Danger signs when you’re interviewing for a job

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.

{ 11 comments… read them below }

  1. HR Wench*

    My FAVORITE thing is when I have a phone interview scheduled with a company for a certain day and time and no one calls. Then they call the next day and ask to reschedule. No thanks – I learned all I need to know about your HR dept already. :)

  2. Job Chick*

    I posted a long reply to this with a personal experience of mine. Long story short: do your research on salaries and if you’re low-balled with zero negotiation….alarm bells!

  3. DementedM*

    I think there’s a corollary to #5– the long term high performer employee who knows everything and holds everything together.

    It’s bad because you have big shoes to fill and may find people are not happy with the change.

    It always sucks to be the new person when the person before you was well liked and respected. You just won’t be good enough for several months until people get used to you.

    In my current job, I improved over and above what my predecessor (sp?) did, but the politics were horrid because I was new and didn’t grease the wheels exactly like the person before me. I’m lucky I didn’t get fired just due to perception issues, but I persevered and am now well respected. I’ve become the big shoes that someone else will have to fill someday.


  4. Darren*

    My last employer hired me over a year after my first interview. I knew that was a bad sign, but I really wanted the job. I learned my lesson about that place the hard way.

  5. Anonymous*

    Thank you for this. I've always believed that not getting back to a candidate was not only disrespectful but also very unprofessional and I've heard all the arguments and excuses about how busy most HR Depts. are that they just can't respond to everyone. My reply, hogwash. Emails are free and if you set them up right, it's takes about 30 secs. to send one off just to inform the person who is still waiting and waiting, where they stand in the process.

    1. Anonymous*

      I agree with all of this! Failure to notify a candidate is keenly unprofessional. If a manager or the HR department does not want to call, for obvious reasons, sending an e-mail is the obvious solution. Failure to do that is a bad sign about how the company does business.

  6. Anonymous*

    I had an interview, got to the office (same company, different location) and someone said the manager was in a meeting. Turns out she had forgotten and was in an entirely different office location. Had a phone interview a day later, and got the job. Seems like my phone interviews go much better than in-person!

  7. nyxalinth*

    Two more red flags:

    Yu get the job, but are told 'We'll have a start date for you next week' and next week drags out into six weeks…

    Combined with the person who hired you is fired a week after you start.

    I was there three weeks before being fired for no real reason (I did my job well, I didnt make trouble, etc. I think the dragged out start date was a clue I refused to heed.

  8. CC*

    This reminds me of the time I interviewed SEVERAL TIMES for a position at a tutoring center. They would set interview dates and I would drive to the opposite end of town to meet with them, and each time the interviewer would be late or would altogether cancel. Then they would call 2 months later saying I could come in for a second interview. I would hear nothing again for a couple of months, and then they would call about re-interviewing. Each time there were cancellations or tardiness on their part, and each time I would be out of gas and my time for nothing.

    I eventually stopped going. Who wants to work for someone who can’t even keep the interview appointments THEY set up? It made me wonder if they would be the same way about giving me clients and handing out my paychecks. Thanks but no thanks.

  9. Anonymous*

    A lot of these danger signs are what I would call industry standard, for most jobs in the US these days.

  10. rruff*

    I’ve heard them all I feel. You live to far away, we have “several” others to interview, you don’t have experience in xyz (although there was no mention of that in the want ad), interviewer had not seen my resume until I sat down in his/her office, we will let you know in a week (which never happens) and the list goes on.

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