How to spot job interview red flags

illustration of a job interview between a young woman and an older man awkwardly trying to be cool
Illustration by Gaspart

You did it. You’re sitting at a table in a conference room. Sitting on the other side are two people from the company, polite smiles on their faces. One of them could be your next boss; if you do well enough in this interview.

But you’re not just there to answer questions about yourself. This is your chance to evaluate the company and decide if you’ll be happy there. There are always some red flags that come up before or during a job interview. I want to help you spot those flags early on before you’re stuck at a company you hate. 

Interview Vibes

  • How was your interview scheduled? Was it chaotic? Unprofessional? How the company treats you now is a good predictor of how they’ll treat you at work.  
  • Who greets you at the interview? Who offers to get you something to drink? Are the higher-ups gracious? What are the office dynamics like?
  • Walking through the office, do you see any women or POC?
  • Do you see mixed groups (race, age, gender, etc.) talking and working together?
  • Do they decorate the office with empty alcohol bottles? (yes I’ve seen this ?‍♀️)
  • Are employees enjoying the “fun” office amenities or all they all working flat out?
  • What are the dynamics between teams or departments? Is the tech team stuffed into a windowless room while the sales team gets cool office furniture and a beautiful view? (I’ve also seen this ?)
  • During the interview, do they use a lot of cringey jargon like “hustle hard” or describe themselves as tech ninjas? 
  • Do they keep talking about how everyone goes the extra mile to get projects done on time? This probably means they expect you to put in a lot of extra hours.
  • Are they asking you vaguely (or obviously) sexist or inappropriate questions like what your childcare situation is like?
  • Does this interview feel like a friendly conversation, or does it feel like a tribunal?
  • Is your technical test an actual assessment of your skills, or are they basically asking for free work?
  • When they describe their benefits, do they fall closer to the “go out drinking/ping pong in the office” range or the “flexible hours/reasonable maternity leave” range?

Specific Questions To Uncover Red Flags

  • “What are the company’s values? Are you meeting them, and what specific actions are you taking if not?”
  • “Are there any women/POC in leadership positions here?” If yes: “Tell me how she grew into her role.” If no: “What specific actions are you taking to change that?”
  • “What is the retention like at this company?” If a lot of employees, especially women and POC, aren’t lasting beyond a year, that’s a big sign that this isn’t a good place to work.
  • “What was a recent big decision change, and where did that decision come from?” This will help you know if there’s a lot of top-down management at that company or if teams are more autonomous. 
  • “Describe a project that recently shipped. How did it come together, who worked on it, and what was the timeline?”
  • “What’s your policy on working from home or remotely? Is there anyone else on the team who regularly works from home?”
  • “What is something you dislike about working here? Or something you would like to change about this company?”
  • “What is the onboarding policy for new hires? What level of responsibilities do you expect from a new hire after one month, three months, and six months?”

Have you ever been stuck in a job you hate, looked back, and realized that you missed some really obvious job interview red flags? What were they! Tell us in the comments and help someone else avoid getting trapped!

This post was inspired by this Elpha thread. If you liked this, be sure to check out our other stories!

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