? Of course not. And when you’re in a job seeker’s market, you don’t have to.
Further, this gives you some insight into how they might view raises, or time off, or disciplinary actions. If you have a family emergency, will they retaliate? If you ask for a raise, will they get frustrated with you? If you expect to be rewarded for putting in extra effort, will they find you annoying rather than helpful?
We know employers are frustrated with the current worker shortage. However, they should be responding by offering better pay and better benefits rather than feeling the need to punish people for expecting those things.
You should expect to be treated like a human being and not just a number. If your interviewer doesn’t understand this, then you can be reasonably confident that this is a problem with their workplace culture. You don’t want to become part of that culture.
The interviewer tries to strongarm you.
Note that if you’re in an interview scheduled through a staffing agency, you shouldn’t mention salary or benefits at all. These things are negotiated between the agency and your potential employer. If you want to negotiate, you have to talk to whomever is representing you.
That said, if you’re not working through a staffing agency, there’s a good chance that salary might come up in an interview. While we acknowledge that some negotiation needs to happen during the hiring process, the interview is a bad place for it. It’s perfectly acceptable to politely address it in the interview, but intimidation tactics or hardline negotiation during a job interview should be seen as huge red flags.
The worst thing an interviewer can do is give you a take-it-or-leave-it offer during the interview process. The interviewer should know this already, and so should you as an interviewee. If they try to force you into accepting an offer before you’ve had time to consider it, this means they’re trying to intimidate you.
This is usually a symptom of a greater problem. This workplace probably has a culture that tries to get as much as it possibly can out of its employees without feeling the need to take care of them or treat them like valuable members of the organization. You don’t want to work for this type of company, and you don’t have to.
People at the workplace seem genuinely unhappy.
If you go into an interview at the location where you’d be working, you can get a good feel for the “mood” of that workplace. Do people seem energized and happy to be where they are, or do you sense an overwhelming dread in the atmosphere? Is there a lot of friendly chatter, or is the workplace dead silent? Worse yet, did you witness heated workplace conflict while you were on campus?
While the interview is a chance for a potential employer to get a feel for candidates, it’s also an opportunity for the candidate to get a feel for the general mood of the environment. You should definitely take advantage of this.
If people seem miserable at the workplace, you can be sure that you’d be miserable there too.
The job interview is an opportunity for both parties – the candidate and the employer – to put their best foot forward. You’re expected to be punctual, orderly, polite, and amicable during the interview, and you’re well within your rights to expect the same from a potential employer.
If a company treats you poorly as a candidate, they’re going to treat you poorly as an employee. Bad behavior often starts as early as the interview. Don’t let yourself get caught in a bad situation; your time is far too valuable to spend it at a workplace that doesn’t treat you with basic human courtesy.