The average job hunt takes the better part of three months, according to job search platform TalentWorks. That’s a long time to have your mind focused on how to land the interview, prepare, and make the best impression to get hired. So, it’s no wonder that, once there, many job seekers overlook red flags that they may not be courting the greatest place to work.
“It is important for people to slow down and realize that it’s a two-way interview, because the job is only going to be a great experience for them if it’s a good fit,” says Carisa Miklusak, CEO of recruitment automation platform Tilr, based in Cincinnati. And there are often a number of clues about the job, company culture, and leadership if you just know what to look for, she says. Here are six red flags to watch out for.
ATTITUDE AND APPEARANCE
You may be nervous, but take a moment to look around and observe your surroundings. What you see may tell you a lot about the company and its people. “From the time that you walk in, it starts with the receptionist. As you’re walking through the office, do people seem friendly, do they try to engage with you, say welcome, say hello, make eye contact?” says Tonya Salerno, principal staffing manager at WinterWyman, based in New York City. People who are happy in their work are generally curious about and friendly to newcomers, she says.
Also, take a look around the office. It doesn’t have to be prime office space, but do you get a sense that people have pride in their workplace? Are common areas tidy or in disarray? Does the place look clean? Do people have personal effects in their work space? Does it look inviting?
“I believe an office is like a second home, and that I should take pride in the space and the people with whom I would be working,” says Salerno.
LACK OF PREPARATION
When you sit down with the interviewer, do you have a sense that they know who you are? Has the interviewer reviewed your resume and have some familiarity with your background? If not, they may not be taking the job search as seriously as you are, or it may be a sign that the company has a lot of turnover and doesn’t invest much time in replacing people, Miklusak says. The interviewer should be familiar with the job for which you’re interviewing and have at least a basic familiarity with your background.
HYPOTHETICAL AND SITUATIONAL QUESTIONS
Miklusak says one of her best “job interview hacks” is to listen for hypothetical or situational questions. If an employer asks, ‘How would you react in a situation like this?” listen to the question, she says. “The interviewer is asking because you are likely to be in a situation like that, or in some type of situation where one could make a parallel between the question and the situation.”
So, if an interviewer asks you how you would react if you were in a chaotic situation with little direction, it might be a test to see how you manage disorder. But, it could also be that the interviewer is trying to figure out if you can manage the organization’s way of operating.
A QUEST FOR ELUSIVE CHANGE
If your interviewer talks about how the company is ready for change or needs change, ask a few questions, says Sarah Connors, principal staffing manager and team leader at WinterWyman. Get more information on what needs to be changed, how long it’s been that way, and most importantly, how ready they are to change it.
“I’ve had candidates get excited to be the person to truly impact change at a company, just to find out later that the managing team isn’t ready to change things. So be sure it isn’t just an ideal they’re paying lip service to, but a reality they want you to help deliver,” she says. Or the company may put the responsibility for changing things on you without giving you the resources you need to be successful.
There are a number of questions that interviewers aren’t allowed to ask by law. Yet a 2017 Associated Press and CNBC poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that more than half (51%) of those who have been on at least one job interview have been asked at least one inappropriate or personal question. Questions about marital status, medical history, and disabilities topped the list. If interviewers aren’t aware of basic employment law, that could be an indicator that they’re lax in other areas, too.
“It can be a real cultural flag. For example, if a lot of people are asking you if you have kids. It’s either a super-friendly family place, or they want to put you on a plane 100% of the time and they’re real concerned if you do [have children],” Miklusak says.
If an interviewer asks about your comfort level with certain factors, take note, Miklusak warns. “This question is a huge flag, ‘Do you think you will be comfortable here because . . . ‘ and then the because is something like, ‘Most of the people are younger than you’ or ‘This is a pretty male-orientated sales team,’” she says. Look for what the interviewer is trying to indicate about the culture. Such a question may reflect a flaw, lack of diversity, or issue that has been a problem in the past.
By keeping an eye out for red flags, you can keep focused on finding a job that will be a good fit for you—and more likely free of unpleasant surprises.