Just as a hiring manager can never be completely sure what a candidate will be like once in the job, neither can job applicants be completely sure what a company or boss will be like to work for. But just like there are plenty of danger signs that hiring managers watch for, so too are there numerous red flags that job candidates should be paying attention to. Here are some danger signs when you’re applying for a job:
1. Flakiness. They say they’ll get back to you this week and you hear nothing. The job description seems to be a work in progress that keeps changing. You’re told you’ll be reporting to one person and later it changes to another. You arrive for your interview with Bob and learn that you’ll be meeting with Jane instead. Guess what it’s going to be like to work with these people?
That said, there can be legitimate, non-worrisome reasons for any of the above. But a non-flaky company will realize that these things can look flaky and will acknowledge it and explain what’s going on. It’s an absence of any awareness or concern about how this may be coming across that should alarm you, as it indicates it’s not anything out of the ordinary for this company.
2. Taking a long time to get back to you. This is alarmingly common, but I still think it’s a danger sign. You want to work somewhere that can move quickly and make decisions and respects people enough not to let them languish. Companies send a powerful message about their culture when they respond quickly at all stages or — when that’s not possible, which it’s sometimes not — let candidates know what their timeline is. And they send an equally powerful message when they don’t.
3. Not updating you when a timeline changes. Every job seeker knows how agonizing it is to be expecting to hear back by a certain date, only to have that date come and go with no word. You want to work in a culture where people do what they say they’re going to do, or update you accordingly. In the hiring process, this is about simple respect. And once you’re working there, it’s also about your ability to get things done.
4. High turnover in the position or department. Ask why the person in the job before you left. Ask how long she was there. Ask about the tenure of others in the department, including the manager. High turnover means one of two things: a willingness to replace poor performers (good) or lots of people running from a disaster (bad). Your job is to find out which one it is. You can be fairly direct about this. For instance, “It sounds like you’ve had some turnover recently. What’s been behind that?” No one will come out and say, “The manager is a nightmare to work for,” but you should be able to get some sense of what’s going on from the type of answer you get.
5. Zero turnover, ever. While it might sound nice not to have to worry about getting fired, you’ll know why this is a bad sign if you’ve ever had your quality of life destroyed or your effectiveness diminished by someone who the company obviously should have fired but who instead was allowed to fester. You want to work for a company that has standards, holds people accountable, addresses problems, and gets rid of people when needed.