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Red Flags to Look for During an Interview

man sitting in front of panel while displaying red flags during an interview

Interviewing for a new job can be uncomfortable, awkward, and downright intimidating. Job seekers who find an open role at a company they’re excited about put a lot of pressure on themselves to make sure the interview goes perfectly. Many job seekers forget, however, that the interview is just as much a chance for the interviewee to see whether there’s a good fit as it is for the interviewer.

If you’re a job seeker preparing for an interview, you should be aware of these six job interview red flags. And if you are on the other side of the table interviewing candidates on behalf of your business, make sure to stay away from these same negative signals.

3 Red Flag Interview Scenarios

Everyone faces an awkward interview scenario or tough question from time to time. Behavioral questions are tricky to answer, for example, and it’s easy to stumble over your words when asked a question like “How do you handle disagreements with team members?” These kinds of interactions_,_ however, do not raise red flags. Even though they can be tough, they show that the interviewer is interested in your aptitudes and how well your responses to common workplace situations match the company’s culture. You are probably connecting well with the interviewer if the questions and answers feel like a conversation.

Some situations or questions, on the other hand, are more than just awkward or difficult to answer; they can actually raise a huge red flag that suggests a deeper problem. If you’re a job seeker looking for the right fit, be wary of someone who puts you in a position similar to the scenarios described below.

1. The Interviewer Asks for Your Information Too Soon

Interviews where a potential match can be made between an employer and an employee feels, in some aspects, like the beginning of any relationship. You know things are going right when there is mutual interest, mutual respect, and a little bit of healthy restraint. Just like you would if you were dating or getting to know a new friend, be careful of interviewers (or recruiters) who move too quickly.

A user experience designer from California received recruiting material to her inbox from a large and growing technology firm. She went through an interview with an HR member who seemed very excited about her experience and skills. The HR member let the designer know that she would have an answer by Monday.

On Monday, the designer received the offer, along with a request to fill and sign an employment contract, background check authorization, direct deposit form, and a copy of her driver’s license. Later that week, during a chat with the firm’s CIO, the designer was told she would be given company funds to purchase necessary technology before beginning her job, and that the finance department would send her the account information needed to purchase the items. She was told to link the company’s account to her card.

She was also told to purchase the technology (a new laptop, a phone, and a smart watch) and then mail the technology to the company for necessary security updates before beginning her job. The designer purchased the items and mailed them on the same day. But as she drove home, an uneasy feeling came over her. The designer used LinkedIn to reach out to a confirmed employee of the firm, and her suspicions were confirmed — the scenario had been a scam.

In hindsight, the red flag here was the request for the designer’s information too soon, including her direct deposit and banking information. Legitimate companies will wait until onboarding to collect any financial information. Be wary of companies that move too quickly during the recruiting and interview process, and always double-check the legitimacy of all links, job openings, and backgrounds of your interviewers.

2. The Company Doesn’t Respect Your Time

A human resources professional in Florida went through an interview process that lasted for more than seven weeks, spanned seven total interviews, and took eight interviewers before ultimately communicating to the professional that she was the “standout candidate.”

Optimistic, the professional continued with the process and ignored the red flags of the company’s repeated promises to get back to her with a decision next week … and the next week … and the next. Finally, after months of interviewing and waiting on a decision, the company went with another candidate. In the meantime, the professional had turned down another offer based on the company’s promises that she was the top candidate for the job.

The professional reports that she sees “all the red flags now. I see that if a company takes too long to make a decision, it would be difficult to be successful in a new to the company role as you may never get sign off to make the needed changes.”

A company that takes too long to interview you or keeps moving its hiring date back is signaling some kind of red flag issue, whether it is disorganization, lack of regard for your time, in-fighting among the managers, a disrespectful approach to dealing with other professionals, or something else. Don’t stick around to find out.

3. The Company Can’t Provide a Clear Job Description

A saleswoman in North Carolina took a job in software sales for a new company after meeting the company’s owner at a networking event. While networking is a perfectly acceptable way to find a new role, the red flags in the hiring process became apparent months later, when the saleswoman decided to resign.

The company’s owner asked the saleswoman to interview for the position knowing that she had some aversions to the sales role: namely, she didn’t want to cold call. The owner stated that the saleswoman’s potential and apparent skill set were all she’d need to succeed in the role; cold calling was never described as an aspect of the job.

When the saleswoman took the role, she realized it, in fact, required her to cold call and prospect “all day.” Looking back, the saleswoman realized that the short interview process, in which she was pushed to join the company but wasn’t given clear indications of her day-to-day responsibilities, was a huge red flag.

Watch out for interview processes that focus less on the role itself and more on you signing up and joining the company. Employers who have rewarding jobs to offer will be excited to describe the role thoroughly in the interview and will want to make sure you’re a right fit for the actual position and all it entails.

5 Red Flags During an Interview

1. Inappropriate or Illegal Questions

Yes, there are actually a number of questions that job interviewers are not legally allowed to ask, for discrimination purposes. This includes a number of topics such as your marital, sexual orientation and family status, age, religion, citizenship, pysical disabilities, health and wellness, bankruptcy status, and in some states your current salary (get the full list of illegal questions here ).

Examples include:

  • Are you a U.S Citizen?
  • How old are your kids? (this can also be a question that tries to get at age)
  • Do you have any pre-existing health conditions?
  • Were you discharged from the military — or will you be deployed again soon?

If you’re stuck in a spot in which you don’t feel comfortable, you can ask how the question is relevant to the position, and request to move on to the next question. If you think the interviewer is just making conversation “That’s a lovely necklace, what religious affiliation is that?” you may choose to answer in a way that makes you comfortable, but doesn’t reveal too much, like: “Thank you, it’s a family heirloom.”

Another one could be: “I just love your accent, where is it from?” to which you might respond, “Thank you, my family is Australian.”

2. Disorganization

If an interview is constantly being rescheduled, or it seems like you’re waiting forever for a third-round interview with a higher-up, it may be a red flag that the company you’re applying to is disorganized. Mistakes happen, and the situation might be a fluke, but if it seems like there’s a repeating issue or if someone is unresponsive, hard to get in touch with, or flat out ignores your email for days, it could be a sign to move on.

Similarly, watch out for excessive interviews. Any number above three separate visits is a bit unusual; this could signal that the hiring team is indecisive or that management can’t agree on which route to take.

3. Disrespect

Job applicants know not to speak poorly of their past employers, co-workers, or managers. But the same goes for the company conducting the interview. Interviewers should never mention the shortcomings of the last person to fill the role, the foibles of others on the team, or their issues with upper management. You should take at face value any poor attitudes expressed in an interview: if your interviewer doesn’t even enjoy working at this company, why would you?

An interviewer expressing dissatisfaction with the company when speaking with a potential hire could also be a signal that there is poor communication in the workplace. At the very least, it could allude to a lack of conflict resolution skills among two or more individuals. If you have multiple interviewers asking you questions at the same time, you can take the opportunity to observe how they interact with each other. Do they get along and are they friendly with one another? Or do they talk over each other and dismiss the other’s questions? Any clues you can pick up will be valuable insights into the dynamics of the team.

4. Exploding Offers

If you receive an “exploding offer” from a company — which is an offer that’s given with the warning that you have little time to decide — you’ve actually just received a big red flag. A confident employer would never make a job offer on a Friday, for example, and ask for an answer back by Monday. Doing so represents a lack of self-assurance and certainty in the value of the role. This might also be a sign of a manipulative boss or one who preys on uncertainty and forces others to make decisions without considering what is best for them.

Don’t let a company give you an ultimatum. You shouldn’t be bullied into accepting a job; rather, the right job will welcome you and encourage you to consider whether you believe there is a mutually beneficial fit.

5. The Vibe Is Terrible

You can learn a lot from observing the workplace where you’re interviewing. What gut reaction do you have to how people are interacting with one another? How do they engage with their work? Does the physical environment support or detract from employees’ experience each day? What kind of energy does the work environment project: focused, collegial, and enthusiastic, or distracted, solitary, and apathetic?

Although gut feelings, first impressions, and the like are intangible and subjective, they can still deliver valuable information. Pay attention to what vibe you pick up from the workplace while interviewing there, and don’t dismiss your intuition.

Real Interview Red Flag Stories

1. “Do you believe in God?”

A dental hygienist was asked in a job interview whether she believed in God. The dentist’s office was small and family owned, and at this moment, it was clear to the applicant that religion was important to the owners. She stumbled to answer, but decided to reply that her faith was “too important to her to discuss during a job interview.” While hers was a noble and eloquent response, she should never have been asked about her religious beliefs during a job interview.

2. “This is a fast-paced environment, and we’ve had people who can’t keep up.”

A realtor was told during an interview that past realtors were not able to maintain the pace expected of them. While this comment might seem well intentioned, it could signal a toxic work environment where burnout runs rampant. Real estate agents know that their industry is fast-paced, and it’s improper to condescend to a professional as if they don’t know anything about the pace of their own industry.

3. “Are you able to work from home, or do you have distractions?”

A mental health counselor was asked whether he had distractions that would make working from home difficult. While this question could be innocent in the right context, it could also be an attempt to find out whether the applicant has small children or is cohabitating with a partner (with whom they may have children in the near future). As mentioned previously, employers are not permitted to discriminate against an applicant based on their familial or pregnancy status. If you feel like a line of questioning is going in this direction, it’s fair to ask what the information is needed for.

Final Thoughts

When seeking a new job, you are naturally optimistic and excited to find the perfect fit during the interview process. However, you should always be on the lookout for signs of a poor culture or an unethical company. Using the time you have during an interview to evaluate whether the fit works for both parties is always the best course of action. This approach could save you a lot of trouble down the road.

Image courtesy of Morr

Last updated on May 23, 2024.

Originally published on Sep 29, 2022.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

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