During a job interview, a warning flag might start waving so hard (metaphorically speaking) that it practically blows you out of the room. If the interviewer seems completely disinterested in your story or insults your skills, those are good signs that the job isn’t for you. More often than not, however, the signs of an impending mismatch between employer and job candidate are subtler. The questions might be straightforward, and the interviewer pleasant, but nonetheless you leave the office with the feeling that something isn’t quite right. Here are some of those subtle signs:
“You should pay close attention to the dynamics between your potential boss and other employees in the organization,” suggested Cheryl Palmer, owner of Call to Career, a career-coaching company. Panel interviews are a great way for candidates to assess relationships between a hiring manager and the rest of the team. For example, when your hiring manager speaks, pay attention to how the rest of the group responds. If colleagues and subordinates seem uncomfortable or fearful, for example, that’s a bad sign. In a similar vein, scrutinize casual interactions. How does your potential boss treat employees in the hallway? Is there a friendly camaraderie in the elevators and break rooms, or are people quiet and tense? “The interviewer may put his or her best foot forward in the interview,” Palmer added, “but it is possible that the person will slip up when talking to others in the organization.”
Veteran career coach and podcaster Angela Copeland, founder of Copeland Coaching, urges candidates to pay attention to any signs of disconnect within the organization. As you progress through the hiring process, take note if you never actually speak to the role’s direct supervisor, or if someone other than the department’s hiring manager offers you the actual position—those are both red flags. The people who will actually end up working with the candidate are the best evaluators of talent and cultural fit, so if you don’t meet anyone on your potential team, Copeland recommends asking why. That omission could be organizational—but if not, it may be a preview of poor internal communication and inconsistent company culture.
Be wary of managers who are in a rush to hire. “If the employer demands you start in a time frame that will not allow you to give your current company adequate notice,” Copeland said, “you should rethink your decision.” A desperate employer isn’t interested in evaluating candidates for long-term fit. If they’re rushing the process, they’re liable to make hiring mistakes. That’s not a reflection on a particular job candidate; figuring out whether someone’s the right fit takes time. There’s good reason for the adage ‘slow to hire, quick to fire.’ According to the Harvard Business Review, bad hiring decisions are responsible for as much as 80 percent of employee turnover.
Beware of managers with excessive needs and wants, especially during the hiring stage. Unreasonable requests will have a way of coming back to haunt you. For example, are you expected from the outset to display a superhuman range of skills? Does the organization want you producing incredible results from day one? Did the job description feature an eye-popping list of required and desired certifications? All of these (and more) are signs that you’re plunging into a pressure-cooker environment. Palmer has seen this sort of situation again and again. After one client expressed concern over the ability to meet specific goals, Palmer warned her that the position’s objectives far exceeded its demands. The client took job anyway. Big mistake. “A few weeks later she contacted me for help to get out of a terrible situation,” Palmer said. “If the interviewer has unrealistic expectations during the interview, you can only expect things to get worse if you take the job.” Listen to your gut instincts. If something feels off about a prospective employer, do more research—and ask questions—before accepting an offer.