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5 Red Flags To Avoid In Company Interviews

When searching for a new job, it can be difficult trying to separate the great job opportunities from the terrible ones. Determining whether the company is the right fit for you, whether you’ll do a great job there or if you have the right skills for the role can require a lot of soul-searching, CV adjusting and expectation adjusting. From finding the right workplace location to avoiding some serious red flag interview techniques, it’s tough to know just what to look out for.

Having sat through many interviews and having suffered through some truly terrible workplaces, I wanted to share some of the red flags that tend to come up during interviews. These are the ones that should really have you running for the hills. Whilst these may be workplace or industry dependant, it’s always wise to keep an eye out for these flags during each stage of the application process, and, should they appear, really think before accepting the job.

1.Bad Mouthing Ex-Employees

Nothing says ‘toxic workplace’ like a scathing review of the last person who had the job before you. In many interviews, managers and interviewers have slated ex-employees for a number of reasons, even going into detail about their personal failings and mental health issues. For me, this is the biggest red flag you’ll come across. A manager that can disrespect their previous colleagues to a complete stranger is not a good manager. Not only are they being incredibly childish and negative with this behaviour, but they’re also putting a lot of pressure on the interviewee to avoid making the same mistakes as their predecessor – before they’ve even got the job. If your interviewer suddenly begins complaining about their team, past projects, ex-employees or personal grudges, they are revealing themselves to be an unprofessional manager. They’re also likely to be ones who will say just as many unflattering things about you should you leave that job too.

Why is this a red flag?

Badmouthing past or current employees is a sign of immaturity, personal grudges and impossible expectations. A manager that displays this behaviour is likely to be extremely picky, have little faith in their employees, and will put a lot of pressure on you to ‘be better’ than your predecessor. In ‘confiding’ in you about these personnel issues, they are also fishing for an ally, someone to join in with the gossiping and negativity. This is not a healthy approach for work and is likely to cause you both problems later down the line.

What is the green flag alternative?

In an ideal interview, your predecessor will not be mentioned at all, except in terms of their role and job description. Your interviewer should summarise what they did, the tasks they had to complete and the team they worked within. This is all. You don’t need to know about their individual failings or interpersonal clashes. You don’t need to know about the times they turned up late, the typo they left in a presentation or the argument they had with their manager. All you need to know is what they did, and how you can do it too.

2. Body Language and Behaviour

In your next few interviews, take a moment to observe the body language of your interviewer. Do they seem relaxed, confident, interested in what you have to say or stressed, distracted and maybe a little bit invasive? If their eyes are anywhere but your face, it’s a red flag. If they don’t stop checking their phone, emails or chatting to other people during your interview, it’s a red flag. If they demand some form of inorganic emotional reaction from you, i.e. laughing at their jokes during your interview, it’s yet another red flag. They should never try to intimidate you, make you feel uncomfortable, boring or unimportant. You’re there to discuss your future and the future of the company, the very least they can do is pay attention.

Why is this a red flag?

Typically, when carrying out an interview, both parties should be on their best behaviour. Both the interviewer and interviewee are keen to impress, so if your potential boss can’t be bothered to even pretend to be interested in your interview, it’s very unlikely they’ll change once you have the job. This will then be reflected in personal meetings, performance reviews, salary negotiations and references once you leave the company. No one should work at a company where their boss is more interested in their phone than their employees.

What is the green flag alternative?

Your interviewer will turn up on time. They’ll offer you a drink and tell you where to sit down. They will ask you relevant questions about your experience, the company and your expectations. A good interviewer is focused and relaxed throughout your process, with all of their attention on you. Their phone will be on silent throughout, or even left at their desk. The only time they should use their laptop is to demonstrate something or highlight something to discuss your CV. You should feel engaged and respected at all times.

3. Vague Job Descriptions

One of the biggest red flags to watch out for in interviews is the lack of detail given to your exact job role. Say, the job description on the site was a little vague but you decided to give them a chance anyway. You figured they would go into more detail in the actual interview. But that didn’t quite happen. If your interviewer starts acting a little sketchy about the exact hours you’ll be working, holiday allowances, managerial team, or even what you’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis, perhaps it’s time to reconsider. I’ve sat through so many job interviews that open with ‘in this role, your job will change from one day to the next’…AKA you’ll be working 5 different jobs and we’re really disorganised.

Why is this a red flag?

When your interviewer starts to hold back information about your potential job role, it can either mean that they don’t have any experience in managing this job or that the job role will be so demanding you’ll be working multiple jobs at once. A company that can’t decide what they want you to do could leave you sitting around for days on end with nothing to do and then berate you for not pulling your weight. They could then pile so much work on you that isn’t even remotely related to your field of experience and just expect you to know how to do it. But they’re covered, of course, for all of this, because you accepted a job with no boundaries or predetermined tasks.

What is the green flag alternative?

From the initial advertisement to the final stage of interviews, you should know exactly what your job will entail. Your role should be clearly defined, and you’ll know how to prepare for it and do it well. Your role should allow you to really hone your skills in an area you truly want to work in vs a role you might be good at if you actually knew what you were going to do in it. You should feel confident and prepared that you know how to do the job you’re interviewing for and that you’ll know what to expect when the interview day comes. Not only does this highlight a professional and organised company, but it also reflects well on their culture – allowing people to flourish in roles they choose to succeed in.

4. Complaining about unsuccessful candidates

Whilst complaining about anyone in job interviews isn’t going to be a great sign if your interviewer starts complaining about how many candidates they’ve had to turn down for the job – it’s a red flag. People can be unsuitable for roles for so many reasons, and it doesn’t just come down to a lack of experience. Sometimes it can be a salary expectation, a location problem, a personality clash, and this is just one of the side effects of job hunting. However, when a business starts dragging the high number of unsuccessful candidates that have come before you, I really wouldn’t get my hopes up for a second interview.

Why is this a red flag?

By bragging about the number of interviews they’ve had, the interviewer is trying to impress for all the wrong reasons. They’re trying to tell you that you’re lucky to even be in with a chance, but at the same time, you’re just one in a long line of applicants. Even more than that, they’re demonstrating that their expectations for this role are extremely high and that not one person out of the crowd that came before was even close to meeting them. This gives the impression of a company that can’t decide what they want, that is picky and demanding, that has one particular person in mind and is entirely inflexible about giving someone else a chance. Whilst of course there is a chance you may be that one special person, it doesn’t bode well for a peaceful career in that workplace.

What is the green flag alternative?

When you begin your application for this particular role, you shouldn’t have any idea about the number of people that interviewed before you. Your interview journey should be entirely individual and personal to you, to demonstrate your skills as a stand-alone candidate, rather than just one in a long line of applicants. Your interviewer should take special consideration to make you feel important to them and a valued candidate, without making any reference to anyone else they’ve interviewed before.

5. Asking Personal Questions.

Under no circumstances should your interviewer know anything about you that isn’t relevant to the job. There is never any reasonable argument for them being entitled to know about your relationship status, children, sexuality, disability, mental health, race or religion. If it isn’t relevant to the job, it doesn’t need to be answered. Yet somehow, so many employers will ask personal, invasive questions during an interview, ‘just to see if you’ll be a good fit with the team’. Candidates in the past have been asked entirely irrelevant questions about almost everything, from their favourite local bars to their drinking habits in a strange ‘bonding’ appraisal. It’s never appropriate and should never impact your potential in the company.

Why is this a red flag?

By asking these personal questions, an interviewer is setting themselves up for discrimination. Seeking out invasive information can reveal a lot about how a company judges and measure their employees. From asking a married woman about her ‘childcare arrangements’ to challenging a religious candidate about their ‘dietary restrictions’…none of it is relevant to the interviews. This company, to me, has revealed itself to be one of prejudice and ignorance – one that judges their employees’ personal factors rather than their work performance.

What is the green flag alternative?

The green flag alternative, in this case, is an interview. A standard, basic and on-topic interview, that evaluates you on nothing more than your ability to do the job. Your interviewer should ask questions such as ‘why did this role appeal to you?’ and ‘can you give me an example of where you’ve used problem-solving in the past?’. They should chat about your CV, ask a couple of questions about your experience and discuss their expectations for the role. This is it. Then you should shake their hand, they should say ‘we’ll be in touch soon’ and the interview will be over.

Interviewing for the job you want can be a minefield of flags – both red and green – and finding the opportunity you want isn’t always easy. Take note of these red flags for your next job interview and keep an eye out for that bad body language, and you’ll be fine.

Make sure you check out my last blog post here and let me know what you think in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

Nikki McCaig

Nikki McCaig

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