was my job interview full of red flags – or is it just me?

A reader writes:

I’m wondering if a recent interview experience was normal or if I was right to run the other way.

After months of searching, I finally got an interview. It wasn’t my dream company or dream job, but it was in my field and a great way to get started in a new city. But early on, some things happened that made me hesitant. The scheduling of the interview involved two people who didn’t seem to be in communication with each other. Then, once I managed to track someone down, I never received written confirmation with the details of where to go and who to meet, despite being told that I would. Red flag #1.

The day of the interview I got lost in the impossibly complex office park and had to be given step by step instructions to the office. When I finally arrived, not one person knew to expect me and I was asked to wait until nearly 10 minutes after the interview was supposed to start. Once it got started, I was told the interviewers would be using a standard set of 10 questions for “fairness” to all candidates. I was slightly annoyed by this as the company had asked candidates to complete a five-page detailed application and here I sat being asked, “Tell us about your entire employment history to date.” While not terrible, it didn’t leave me feeling confident in my wanting to work for the company nor that they wanted me to work for them. My family and friends all told me this type of generic interview is common, but why ask me to complete such a time-intensive document if they were just going to have me repeat it all in the interview? I argued that it showed a disinterest in candidates and laziness. Flag #2.

To my surprise, the CEO of the company called the next day and offered me the job. I expressed gratitude and asked for the offer to be emailed over while I took a few days to consider. He asked why I would need time to consider and said in an agitated voice that he had other people waiting to hear back, that if I had come to the interview I must have wanted the job, and that he has never had someone need time to think. He also said he told me that he didn’t understand what I meant by “email me the offer.” Had I not read the job posting for details? Flag #3.

I was floored by how angry and aggressive he was in response to reasonable questions. I explained all I was asking was for the details of salary, benefits, official title, etc. I said him that I wouldn’t be asking for this info if I wasn’t seriously considering the job and that as it was a Thursday, I felt it wasn’t unreasonable to get back to him on Monday.

When I shared my experience with family and friends, including my hesitance to accept any offer from this company, I got mixed reactions. Some said I was being reasonable but others said this is normal for small companies without a formal HR department. I felt they were saying I was “supposed to” accept unprofessionalism and borderline abuse and that these were the sacrifices needed to get my foot in the door.

When the written offer finally came in, it was vastly under market value and said I would be obligated to work weekend hours, something that hadn’t been discussed. I politely declined and feel confident that I made the right choice. But I have some questions about this process and how to look for good companies in the future: Is this type of generic interview, where it appears no one has read your application, the new norm? Why do companies require such time intensive and elaborate applications if they aren’t even reading them? Is it okay for a job offer to be handled like this just because a company lacks an HR department? And do I really have to compromise my standards to get an opportunity in a competitive field?

There are some red flags here — but they’re on both sides!

To be fair, the biggest flag is coming from the employer. The CEO’s reaction to your questions about the job offer was bizarre. If he’s never had a candidate ask for time to think over an offer before, he hasn’t made many job offers … or he’s hiring only people without any other options. And if he assumes anyone who interviews will happily accept the job (at any salary offered, I suppose?), he has a fundamental misunderstanding of how this works. If he’s someone you’d be working with closely, or if he has a significant hand in the day-to-day culture of the organization, that alone should make you wary.

But most of the rest of this doesn’t really seem like cause for concern.

Slightly messy internal communications while scheduling an interview? Eh, happens with perfectly good companies. People are human, and sometimes they mess up. Having to wait 10 minutes before your interview starts? Completely within the normal realm of things to expect. An hour would be rude, but 10 minutes is not. And interviewers using a standard set of questions for all candidates isn’t uncommon.

“Tell us about your entire employment history to date” is not a great interview question. As you point out, the company has your résumé and a lengthy application, but on its own, it’s not something that should give you serious pause about the company. Many interviewers want to let candidates talk about their experience in their own words and hear what you emphasize and how you frame things.

The interviewers weren’t saying, “Recite exactly the same info that’s on your résumé.” They were (most likely) saying, “Walk us through your professional background and how your career has progressed.” And while they almost certainly did look at your résumé, that lengthy application you filled out is likely for legal purposes (you probably signed something at the end of it attesting that it was all true), rather than something each interviewer on the panel had reviewed.

Now, if no one knew to expect you when you arrived, that’s a problem. If it’s just that the person who greeted you was out of the loop, that’s not terribly alarming.

But if even the people who interviewed you weren’t expecting you, that’s a sign of real disorganization. If everything else seemed great, it might be a fluke — but when you pair it with other signs of dysfunction, it’s worrisome.

And yes, small organizations can sometimes be a bit chaotic because their staffs are often stretched thin, with each person juggling multiple responsibilities. Even so, not remembering a scheduled interview would be an unusual level of disorganization that you should factor in when considering whether you want to work there.

In sum, some of this is red flaggy, and some isn’t all that abnormal or alarming.

But you’re bringing some odd expectations to the process too. It sounds as though you were quick to bristle at things that are pretty typical parts of interviewing, like waiting 10 minutes or being asked a list of standard questions. That’s particularly surprising since you say this was your first interview after months of job searching! It’s not that you should accept poor treatment just because you don’t have lots of options, but it does sound as if you’re in a place where you need to be more tolerant of minor employer imperfections. (“Minor” meaning things like the late interview start, not the CEO demanding to know why you didn’t accept his offer on the spot.)

The reality is that job hunting is aggravating. The power dynamics mean your interviewers are able to get away with things you’d be judged for if you did them as a candidate, like being 10 minutes late. And because the people involved in hiring are human, you have to make room for human flaws, like delays in communication and interview questions that serve them while annoying you. You’ve got to be able to separate the minor irritating stuff from signs of real dysfunction. That’s not about “accepting unprofessionalism,” as you wrote, but accepting that the people hiring you are humans — and probably busy ones whose primary job isn’t hiring. (That’s especially true at small companies, as your friends and family pointed out.)

You should turn down jobs when someone you’d be working with is hostile or unreasonable or where the culture seems toxic. There are a lot of reasons why it made sense for you to turn down this company’s offer, including not only the CEO’s behavior but also the under-market salary.

You should do due diligence on anywhere you’re considering working: Interview the employer right back, talk to people who work there, pay attention to what the company shows you about itself, and keep an eye out for serious signs of toxicity.

But I do think you need to show a bit more grace and understanding than was in your letter — especially in a competitive field where you’re having trouble finding work.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 184 comments… read them below }

  1. CatCat*

    When the written offer finally came in, it was vastly under market value and said I would be obligated to work weekend hours, something that hadn’t been discussed.

    Well, no wonder the CEO wanted you to accept the offer of the job without knowing these details in advance. Yikes! O_O

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah, THAT (plus the ED’s tone, particularly if that person would be overseeing your work) is the part that’s the red flag, everything else was just … yellow flags, that could mean something or nothing.

      1. Emily K*

        Yeah, I think the difference here is:

        Yellow flag – this business may not be very well-run or applying best practices to everything they do

        Red flag – this business appears to be abusive or on the cusp of bankruptcy/layoffs

        If you have a lot of options you might pass on working for a “yellow flag company” – but for most of the rest of us, working for a company that isn’t living up to its full potential or excelling at everything they do is something we all probably have to be prepared to do. If we take a position there we can certainly try to improve things, and we might try to suss out in the interview how amenable to change the company seems to be or not be, but as long as they meet a baseline level of competency and financial solvency, well…most companies aren’t going to be perfect, and they still keep a staff employed because most of us need jobs enough to be willing to work for a C+ company, at least for a couple of years. You can always try to move on to an A company if the pay is good and reliable and the job isn’t stressing you into a hospital bed in the interim.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      Seriously, it sounds like he wanted to accept… without even knowing what they would be paying you? That is extremely bizarre!

      1. MassMatt*

        Especially as so many job postings use vague phrases about pay such as “competitive salary” or “commensurate with experience” while their actual offer stinks. Same thing with benefits.

        Springing crappy pay and hours on an applicant only after they request an actual offer stinks.

        OP I agree with Alison a few of these things (waiting 10 minutes for the interview, etc) are minor but put them all together with the major red flags and this is a bullet dodged!

        This employer probably has very unmotivated employees that don’t have other options and terrible turnover, and the owner probably wonders why.

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah, reluctance to provide a written offer is a HUGE red flag. One of my early jobs didn’t put an offer in writing – and then wouldn’t pay me. I worked there 3 months for about 30 hours a week and got a grand total of about $250.

  2. 1234*

    I wonder if the interview starting late (even by 10 mins), people not knowing that OP was arriving, etc. was compounded by the fact that she got lost in the office complex, never received written confirmation.

    If she had gotten written directions to their office, the scheduling of the actual interview was smooth, would she have been able to overlook the fact that it started late or that she was asked about her resume again?

    1. Never Been There, Never Done That*

      IMO the answer to your question is yes, she would’ve been able to overlook tardiness and the resume stuff. I’ve been on several hiring committees over the years and I know that (at least in my office) people are doing there usual job duties right up until about ten minutes before the interview, hence the tardiness. Also, we ask the same questions of every candidate to keep things fair and uniform. In a way it is showing fairness for each prospective employee, that they all get the same opportunity to showcase themselves. Now going over history in detail is weird (again in my office) but not asking about general work history. That’s actually an interesting potential tangent to see what the candidate focuses on and why.

      1. vlookup*

        Agreed that using the same set of questions for all candidates seems like a good thing, not a bad thing. I’ve seen it recommended as a way to reduce implicit bias in hiring, and in my experience it makes it easier to evaluate candidates if you’ve taken the time to develop a consistent, thoughtful set of questions.

    2. Parenthetically*

      Yep, this struck me too. It wasn’t just each individual thing, any of which on its own would just have been mildly irritating, it was everything taken together.

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      This is a good point. By themselves individually there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have really registered as anything other than a minor annoyance, but when you put them all together they added up.

    4. Meredith*

      Yeah, I once had a job interview where I got to the office and checked in with the receptionist with 10+ minutes to spare. The person covering the desk couldn’t get ahold of the person I was interviewing with, so I just sat in the foyer. The desk coverage person then left, and was replaced by the original receptionist. Time ticks by… it’s now 15+ minutes after what was supposed to be my interview time. I ask the receptionist and she calls around again. The hiring manager comes to get me, but gave me sort of a strange look and asked if I had trouble finding the place. No, no trouble. It occurred to me AFTER the interview that she just thought I was late. :/ I clarified what happened in a follow-up email. Anyway, that paired with the position sounding absolutely dreadful and the team not really knowing how certain pieces would fit made me decline the offer (which I really did get), at which point they told me I could counter if I didn’t find the original offer acceptable. OMG. No. It was just a series of weird events.

    5. Alli525*

      I think it’s super bizarre that she had to call and be verbally guided to the office, and STILL no one knew she was coming! I’m sure she was speaking to the hiring manager or HR person, and not the receptionist, but this tiny, hyper-specific lack of communication within the office would throw up some yellow flags for me as a microcosm of how the office operates generally.

  3. Jennifer*

    Girrrrrrrrrrrrrrlllllllll, I would run. You dodged a bullet. The CEO getting an attitude about your not immediately accepting the offer was the biggest red flag of all.

    1. The Original K.*

      Yep. When people want you to commit to something on the spot, it’s usually because they know the answer will be “no” if they guve you time to think.

      1. Antilles*

        Agreed, especially in light of the actual offer that was sent.
        Is he consciously and specifically planning a malicious plan to screw over candidates? “We like candidates to accept on the spot and be mentally committed, even submitting their resignation from their current jobs (if applicable), in order to ensure they’re in no position to negotiate hard on salary”. I don’t actually know if that’s a conscious plan or not…but it speaks volumes that the question needs to be asked.

        1. Kate*

          Totally agree. The other issues could be chalked up to a variety of circumstances… it’s possible a great company had some challenges with scheduling interviews – maybe someone who normally coordinated those details was out unexpectedly, etc.

          But flag #3…. YIKES. To me, it shows that the CEO does not understand general business norms. When making offers… I typically assume a person wants at least 24-48 hours to consider. This CEO has no patience or understanding.

          1. MassMatt*

            My guess is the boss is egotistical and out of touch, he thinks his company is the best, because after all ME, all evidence to the contrary.

        2. NW Mossy*

          I had that last one happen to me about 15 years ago, in an interesting mash-up of the issue from this letter (red flags) and another of today’s (poaching). The hiring manager/owner of the place I was interviewing knew the owner of my current employer, and cited that relationship when he insisted that I tell my current employer I was on the market before extending an offer.

          Despite being very young and naive in my career at the time, I could tell that would leave me in a terrible position if negotiations failed. I knew my then-current boss to be frequently unreasonable (thus the job hunting!), and declaring my intention to leave without a rock-solid offer just wasn’t something I was willing to risk.

          I told the hiring manager that I wasn’t comfortable with that risk, and he BLEW ME UP. Screaming, yelling, accusing me of insulting his integrity, citing his faith as a reason he’d never lie, the whole shebang. I don’t remember exactly what I said to extract myself from that conversation, but it was probably something to the effect of “yeah, I don’t think this is going to work out.” Walked away right then, ever grateful that I saw that red flag before I’d already committed.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            My rule of thumb is that people are usually on their best behavior during an interview. If this is his best, then bye-bye is the answer.

      2. Quill*

        It’s hard enough to get rid of a recruiter who wants you to commit on the spot, don’t stand for it when finding a job.

    2. JayNay*

      I soo agree! The CEO’s actions were especially odd, but it also really sticks out that communication within the company seemed to be poor. Like, the two people involved in the interview seem not to be exchanging info about something as straightforward as hiring someone – how does that work when multiple people are working on a project together? I think you were right to have a bad gut feeling about this.
      I once went through an interview process where the interview happened in the office kitchen, among other things …. I accepted the job, and guess what, the org and the team was just as disorganized as the hiring process suggested.
      What I learned was: Always take the hiring process at face value. They’re showing you how they work. If things feel off for you before you even start, run the other way.

  4. voyager1*

    AAM pretty much nailed it. Only small thing I would add is that the CEO is definitely getting people who have no other options. That would explain the annoyance at the delay in accepting from the LW AND low pay. Sounds like this worked out for the LW.

      1. Clorinda*

        I don’t know about that. Would you trust this same organization to provide a good reference when someone who’s rebuilding/just starting decides it’s time to move on in a couple of years? Someone who pulls a bait and switch with salary and hours is just as likely to try a little light sabotage to keep a good employee on board.

        1. Jennifer*

          Maybe/maybe not but if you have a spotty resume or don’t have great references from past employers and you need $$$, what are you gonna do?

          1. LawBee*

            I don’t agree. If you have a spotty resume or bad prior references, you probably shouldn’t take a job with this particular CEO even if you need the money. Clorinda nailed it – he got pissed she asked about salary and benefits (questions so normal as to be mundane), accused her of not reading the job ad, and the actual job offer wasn’t the same as what she had interviewed for. And again, he was ANGRY.

            This guy can not be trusted to give an objective reference when OP decided it was time for a new job. I know that job hunting is tough, but walking into a bad situation from the jump, with this major red flag and siren, would be a very poor decision. Source: me not taking jobs with terrible bosses when I was on unemployment because no one speaks to me like that. Which is to say, I have walked the walk of which I talk.

            1. boo bot*

              Yup. I mean, I’ve taken jobs that are obviously, objectively going to be terrible because I really needed the job – we all do what we have to. But the anger, especially at something so reasonable, is an enormous red flag by itself, and if I were going to walk into this hornets’ nest I wouldn’t want to plan on it being for the long term.

            2. Emily K*

              I think it makes a big difference whether the position was reporting to the CEO or not, and if not, what kind of read she got on the hiring manager. It’s possible for the CEO to be an unreasonable cow whose department heads and front-line managers are perfectly reasonable.

          2. Clorinda*

            Take a low-paying job with a company that is honest about the low pay from the jump, if you must. Don’t trust a liar!

            1. Emily K*

              Early in my career I took a job that was very challenging, at a small shop where I was covering several completely different areas of responsibility, and reported to a very Type A demanding executive. We were quite solvent but never had much budget to spare for things that would have made my work easier or helped me be more effective, and I was pretty much on my own to solve any problem that cropped up, with not much in the way of precedent or SOPs to guide me. And the pay was pretty low – it was pretty average if you considered I only had 1 year of previous experience, but very low relative to what you’d usually see for a job with those responsibilities.

              When I left I did the hiring for my replacement, and since the job was fundamentally unchanged from being a lot of responsibility for relatively low pay, I listed 2-3 years experience for the requirements section and described the job as an opportunity for someone early in their career looking to take a big step to the next level, and that because there weren’t a lot of precedents or SOPs and they’d be a department-of-one, they would have to work very hard and be a creative problem-solver/solution-finder, but in exchange they would have a tremendous amount of autonomy to make decisions at a higher level than would be typical for someone that early in their career and could leverage that experience to accelerate their career development. (Which is exactly what I had done.)

              There’s definitely a way to frame low-paying jobs as an opportunity for the right person, but you have to be realistic about who that makes the right person (e.g. someone with a lot less experience who will move on in 1-2 years) and what they can expect from the job (e.g. a lot of struggle but the opportunity for growth) instead of marketing it the same way you would if the job paid twice as much and pretending there’s no difference.

            2. Cedrus Libani*

              Yep. In my field, there’s a whole category of badly-paid jobs where it’s understood that the person is only there to build their resume and prove they’re capable of higher level work, and that in a year or two the person will be moving on. Ideally, the employer gets a motivated employee at well below market price, and the employee gets useful on-the-job training and a glowing reference. Everyone knows the deal. I went through this process myself.

              If this CEO does not understand basic social conventions like “I expect to be told how much a job pays before accepting it”, what is the probability that he understands “I will spend the majority of my time doing crappy jobs no one wants, while being paid roughly what I’d make working in fast food, and I’ll do it with a smile; you’re going to let me shadow the people doing the job I actually want, and when I apply for that job next year, you’re going to support me”.

              If you’re going to be paid in experience, make sure that “paycheck” doesn’t bounce…find a company where it’s intentional. They should happily tell you about the revolving door of people who held that job and have since moved on to bigger things. It’s part of your compensation.

        1. boo bot*

          Yup. You don’t have offer good jobs, they just have to be slightly less bad than not having a job at all. It’s a grim strategy, but it’s pretty popular.

      2. Aspie AF*

        Joining a toxic workplace when you’re desperate, or have no sense of what you should and shouldn’t have to put up, with doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.

          1. Hrovitnir*

            That wouldn’t make it a “good” job. A job where you’re barely going to be scraping by, making it harder to look for better work (or enjoy your life!) is not a “good” job. Imagining it was a healthy environment it wouldn’t be a bad job.

            But based on the CEO’s reaction what’s more likely is you’d be overworked, have a fair chance of not being able to rely on a good reference, and potentially be embroiled in toxic environment that is bad for your calibration in being a good employee (as well as your mental health and quality of life). If that were the case it’s so far from a good job that it’d only be worth it if the alternative really was quite literally starving.

            People who already have an employment gap are probably the most vulnerable to being screwed over by having their self-confidence bombed and a dubious reference.

            1. Jennifer*

              I realize that. All I’m saying is sometimes you do what you have to do to get by while still applying for other jobs. Not everyone is in a position to turn down an offer like this when they really need money coming in.

      3. Quill*

        No, probably not. The job I got just starting out with a pushy small company owner who wanted quick acceptances was a hellmouth full of biosamples and bizzare office politics such as screaming fights on a monthly to weekly basis.

        The bait and switch makes me think this wouldn’t be a good job for anyone, regardless of the impressiveness of the title or the “responsibilities” (which can become ‘make this thing happen for me, no one knows how to do it but I will yell at you if you get it wrong.’)

  5. Justme, The OG*

    Agree with Alison, #3 is a hugemongous red flag. Numbers 1 and 2 are yellow for me, but not disqualifiers.

  6. A Simple Narwhal*

    The demand for instant acceptance without seeing the offer and then the bait and switch of salary and weekend hours is enough to be a full color guard of red flags for me.

    The other things sound not fantastic, but the interaction with the CEO makes them irrelevant. I think you dodged a bullet by passing on this job.

    1. Never Been There, Never Done That*

      Yeah the CEO’s hard sell behavior is downright creepy. I would NEVER trust a guy like that.

    2. Minocho*

      My first job moving to a new city was something like this – the owner expected a nearly feudal level of loyalty – he would even demand car washes on the weekend from his least assertive employees. The anger, cajoling and intimidation tactics used on me when I gave my two weeks notice would have been amusing if they hadn’t been so insulting (they became amusing later).

      For me, one of the best moments ever was when, in my current job, I got a membership at a local gym (expensive, but so convenient it seems worth the price), and he was also a member. The disgust on his face at belonging to the same club as a former employee was delicious. Especially as I simply thanked him for the opportunity to come to this city where I have found so much more opportunity for success. It still makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside to remember that moment.

      1. Donkey Hotey*

        I simply thanked him for the opportunity to come to this city where I have found so much more opportunity for success.

        Oh, that’s delicious. Ranks up there with Julie Andrews’ acceptance speech.
        (Recap, as it was 50+ years ago: She’d been turned down for My Fair Lady and instead landed the role of Mary Poppins. She won an Oscar for Mary Poppins and, during her acceptance speech, she thanked a man by name – the man who had turned her down for My Fair Lady.)

          1. zora*

            Oh and it’s so much better, because My Fair Lady was the same year, and Audrey Hepburn didn’t even get a nomination. And all the My Fair Lady producers were right there in the audience.

    3. TurquoiseCow*

      Yeah, plus the fact that he called the next day to offer the job, which means that either there were no other applicants, or OP vastly outshined them. Either way, it doesn’t seem like they spent a lot of time thinking things over, so of course they wouldn’t expect for OP to think over the offer. Does this mean they make bad hiring decisions, and if so, would OP have to work with those bad hiring decisions? Does he make other big decisions impulsively?

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Eh, I had a good job where they offered right after the interview. Just a phone screen, even! But it was a 3-month temp position that ended up extended for a year and a half.

  7. JM in England*

    OP, I have been in your situation before but have withdrawn from the hiring process before an offer was made. In the worst instance of this, my Red Flags were:-

    1. Having to park on the street outside of the company building despite being told there was ample visitor parking.
    2. Being kept waiting for 45 mins past my interview time without apology nor explanation.
    3. General rudeness from the interviewers and a generally dismissive attitude towards my answers.
    4. The general negative vibe from the place and the people.

    I listened to my gut and phoned the (external) recruiter immediately afterwards to withdraw my candidacy, even though I was unemployed and desperate at the time! Thankfully, I had plenty of other irons in the fire back then…..

    1. many bells down*

      I had an interview once where I arrived 10 minutes before the interview time I was given only to be told my interviewer had just gone to lunch and would be back in an hour. Noped right out of there!

    2. MK*

      Points 2-4 are red flags and you were right to withdraw. Being told that there is ample visitor parking does sometimes mean “you won’t have trouble finding a space in front or near the building and/or there are no parking meters so it’s free”; it was probably a miscommunication, not a red flag.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I had an interview where I was assured there was a parking lot. There was. Behind a locked gate that did not have a guard or a callbox–this was before most people had cell phones–so I had no way to reach the person I was supposed to contact to let them know I needed to be let in. I had specifically been told not to park on the street to keep the lane clear for the trucks driven by a neighboring business, but that didn’t matter because I couldn’t get the the front door without getting in the gate first.

      I finally slipped in behind another car. The interviewer asked why I was late and, yes, I reminded her that I had not been told about the employee-only gate access. She didn’t say anything but the look on her face made it pretty clear who had messed up.

  8. Jellyfish*

    I’ve worked at decent companies that, for whatever reason, struggle to handle interviews well. Those weren’t really a reflection on the company or the job – just someone being absentminded about how confusing the parking situation might be for a newcomer, or intending to tell the receptionist to expect someone and getting distracted on the way. Most departments didn’t hire often enough to get particularly good at it.

    The belligerent CEO is a huge red flag, but the rest of it? Eh. In a different situation where everything else seemed to indicate a good fit, those could be overlooked IMO. The redundancy of retelling your work history in multiple forms can be incredibly irritating to the applicant, but it seems like that’s how many companies think they’re supposed to handle things.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      To make some excuses for disorganized interviewing, those of us who don’t do it often, who are small and have limited turnover get rusty AF. I have had to come up with better skills at scheduling because I realized how hard it is to do, especially when it’s only done once every 6+ months! I’ve quoted the wrong day, I’ve sent an invite for an interview that was tagged for 2am instead of 2pm. Urgh. I always apologize and tell them that this is not how we usually are but given the limited hiring we do, I fail a bit at the juggling parts at times. Thankfully everyone has been really kind about it and understanding [which of course they are, most people don’t come unplugged at someone who they’re trying to get to hire them and I accept that their kindness is mostly out of that and not because they aren’t still annoyed by my perceived incompetence!]

      1. Dana B.S.*

        Yep. I’m sure our receptionist has said, “Oh you’re here for an interview…” without knowing at all who would be interviewing to almost every applicant this year. We just don’t do it enough and forget to loop her in. I actually forgot about an interview that I was conducting because of a major issue that came up that day – it worked out though.

        Poor interview organization may be a good sign – our turnover is low! Rudeness is still not a good sign regardless though.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah, I have made frigging notes for myself to let our front desk know! They’re never rude to the person but we have a secured entrance so they’ll call me all “Are you expecting someone because they’re outside right now, can I let them in or what?”

          Thankfully I’ve gotten with it enough to give instructions to people about things like the buzzer itself but the notice going to the front desk not always happening since I have to do it the day of and sometimes I have only an hour or so in the morning before an interview to give them the heads up.

          The only reason I remember to tell people about the buzzer/entrance and weird spot we’re in is because I remember my interview and those things weren’t told to me so I had a bit of a “WTF WHYYYYY WHAAAAAT IS HAPPENING” internal moment.

          1. londonedit*

            I don’t do interviewing but our reception desk seems to have a problem with my phone extension – for some reason it’s dropped off their master list or something. So unless it’s the regular receptionist, anyone who comes in to meet me gets a confused ‘What was the name again? There isn’t anyone by that name here…which department is it?’ response, which isn’t exactly great, and people are kept waiting while the receptionist tries to figure out who the heck I am. Usually, I remember to drop the front desk an email if I have someone visiting, but if I’m really busy then it does slip my mind. So I can totally see how someone might arrive for an interview and get a confused response from reception.

    2. Cats and dogs*

      I agree with Jellyfish. OP: interviews are not always perfect so if #2 throws you for a loop your expectations may be too high.

  9. Run Away*

    Not one remotely positive thing was mentioned and only very unprofessional and disrespectful behavior has been demonstrated by this company. If that wasn’t enough, they made you an offer that’s unacceptable in every capacity. Why even consider this job at all? Better to have your time free to keep looking and have the flexibility to schedule interviews and make real networking connections.

    1. Heidi*

      Agree that OP did the right thing by passing on this job, but I guess the reasons to even consider it are: 1) the job is in the field OP wants to be in, which is reportedly competitive; and 2) they were willing to interview the OP “after months of searching” with no luck. Maybe this is like “The Devil Wears Prada” where the job is awful, but it’s a legitimate path to better things. I admit I have only seen this movie in small snippets while channel surfing, so forgive me if I totally got this wrong.

  10. halfwolf*

    i definitely agree that most of these are minor irritations that in a different context would be signs of human error rather than a huge red flag. but i also thought it was a red flag (in this context, maybe not in others) that the OP got an offer after only one interview the day after said interview. i can definitely see how, in a small company, a candidate could meet with all potential stakeholders in one meeting, but with everything else in the context of this letter, and (i’m assuming) not enough time for them to have checked OP’s references, that also seems like a bad sign to me. does anyone else agree/disagree/have other thoughts about that aspect?

    1. ThatGirl*

      I tend to agree that a quick job offer is a bit of a red flag, but especially when paired with the demand to get an answer right away without any further information.

      And I mean – I always ask for formal written offer/benefits info/etc but am I reading it correctly, that the CEO didn’t even tell OP the salary over the phone? Because why on earth would I say yes to a job you haven’t given me even the most basic pay info about?

    2. ZS*

      It’s not *unheard* of to receive a job offer the day after an interview. For my current job, they called to offer the position about 18 hours later, contingent upon background and reference check. Just depends on the procedures of that office.

      In this instance though, they definitely just wanted to get someone in the door ASAP.

      1. many bells down*

        My husband’s current job interviewed him Friday, said they’d get back to him by Monday, and then called an hour later with an offer. He has a ton of the exact experience they needed and they made him an excellent offer. So that’s not always bad!

        1. halfwolf*

          yeah, i think that in a better context a quick offer isn’t necessarily a red flag (especially one that is contingent upon reference checks, which, in my personal opinion, isn’t really an offer at all – but i digress). but i was a little surprised no one else had brought it up with this letter, so i wanted to see how other people felt about it.

        2. J*

          This! We interviewed a candidate and found she was already familiar with many of the systems we utilize daily. In addition to her knowledge of the field, we couldn’t offer the job to her fast enough!

      2. EddieSherbert*

        I received the job offer for my current job about 6 hours after the interview, and that’s turned out great so far (and I’ve been here for 5 years!).

    3. many bells down*

      I got an offer once the day after a not-interview! They’d asked me to come down to the office and “shadow” someone for half an hour to see if I was interested, but they never actually asked me a single question. Not even a phone interview. It went: applied>shadowing>offer. That seemed like a huge red flag to me. Later I learned the supervisor in charge of hiring had been watching us on the facility cameras. Yikes.

    4. Oh No She Di'int*

      Yes, I was waiting for OP to mention that and was surprised that they didn’t. Ultra-quick offers are often (not always but often) something to be wary of. It usually means they just desperately want a butt in that seat and couldn’t care less who it is. That is not a well run company.

    5. Trout 'Waver*

      It’s pretty common where I work for the managers to sit down after the last interview and decide who to hire at that point. So if the last person to interview gets an offer, it might come the same day they interviewed. It’s tough getting us all together, so we might as well take care of that piece of business while we’re all together for the final interview.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah I actually had forgotten but when I interviewed for my last job it was basically that fast. It was crazy because I’d been looking for so long and then this whirlwind thing happened. I had a phone interview first and then came for an in person interview the next week. Basically at the end of my interview they told me they were probably going to hire me but I should expect a call from someone that night. I thought the call was going to be a final interview but it was actually from HR asking what salary I would be looking for.

        I think they had been trying to fill the position for a while, and I was entry level right out of grad school so there wasn’t too much to dig into I guess.

    6. londonedit*

      I once got a job offer about two hours after my interview. It was a really small company and the owner/boss conducted interviews himself, along with the most senior editor, and if the owner liked someone and thought they’d fit in, he’d just offer them the job. There were things about that company that weren’t great, in hindsight, but the owner’s hiring methods weren’t a red flag in themselves. He just couldn’t see the point in hanging around if he found someone he wanted to hire.

  11. Sales Geek*

    The waiting part is sometimes part of the process…one of my coworkers was in the Navy before joining the company we both worked for. He was scheduled to interview with (Admiral) Hyman Rickover for a job in the Navy’s nuclear submarine program. After arriving, he was seated in a short hallway that served as the entrance to Admiral Rickover’s office. There was a chair, a small table, some books and a few newspapers in this hallway. My coworker waited literally all day in this hallway and then was told that the Admiral had to attend another meeting.

    When asked about when he would get to reschedule his interview, the admiral’s secretary told him that the wait was the interview. He was being watched to see what happened when confronted with endless boredom (did he sit still, did he pick up something to read etc.).

    That said, I think that on the whole the OP dodged a bullet.

    That said,

    1. Alianora*

      That doesn’t sound like it would give you a whole lot of information, certainly not enough to hire someone. Which was even considered good? Are the books better than the newspaper? Is sitting still better than doing something on your phone?

      1. Ama*

        I also need more info! Did he get offered the job? Did he take it? Also, if he was already in the navy, did he at least get paid for the day he spent waiting? Because that would make it marginally less aggravating! Also, did they have other candidates? Did they have to spend days ignoring person after person to see who reacted best to being ignored? I have so many questions!

      2. Antilles*

        In this specific case, I could maybe see an argument for that as a semi-reasonable test. Not as the only interview, but as a little judge of “how do you handle boredom”? Submarines spend weeks and months on patrol, so if you can’t manage to entertain yourself and stay focused for a couple hours in a lobby, there’s a fair argument that you might struggle when you’re actually out to sea.
        …Of course, by all accounts, Rickover was an incredible jerk, legendary pain-in-the-blank, and very petty, so YMMV.

      3. Sales Geek*

        You’re close here…passing Rickover’s “tests” (Google “Rickover employment tests” for a sample) got you in the door but not necessarily the job. It was more like Antilles’ comment below; a test to see how you handled boredom since that’s 99% of life below the waves. I think the real answer went to the grave with Rickover.

        And to answer Ama’s question, he was in the Navy at the time so he was paid. I know that he didn’t end up in the sub program but can’t remember why. He was in the Navy long enough to draw a 2nd pension after he retired from our mutual employer so I know he didn’t just quit after that.

        The Navy’s nuclear sub program is notoriously difficult to get into. He may have decided against it because of the months-long missions. Or, like me, it could be he was color blind. When I was young and really seriously unemployed I tried to get into the nuclear sub program. The recruiter really wanted me but I flunked the physical due to being color blind; something I didn’t know until the Navy physical when I was 26. They would have given me *anything* but nuclear sub work or flying any kind of aircraft (bad depth perception and super nearsightedness).

        And to bring this around to being a jerk (like the CEO in the OP’s question); Rickover was a notorious jerk but he ran a first-class program with a safety record that was the envy of navies around the world. The problem I saw in the post was that the CEO was a jerk but didn’t seem to have any higher good in mind. Sometimes a jerk is just a jerk…

        1. pentamom*

          Also in the Nuke program, you don’t just have to handle being bored, you have to remain completely attentive while being bored. Because, you know, those little indicator lights are there for a reason. So I can actually see this as a legitimate screening test — what do people do when bored? Check out? Or find a way to engage with what limited stimuli offer themselves? Or just climb the walls (in which case he didn’t belong anywhere on a sub, Nuke or not.)

    2. Robbenmel*

      Wait, did he pass the “interview” (though it was really more of a test, wasn’t it?) Did he fidget? Did he read? Did he get whatever he needed/wanted from Admiral Rickover? I need to know!

    3. Veryanon*

      Nope. If I had agreed to meet with someone and they left me just sitting there, that’s rude. I would have left after about 30 minutes. That says to me that the interviewer doesn’t consider my time to be valuable.

      1. Western Rover*

        Or the psych test in “Farmer In The Sky”. (Not only is the psychiatrist apparently absent, but the office admin is reading through the subject’s file and seemingly getting a lot of mean spirited pleasure from it.)

      2. Arts Akimbo*

        I totally thought of that Men In Black scene, too! :D

        You’re Stepping On My Cloak And Dagger, a war memoir by Roger Hall, talked of his psych test for getting into the OSS program. The recruits were taken in one by one and told to built some kind of elaborate structure out of tinker toys. I think there was a time limit involved. They were given a couple of assistants to help.

        After one of his “assistants” kicked the structure over, and the other one fell through it, he got the point and spent the rest of the hour trying to interest them in a black market whisky-buying scheme he dreamed up on the spot.

    4. SarahTheEntwife*

      That seems like such a weird test for this position. I’m sure having to deal well with boredom is a huge part of serving on a submarine, but I would think you would also want to test for “dealing proactively for situations that seem worryingly off rather than sitting there like a lump”. Granted, here there was neither potential danger nor a chain of command to bring the concern to, but I am really unnerved to learn that the people in charge of nuclear submarines are also fond of weird mind games. 0.o

      1. pentamom*

        It’s more about “keeping your mind in the present regardless of the present not being very interesting.” You actually have to monitor those nuclear controls and indicators to make sure everything is all right.

  12. Elizabeth West*

    Ten minutes late? Meh. It happens if people have a lot going on that day. Not knowing you were coming? Not great. Requiring weekend hours that weren’t in the job posting or mentioned in the interview? Run like the wind.

    I don’t know what level this job was, but I usually ask in the interview about hours, shifts, etc. Regardless, with the CEO’s attitude and the bait-and-switch stank all over the offer, I think the OP was right to decline.

    1. EPLawyer*

      The tiny yellow flags of not clearly communicating the interview time and place, then no one knowing she was arriving morphed into GIANT RED FLAGS when the CEO demanded she accept on the spot. Taken together this is a huge sign of dysfunction. They aren’t organized in their hiring process because the office isn’t looking for the best fit, they are looking for someone who will accept on the spot before finding out the low pay and weekend hours. If you hate working because you got bait and switched but can’t leave without looking like a job hopper, are you really going to care if the new interviewee has to wait, or gets lost trying to find you, or doesn’t even know the day of the interview.

      There are human mistakes, then there is chaos caused by low morale. This is the latter, I will bet.

    2. Batgirl*

      I think the lead-up stuff sounds like yellow flag, possibly nothing on paper…but I think we have to consider OP might have truly excellent spidey senses because the CEO more than proved her misgivings to be correct.

  13. WellRed*

    personally I think the detailed 5-page application was the first red flag. Also, your friends and family are obviously not well versed in what constitutes normal interviewing and hiring processes. Don’t engage with them on it.

    1. DCompliance*

      Without knowing what is on the application, I think more and more job seekers are getting frustrated with this when many times you have to complete this when you already completed something similar when you actually applied. It just seems tedious in a digital age. I can see it as a red flag at times and scenarios when it would not be. Ultimately, just frustrating when you just want to say “Look at my resume”, when you can’t.

      1. banzo_bean*

        I guess the issue is that the people interviewing you and the person who pre-screened your application/resume aren’t always the same person. In an ideal world everyone who participated in the hiring process would have time to screen/review candidates but that’s often not how it works. As someone who is going through the process of applying to jobs now, so much of preparation is figuring out how to pitch and sell yourself- this question should come easy to you.

        Additionally, I include “tell me about yourself/your career” on the interview questions that I would write up because it felt like a good “ice breaker” that the candidate should have prepared for. It gives them an opportunity to describe themselves, in their own words, and gives us a chance to start building a rapport with the candidate.

        1. DCompliance*

          I definitely agree that the question is reasonable and to be expected during the interview. I just think the repeating application part feels tedious. But I cannot say that isn’t always warranted.

      2. nonymous*

        In the 3-ring circus that is federal employment you will have HR that won’t look at the SME responses, a SME that won’t have access to the CV and neither of whom are the direct supervisor. Very common to have to repeat yourself, even within the same step of the application.

  14. Qwerty*

    Calling this “borderline abuse” is an overreach. One conversation with an angry person rarely qualifies as abuse and in the scope of your other complaints I’m skeptical that this reached that rare level. Escalating descriptions of an unpleasant situation only waters down those words when people use them in actual extreme situations.

    To be clear, I’m not condoning that conversation – the CEO did not behave professionally and his expectations were out of line. The usual reaction to a candidate wanting time to accept is to negotiate a response date, which may include the offer-maker stressing the need for a speedy response if you make your decision before the deadline.

    1. MK*

      I agree. This company sounds a mess and I think the OP was right to decline the offer, but it’s more a case of some slightly off-white flags, plus a real red flag in the CEO’s attitude. Unless that was a lot worse than the OP has indicated, this isn’t in the same galaxy as abuse.

    2. Jennifer*

      I really dislike it when people do that, same with bullying and sexual harassment because it waters down real claims of abuse. It definitely doesn’t bode well for how a new employee there might be treated, but it’s not enough to say he’s an abusive boss.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I do agree that I don’t like miss use of words especially for very serious situations. However, respectfully, I don’t think we want to say that abuse has to happen more than once to be considered real abuse. This could inadvertently encourage people to stay in situations when their gut feeling says, “Leave. NOW.”, simply because they think they have to have more instances of bad behavior.
        I am not sure what the answers are here, though.

  15. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I’m in corporate staffing, and EXPECT candidates to ask for a day or two to reflect on an offer, even if it outlines everything we’ve already agreed to or discussed – which should always be the case, anyway. However, I’ve found that a lot of hiring managers can take this request very personally. Anything less than a ‘Yes!’ while doing cartwheels surprises them, and I have to explain why their expectations are not realistic.

    I think the CEO in this case made it plain the OP’s request was VERY personal when it shouldn’t be. I also think he was hoping the OP would take the role without asking relevant questions he didn’t want to answer. Bad situation dodged, OP.

    1. Minocho*

      I turned down an offer and the hiring manager’s manager called me to ask why. I explained that the job described in the third interview didn’t match the job description or the information in the first two interviews, and I didn’t think I would do a good job at the real job. He said they changed the description because they weren’t getting applicants to the honest job description.

      During the same job search, another company’s CEO made an offer, and I’d been very up front with the recruiter after the initial interview that I wasn’t interested. The recruiter reported that he was very insulted by this. The funny thing is, the recruiter (outside recruiter I’d used before) asked me to go to the initial interview to see if I could figure out what they actually wanted for the position. It was an IT position, but the CEO wouldn’t let the recruiter talk to the hiring manager, he insisted on being the go between. The answers the recruiter was getting to their questions were contradictory, so as an IT person with a few rudimentary people skills, she asked if I’d be willing to go, with the understanding that they still weren’t sure enough about what the position was to know if it would be a good fit for me.

      This guy didn’t know what he wanted, but he knew that everyone should want what was on offer, whatever it was. when I asked what the expectations were, I was told they were to get everything done that came up. When I asked what a typical day would look like in the position, I was told there was no such thing as a typical day. when I asked about tools, environment, plans or projects, it was all very much “We’ll do whatever needs to be done as it comes up! It’s a fast paced and super awesome environment,” kinda stuff. I left the interview and told the recruiter he didn’t know what he wanted, he wanted a magical unicorn IT person, and I was not interested in trying to make that work. The recruiter thanked me and we moved on. But man, was that CEO upset when she explained I was uninterested in the position because he couldn’t define what it was.

  16. Oh No She Di'int*

    others said this is normal for small companies without a formal HR department.

    No. No it is not. Speaking as the owner of a small company without a formal HR department, it is not normal to aggressively pressure a candidate to make a decision on a job offer with no information about the job one day after the interview. This is a sign of a desperate and/or unprofessional company.

    Now, the disorganization around the interview start time… eh, that happens. But the rest of it, no. Just no.

    1. irene adler*

      Thank you. I work at a small company where there is no HR dept or person. And we manage to present offers such that the candidate can take their time to evaluate the offer.

      1. Aurion*

        Exactly. I work for a small employer, whom I’m also pretty sure called me next-day after my interview with the offer. I said I want a written offer first (“in case anything changes”) and while the owner said “oh, there won’t be any changes or last minute budget issues, I run the place” she was happy to send me an offer letter in writing. Also happy to resend said letter when she accidentally saved it in some Mac-only file format that my Windows computer couldn’t load. (A friend of mine offered to open it, re-save to PDF, and then send it to me, but I said that won’t be necessary–this was an eminently reasonable request.) And said owner was happy to answer questions after I read through every last line of their employee handbook and raised a few questions.

        I heard later that I was one of the very few (or was it the only one? I can’t remember) who had gone through the employee handbook that carefully prior to hiring. She said it spoke well to my attention to detail. (I resisted pointing out a few typos I had spotted though; that would’ve been overkill.)

        No workplace is perfect, but bonkers hiring practices are not a granite-set price of admission to small businesses.

  17. Veryanon*

    I’m kind of on Team Candidate here. If I had just finished filling out a five-age application and then was asked “tell me about your entire work history to date,” I’d wonder as well if the interviewers had read any of my application materials. A better way to phrase this would have been something like “Tell me a little about your history and how you ended up in llama herding.”
    As someone who tries to be very respectful of others’ time, it would bother me to be kept waiting more than a few minutes, and it would also bother me if it seemed as chaotic as the LW describes. Maybe not a dealbreaker for some, but it would definitely give me pause.

    1. Zennish*

      So, as someone who interviews and hires at least a couple times a year, here’s my thought… if an interviewee is going to be put off by standard (if not super-useful) interview questions, or concerned about my exact wording of them, or not understand that their interview isn’t my only priority that day… then my assumption is that they have little ability to “roll with” fairly minor and commonplace annoyances and setbacks. I’d be glad that a possibly high maintenance candidate took themselves out of the running.

      Having said that, the CEO was definitely overly aggressive, rude and obviously trying to pull a high pressure bait and switch, and I would have run screaming.

    2. LawBee*

      I suspect that wasn’t the exact phrasing, but even if it was, the interviewee doesn’t have to recap her entire work history. It’s basically the same question as “so, tell me about yourself”.

    3. Old Cynic*

      Yeah, it might be better to phrase it that way. But I also think that the 5-page application was to provide details and duties/responsibilities. The question in the interview is to provide accomplishments. An astute candidate should know the difference.

    4. Arctic*

      They can’t change the question even to the point of “how you ended up at”. It’s standardized questioning.

      And it may not be a great question but it is an opportunity to point out some soft skills picked up that don’t really fit on a resume and would make the cover letter too long.

      “Llama grooming really helped improve my patience and ability to dodge spit.”

      1. Thatoneoverthere*

        Also do they really want to hear about my shitty post college job, where I stayed 6 months and was underpaid? Also that was almost 15 years ago? lol.

        Once in college (like my senior year so I was 22), I applied for a job at a pizza shop. They knew I was senior in college, and I think I even mentioned my age at one point. They asked me all about high school, what was my GPA, what was involved in. I finally said… you do know I am senior in College right? I have had many successes in college you haven’t even asked about. I think I actually got up and left out of the interview. Maybe not my finest moment, but I think I dodged a bullet.

    5. Samwise*

      And they may very well have asked some version of that question.
      At my current workplace (large state university), every application requires filling out a very long and tedious job history form. I’ve filled out a similar form at many employers. This form is not the same as a resume, nor do I presume anyone on the hiring committee has read it. When I’ve chaired a search, *I* don’t look at it. I look at the resume. That application work history is legal ass-covering; HR deals with it when we get to the background check stage.

      I almost always ask some version of that question. I want to know how the candidate sees their professional career, how they present themselves, what they think is important, can they be reasonably succinct about it. It tells me something about how the candidate sees themself and how the job in question fits in with that.

      I don’t know if OP is new to working as a professional, that’s what it sounded like to me. So perhaps OP *heard* the question as, tell me your whole work history, when in fact that’s not really what the interviewed asked for. And if an interviewer did ask for my whole history, I’d advise interviewees to answer with a boiled down version, one that creates a narrative that lands the interviewee right here in this room talking about this job. If they want all the details, they’ll ask.

    6. hbc*

      I don’t ask this exact question, but I find getting the narrative version of the resume very useful. Candidates tend to talk about their reasons for transitions and will often describe old jobs in a completely different way than I would have understood it from four bullet points.

    7. Salyan*

      Yeah, I would take that very literally and wonder how much time they wanted me to spend on explaining my teenage paper delivery gig or college page work.

    8. londonedit*

      It’s been standard in pretty much all the interviews I’ve had. Not the ‘exact-same-10-questions-for-everyone’ thing, but the first thing interviewers do is usually ask me to briefly talk them through my employment history and how I’ve ended up where I am. Yes, even though they have a copy of my CV in front of them. I find it odd that people are apparently offended or put off by this! It doesn’t come across as ‘I haven’t read any of this so you’ll have to tell me again’, it’s more ‘So I see here that you started off at Llama Publishing Group; can you tell me a bit about that and how you moved on from there?’ Then I give a quick run-through of my career history, and then the interviewer goes back and asks in more detail about anything they find particularly interesting or anything they want more information on. Like ‘And how did you find the transition from working on books about llamas to working on books about otters? We do a lot of otter books here; is that something you’re interested in continuing?’ Also, it’s only relevant job history that they’re interested in – I don’t have my uni summer jobs on my CV, just the industry-relevant stuff since I graduated.

  18. CommanderBanana*

    You did the right thing by declining the offer. The CEO demanding you accept an offer without knowing any of the details is a red flag sale at Shady Bob’s Red Flag Emporium.

    1. Camellia*

      “red flag sale at Shady Bob’s Red Flag Emporium” This made me snort-laugh. I needed that; it’s been a rough day.

  19. Autumnheart*

    And why on earth would the CEO be calling to hard-sell an entry-level candidate into taking a job? Maybe I’m used to large corporations, but I can’t think of any CEO who has time for such things.

  20. Phony Genius*

    The list of questions is similar to the government job interview process. There’s nothing wrong with that – IF they’re good questions. (There’s no information here about the other 9 questions.)

    If the CEO became agitated talking to you before you accepted the job, that bridge is already on fire. You’d be working for somebody who already found a reason to get mad at you, and it was a lousy reason. Pass.

  21. Rainbow Roses*

    Interviews goes both ways. It’s not just employers interviewing candidates. Candidates are also interviewing them.
    I don’t have a problem with fixed a set of questions. However, the CEO’s attitude would make me run too unless I’m really disparate for money to hold me over while I continue to interview at other places!

      1. All the Qs*

        I once interviewed for a government job and they flat out told me the same thing. “We ask everyone the same questions so that we can evaluate them fairly.”

        1. Samwise*

          We are required to do exactly this at Large State U. However, we can ask follow up and clarifying questions as we go along. Some of my colleagues freak out when I do that (because I didn’t ask all the candidates the same follow up and clarifying questions — insert eye roll emoji), but I’m hard to stop and more important, my boss is glad I do it.

        2. De Minimis*

          This is very common at government jobs, though some places I’ve seen the questions just used as a general jumping off point for conversation.

          The worst ones have been where you answer the questions, and there’s no reaction other than to write down your answers. I’ve seen that a few times, once it was just for an initial screening and the “real” interview came later and was more conventional. One other time they made it clear that they only were there to take down my answers and would not be able to respond in any other way. That one was odd too in that they tape recorded my answers.

  22. Jaybeetee*

    Yeah, the first few things sound a bit disorganized, but not too out of line, especially at a larger company. The interview questions sound irritating, but also par for the course.

    The CEO wanting an immediate decision, trying to pressure you into one, then finally emailing a crappy offer? NOPE nope nopity nope. That’s sketchy as hell and you did the right thing declining. Be grateful he let you know what he was about before you got locked in.

  23. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Alison’s advice is exactly my reaction after reading the letter.

    The CEO is awful. But the kinks in your process leading to and through the interview are minor hiccups.

    As a small business person the CEO is batty AF and has BS expectations. It’s typically a normal 48hr decision time for about any position.

  24. Trout 'Waver*

    Alison, making the interviewee, or any other appointment, wait for 10 minutes beyond the start time is rude. The power imbalance makes it more rude, not less rude or not rude at all, as you indicate.

    If it’s a case of an executive whose time is more valuable than a junior employee, that’s different because the junior employee is being paid, in part, to assist the executive. That’s not the case with a job interview.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I agree that there’s no acceptable time to have someone wait. That and if it does happen, which okay things happen, there needs to be apologizes given to the person who was sitting for an awkward 10 minutes. That’s a long time sitting, in a strange lobby/room and shuffling around, when you’re already nervous due to the circumstances.

      I flinched because it’s never acceptable for an interviewee to be 10 minutes late, so why would it be okay for the interviewer? It goes along with the old long AF waits in doctors offices. They would cancel your appointment if you’re not within their window but then you sit in that room for 15-45 minutes at times. Yuck, as if you didn’t already have the upper hand, that ups it even more so.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It’s by canceling the tardy people’s appointments that they “catch-up” to their schedule by the end of the day. lol.
        I remember my grandmother sitting for 6 to 8 hours waiting to see the doc. Her daughters were disgusted. She was in total pain while she waited.
        If I have to wait more than a half hour, I leave.
        My friend just had an ER experience where she waited almost 9 hours for someone to see her. To help make the time go by her family kept track of the number of people they saw just walking out without care.

    2. LawBee*

      But it happens! It’s rude but it happens. This particular company I’m less inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to, based on the CEO’s behavior, but sometimes you just can’t get away. People are people etc., and if that were the ONLY red flag on this interview, it wouldn’t be the deciding factor of whether or not I accepted.

    3. Samwise*

      Sure, it’s rude, but it’s a fairly minor rudeness. Also, things happen. If no one apologizes, that’s a more useful piece of information.

    4. Jennifer*

      I don’t think waiting 10 minutes is that big of a deal. What if they felt ill and had to stop in the bathroom? What if a meeting ran long? What if they had a doctor’s appointment that morning that ran long and threw off their schedule for the day? 10 minutes isn’t long enough to raise a red flag. We talked about this in one of the letters last week when an interviewer ate during a Skype interview. Interviewers get to do things that an interviewee would not do because they are at work and we are not, like wear jeans on casual Friday, check email, step out to talk to someone briefly, etc.

    5. MissDisplaced*

      Oh, IDK, Ten to fifteen minutes isn’t great, but I don’t know that I’d consider it a red flag or rudeness, provided they apologized and had a decent reason for running late. More than fifteen minutes does start veering into rudeness though.

      On the flipside, I was 15 minutes late when I interviewed for my current job due to construction delays (I did call immediately though to tell them what I was stuck in). Fortunately the hiring manager was totally cool about it and I got the job.

      1. LabTechNoMore*

        For what it’s worth, being 15 minutes late to an interview isn’t typically going to be brushed off, and highlights the power dynamic at play here. Prospective employees are often penalized harshly for being late, whereas the employer being late is somewhat typical. It’s a double standard.

        1. Allonge*

          I think it is rude to be late. That said, if this was all that was wrong in this particular case, I would not recommend to the LW that they decline a job in their field, after a long search, just based on the interview starting ten minutes late. There are plenty of red flags otherwise though, so this is a bit theoretical.

          Is it a double standard though? If to anyone this feels too rude to tolerate, they are free to walk out at any point before, during or after the interview, just as the hiring manager can decide to stop the process. If for anyone timeliness is so high on their list of values, well, interviews go both ways in this too.

  25. Arctic*

    The particular question may not be helpful (but also kind of a softball for the interviewee to get in a groove) but I think standardized questions do make the process more fair and are generally a good thing.

    You don’t want a good rapport with an interviewee to make you skip over the tough questions. And you don’t want to slam another equally qualified interviewee with the tough ones. It can give a misleading impression of the two when one easily tackled softballs and the other struggled. And rapport can be based on having similar backgrounds or cultural similarities, which can lead to inadvertent discriminatory hiring practices.

  26. Argh!*

    The answer to the question of whether something is a red flag is generally “yes.” It may not be a red flag for someone else, but it’s a red flag for the questioner.

  27. Lilysparrow*

    A verbal acceptance of a verbal offer isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Nobody would expect an employee to formally accept a job without knowing the pay and other details. Well, nobody reasonable and legitimate.

    If you’re in a situation where you think you probably want the job, but the details on the compensation package haven’t been fully disclosed, you can always say something like, “I’m very interested in the position! I look forward to getting the offer letter so we can settle all the details.”

    There is nothing to “think over” until they give you real information in writing.

    1. 1234*

      THIS. I had one job that wanted me to resign once they verbally said they were going to make me an offer. I said that I wouldn’t resign and give my 2 weeks until I had the written offer. I think they were surprised but agreed that the timeline still worked for them.

    2. Another HR manager*

      We make all our offers verbally. Once someone accepts, we follow up with a Welcome letter that indicates salary level and has our employee manual which details benefits discussed. Very rarely am I asked to put it in writing for someone to accept the offer. I will put it in writing — but your view that a verbal offers are not legitimate is inaccurate.

      1. 1234*

        But would you expect someone to give notice at their current employer before having that Welcome letter and employee manual?

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Does your verbal offer include the salary? That’s, uh, kinda important for people who are looking for a job to earn money. Is it the same as the salary you put in the written order? I was once bait-and-switched that way after I’d already accepted and signed an offer letter (which conveniently left out the pay – that was in the post-offer paperwork!)

        1. Clisby*

          Yeah, I don’t understand this process unless salary and benefits were clearly laid out in the verbal offer, and the written offer was verifying the verbal offer. There’s no way I’d verbally accept a job offer without knowing what the salary and benefits were.

  28. Art3mis*

    I think the earlier red flags weren’t deal breakers, but taken together and along with the CEO’s reaction and the salary, I think you made the right decision.
    I once took an offer when they balked at me taking time to think about the offer. Worst job I ever had. There had also been red flags in the hiring process that I ignored and wish I hadn’t.

  29. Mel*

    I agree with the delayed interview start being pretty typical. It’s good if the company is apologetic about it, of course.

    I’m pretty sure my flexibility with such definitely helped me get my current job (which I love). I had been temping and worked for doctors, and as surgeons they were constantly running late. The doctor (who became my clinical boss) got caught on the floor, so they had to switch up the order of who I spoke to for my interview. I was absolutely fine with the situation, and brushed it off with a little wave and said that I totally understood doctors and their schedules. This then led to a friendly chat with the department admin about the craziness of doctors’ schedules. Following week I got my offer!

  30. Dante the librarian*

    The organizational messiness before an interview can be a warning sign, though sometimes it’s really just human error. For my current job, which I love and is full of supportive and intelligent coworkers, interview day was a disaster. The panel showed up around 15 minutes late, then made me wait another 10-15 minutes while they prepped. The questions themselves were boilerplate. After while I was halfway to the subway station to go home, an HR rep called me in a panic and asked me to come back because they had forgotten they were supposed to give me a tour afterward. It was chaos! I ended up accepting the job, and as I said, I love it. I learned later that our organization’s HR department could, uh, use improvement, but the actual people I work with are fantastic.

    1. Poppy the Flower*

      Yeah, I’m a doctor and I had a follow up phone interview with a director who wasn’t at my interview day. Didn’t get the call, so I emailed HR (mostly to cover myself and document I wasn’t flaking) and he was wrapped up in an emergency patient situation. I was not surprised! Medicine is definitely one of those professions where being flexible with the interview process is a plus. They all were really apologetic afterwards which was nice and gave me a good impression of the hospital culture, but totally understandable.

      1. Mel*

        Absolutely. I commented above that being flexible and understanding about doctors and crazy schedules helped me give a good impression.

  31. Richard Hershberger*

    The CEO got angry with you in the courtship stage. It’s like yelling on your first date. Why would anyone come back for more?

  32. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    The CEO sounds like one who would tell you how lucky you were to have this job.

    Bullet dodged.

  33. Blue Horizon*

    I think the red flags have been well covered already, but in general I do ask people questions that might theoretically have been answered in their resume and/or application, although I would not go as far as “tell me about your entire employment history.”

    There are a number of reasons why I might do this. Probably the most common is that I want to hear you talk about it in your own words, notice what you choose to emphasize and focus on, and see if that changes the impression I had formed. As a special case of this one, I might want to drill down a bit on some of your answers and see if I find them credible. I’ll do this if the resume sounds slightly too good to be true, for example. Or it might simply be that somebody has grabbed me at the last minute to help with an interview and I haven’t had time to prepare (which does unfortunately happen once in a while).

  34. MissDisplaced*

    Flags #1 snd #2 weren’t great, but it could’ve just been people inexperienced with hiring. But the CEO giving you a hard time about asking for the offer in writing and for time to think about it? BIG RED FLAG

    I can only imagine what that job would be like.

  35. Miranda Priestly's Assistant*

    I didn’t really agree with Alison’s answer – especially the lukewarm-ness of it. I thought this situation had more red flags than a Communist parade! I’ve done a gazillion interviews thus far in my life, and this is not how interviews typically go. In my experience, non-profits interviews are typically more disorganized and unprofessional than private-sector interviews, and this letter seems even outside of THAT norm.

    1. Miranda Priestly's Assistant*

      But if anything else, the CEO’s reaction to you asking about the job offer, as well as the offer itself, is enough of a reason to turn down the job.

    2. Gingerblue*

      I was surprised as well. The OP wasn’t randomly annoyed at having to wait ten minutes in isolation; she’s noting things that, within the larger context of the entire experience, were possible red flags. Telling her she’s being unreasonable about that in context feels weird.

      1. Miranda Priestly's Assistant*

        The other things in isolation (like being 10 minutes late) aren’t bad IF they were the only thing that occurred and everything else went well. But multiple sketchy things, and the CEO getting angry on top of it? Nope.

    3. Tomato Frog*

      Yes, I think saying there are red flags “on both sides” is a strange take. It’s good to point out that some of these things the employer did are not, in and of themselves, red flags, but also we don’t have any reason to think the letter writer was pettish or difficult during the process. We just know they were internally bothered, but still kept going through the interview. Also, based on the sequels, I am not inclined to give this employer the benefit of the doubt about the meaning of their interview question!

  36. Peter*

    Very long job application forms are a real pain. I saw one when job hunting that had so many detailed questions that someone could easily make 3+ full applications to other firms in the same amount of time. I never did get around to that one as there were left always three other job apps to do instead. Why do organisations do this? Surely they can’t believe that it’s some kind of quality filter.

  37. TGOTAL*

    My employer mandates that every candidate must be asked the exact same questions. This is not out of disrespect for individual candidates, but to ensure we are giving all candidates equal opportunities to provide pertinent information to hiring managers. We may ask individualized follow-up questions based on candidates’ responses, and of course it is vitally important that hiring managers ask good questions in the first place.

    I would never ask someone “Tell us about your entire employment history to date,” of course (and question whether that is in fact verbatim or simply hyperbole). But I would absolutely expect someone to be able to articulate how their past experience made them the best candidate to meet my needs.

    Clearly there are many other red flags here to warn OP away from this situation, but I didn’t find the interview questions unusual in the least.

  38. FairPayFullBenefits*

    Totally agree that the CEO was way out of line and the most egregious thing listed here, and you definitely dodged a bullet. To the prior issues – waiting 10 minutes is nothing, and the standard Qs thing is annoying but not uncommon (and maybe you wouldn’t have been bothered by them if those had been the only issues). But I would definitely have been concerned about the other things. To arrive for an interview and find that nobody at the office is expecting you? That’s a definite red flag, especially if there’s an apology or an explanation.

  39. Enescudoh*

    Couple of these sound similar to my company’s interview process. Candidates are shortlisted by two people, and interviewed by another two people who don’t see the written application, so that they can meet with no preconceptions or expectations, and then all 4 come together for decision making. That means that all the questions have to be standardised across all applicants. I was confused at first, but it does make sense for maximum fairness in hiring I think.

    1. EngineerMom*

      I disagree that this maximizes fairness. The two people who are shortlisting are already biasing the interview process, and making it more difficult for the in-person interviewers to adequately evaluate candidates, as performing an interview with no foreknowledge means spending the first part of the interview just establishing basics, while the candidate sits there wondering why you didn’t even bother to read their resume or the form you made them fill out.

  40. EngineerMom*

    Oh, man, did you dodge a bullet!

    The things that could have just been the company having a bad day (or between admins if they’re the ones that typically handle that kind of communication), and therefore not really a true red flag:
    1. Not getting written confirmation on time/location/directions of interview.

    Things that are weird, and generally signal a poorly-organized company who doesn’t have a firm grasp on interviewing techniques (which can easily translate into them hiring folks who talk a good talk, but don’t really have the necessary skills):
    1. Asking generic questions (I can understand 1 or 2 questions to get the conversation started, but after that good interviewers ask follow-up questions, they don’t just follow a script).
    2. Not preparing for the interview (not reading your resume, let alone the long-ass questionnaire they expected you to complete!)

    Things that scream “RUN!”:
    1. Pushing back on your very reasonable request for a written job offer.
    2. Pushing back aggressively on your very reasonable request to take more than 5 minutes to consider the offer.
    3. Said offer containing a low-ball salary offer after that pressure to commit without even seeing the offer. That’s just immature and rude, and says a lot about how little this company values good employees.
    4. Offer containing a statement of expected weekend hours that weren’t discussed in the interview. If that kind of thing is expected, it is on the interviewer to bring it up, even in jobs where working on weekends is common. My SIL is a CPA, and every job interview she’s had spells out that they expect X number of hours per week during tax season, to include Y number of hours worked on weekends. That has come up in interviews with big companies and small firms of only a handful of employees. Extra hours during tax season in her field are very common, and generally expected (it was even addressed in one of her classes in college), but good interviewers will still bring it up, just to double-check that’s an acceptable schedule for the prospective employee, because if it’s not, better to find that out before finalizing an offer.

  41. Cathy Gale*

    No one has posted that the job interview was full of bees? Because, it was. Angry bees.

    Unless you really need this job in order to keep a roof over your head, and then even then…

    For me, it was the CEO’s attitude towards you that sealed it, as opposed to one or two mistakes at the company. Everything after that is all downhill.

  42. whatwhatwhat*

    “He asked why I would need time to consider and said in an agitated voice that he had other people waiting to hear back, that if I had come to the interview I must have wanted the job, and that he has never had someone need time to think. He also said he told me that he didn’t understand what I meant by “email me the offer.” Had I not read the job posting for details?”

    That’s a big NOPE right there all by itself. I am not surprised they offered you a crappy salary.

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