4 Red Flags to Watch Out for in a Job Interview

red flags to watch out for in a job interview cat

The Great Resignation is getting a ton of buzz, but for anyone kicking off the job search for a new role, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for potential red flags during the interview process. If you don’t, you could end up with “shift shock,” a term recently coined by Kathryn Minshew, CEO and co-founder of the Muse, to describe that bait-and-switch feeling when you realize that a new job or position is very different than what you were led to believe. We caught up with Minshew to talk through some of the biggest job interview red flags, whether you’re having the meeting on zoom or IRL.

1. Your Interviewer Gets Tripped Up Talking About Office Culture

If a prospective employer can’t quite describe the work environment and employee expectations or, worse, reverts to using overly broad and jargony language (think “we work hard and play hard” or “we’re about 360 transparency, 24/7 here”) to describe the overall office vibe, you might want to press for more specifics or steer clear, says Minshew. “Yes, the world is increasingly virtual, but that makes it all the more imperative that you get a read on employee/employer dynamics,” she says.

How to Approach: If you have the opportunity to meet people in person or go into the office as part of the interview process, take it. “There’s something about being immersed in an environment where you can see the expressions on people’s faces or overhear bits of conversation as you walk into a conference room or go to the bathroom, that gives you another data point on a company’s culture,” Minshew says.

2. They Don’t Treat the Interview Process as a Two-Way Street

In today’s talent market—and especially for knowledge worker roles—the best companies have realized that interviewing is about finding a match as opposed to a test or one-way conversation, Minshew says. Hiring is expensive and investing the time in the interview process can yield a much bigger pay-off: Less turnover. “Companies that care about the employee experience typically are really proud to talk about it,” Minshew explains. “If you’re finding it hard to get any time during the interview process to ask questions, that’s a yellow flag—and possibly red.”

How to Approach: Some companies wait until the end of the interview process—when a candidate has advanced through several stages—to give them the opportunity to ask questions. “I’m a big believer that a little bit of communication about the company, the culture and the environment should be a part of almost every step.” As the interviewee, you’ll have to gauge the right moment to ask questions (if the competition for a role is fierce, you may have to wait until you advance to the next stage). Still, it could be as simple as sending an email after your first conversation to pose a few thoughtful follow-ups.

3. They Can’t Articulate Any Challenges of Working There

If talking to a hiring manager who can’t find any pain points, that could be a red flag, Minshew says. Here’s why: Every job comes with complexities that result in challenges. An inability to articulate these indicates a lack of candor or introspection.

How to Approach: Minshew recommends posing what she calls dual questions that ask for a positive/negative at once. “When you say, ‘What’s a challenge here?’ people don’t want to badmouth,” she explains. But as an alternative, you might ask “What’s something people love about working here and what’s something they find challenging?” It gives a hiring manager the chance to share a win while also identifying room for growth.  

4. The Team Shares Wildly Different Goals and Objectives

“If it’s the same department and they have wildly different senses of what it’s like to work there, it could mean two things: 1) They don’t have an accurate awareness of their environment or 2) They’re lying to make the company look rosier than it is.

How to Approach: This requires some thoughtfulness and intuition. “If you’re chatting with members of the team who work in different departments, there could be clear reasons that their goals aren’t in alignment,” Minshew says. “But if you meet with multiple members of, let’s say, marketing, and they all describe different priorities, it may be indicative of larger issues.”

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...