Job Search Red Flags & Due Diligence

Recently I was searching through old email (for my mom’s blueberry torte recipe, if you must know) and I came across a bunch of old Listserv posts I wrote for a group of professional women in Chicago. One of the members had a corporate background and was interviewing at a non-profit and wanted to know things to keep in mind. Apparently I had many Thoughts about this topic. There is a ton of advice out there on how to do well at a job interview, but not so much advice for job seekers about using the interview to suss out whether this is the right employer for you.

Before we start, I want to set the frame a little bit.

1) Sometimes you have to take a job that you know will be a bad fit because you would prefer eating to not eating. Never, and I mean never, feel like you have to defend or justify that choice. However, for purposes of this post, I am assuming that a given job seeker has options and can choose to work at given a place or not. I realize that there is substantial privilege in that assumption. Mostly, if you have to take a given job,  please know that we aren’t trying to add a victim-blamey “but you should have known it would be terrible!” on top.

2) There are crappy work environments & crappy bosses. But in this discussion, please do not denigrate any job title or function. Do not use the words “a monkey could do this job.” Are easy jobs necessarily terrible ones? Chances are, someone here does that job. Chances are, I’ve done that job. Chances are someone here would be grateful to get that job. One person’s boring is another person’s stable. We really have to get past the classist capitalist bullshit that assigns people value based on what they do, but as a society we are not there yet, so you referring to x job as crappy sends a message to a person that does that job that they are crappy.

3) Your job may contain some of the red flags listed here and still be perfectly fine. We all have a wish list vs. reality. Please, please, please do not feel like you have to argue that x is ok for you, therefore it shouldn’t be on the list. Some red flags, or a certain volume of them, are warnings, but at first they are just information and a reminder to remain skeptical and not invest until you know the full picture. Seeing one Ayn Rand book on a new date’s shelf won’t necessarily make you flee, but it will make you look harder at the bookcase to make sure it doesn’t contain every edition of every Ayn Rand book before you touch any part of yourself to any of their parts.

4) My professional background includes work at non-profit organizations (both big foundations and scrappy agencies, as well as 9+ years in academia), private corporations (government contractors, manufacturing, finance, health care, media). I’ve had a few long-term multi-year positions, especially during the first five years out of undergrad, and I’ve also worked short-term & temporary gigs for many, many companies and almost every size & type of office. I’ve worked in offices in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Warsaw, Bucharest, Prague, and Kiev. I’ve done some project management, budgeting, corporate communications, public relations, proposal writing, office administration, reception, tech support, light finance, training, human resources, recruiting, and database management. I’ve also waited tables and done telephone sales & tech support.

This is to say, I have walked into an office or a job for the very first time many, many times. I’ve had to look around and take quick stock of personalities and environment and learn the ropes, and only through much trial and error, I have developed a pretty good nose for sources of possible dysfunction and trouble ahead.

First thing to keep in mind when interviewing: They are auditioning for you, too. It’s easy to feel like a supplicant and see this only as a one-way audition. You are trying to get them to want you. Employers feed this narrative. It’s definitely easier & cheaper for them if everyone sees them as the ones with all the power, and in the crappy economy of the past few years they have had substantial power. But just like with dating, you want to put your best foot forward, but you are also looking for a situation that fits you. Be enthusiastic as you want to be (or need to pretend to be to elicit an offer), but remain skeptical and watchful. Hiring people and getting them up to speed is expensive and annoying for companies. When looking at a giant stack of resumes, potential interviewers are not carefully weighing every facet of your experiences and looking for ways you might be a good fit. They want to make the pile smaller, so they are looking to weed people out as quickly as possible. However, once they are inviting people from the small pile for interviews, they are most likely looking for reasons *to* hire. Keep this in mind, it gives you power.

So. You apply for a position and the company arranges an interview. We are assuming that the work is something you are qualified for and want to do, and the overall level of compensation and schedule is in the ballpark of what you are looking for. Now we are become spies, sifting and absorbing information about whether we actually want to work at this place.

Preliminary questions: Was it easy to schedule something with them? Were they polite on the phone? Did they give you an idea of what to expect? I once had a place call me to schedule and then cancel an interview four times. Then they called again to reschedule. I said “Sorry, I can’t rework my schedule again. Good luck filling the position!” If you don’t respect my time & can’t stick to a schedule for a one hour meeting when you’re trying to recruit me, what can I expect on the job? I once asked the Human Resources person scheduling an interview “Can you give me an idea of who I will be meeting with that day?” While names would have been good, even an idea of positions & # of people (Big boss? Interview by committee? Just HR for a pre-screen?) would have helped me prepare. She acted like I was asking for precious trade secrets, said snottily “We don’t give out that information,” and hung up the phone. Uh, okaaaaay? I went on the interview, which was ultimately fine, but I gleaned something about the icy & rigid corporate culture of the place from the initial exchange.

Once you’ve scheduled something, read the company website and learn about what they say they do and how they say things are going. Also read: Any recent media coverage. Google the people in charge and see what’s going on with them. Recent hires? Recent departures? Definitely dig around for some financial information and make sure you have an idea of how the place is funded and their overall financial health. Is how the company presents itself congruent with what you find out from other sources? If the place is dependent on state or grant-funding, what does the security & future of that funding look like?

This kind of due diligence will give you so much information, including:

  • What personalities are involved? Look at their social media activity if you can find it. Don’t stalk them or follow them if you weren’t already or feel like you have to read every Tweet, but, is the overall picture that emerges a good one? Do you know people or have interests in common? Is their username Wh1tePr1de666 and do their tweets contain a lot of un-ironic uses of “misandry?” There’s a weird etiquette thing where everyone pretends that they aren’t looking at this stuff, but they’ll almost certainly be Googling you. Google or Bing! them right back.
  • What opportunities and challenges is the company facing right now? You can shine in an interview if you can talk about your work in context of their bigger goals. “I see you are looking to expand into x market. Have you thought about engaging y & z as sponsors?”
  • Oh, they have many legal challenges & PR problems going on? Interesting.
  • It gives you information on how to negotiate salary. An expanding business with an influx of venture capital or a new grant will be more willing to give you the top of the range. A business that just laid off staff or whose grant is expiring at the end of the year will be much more conservative.
  • What’s their website like? Is it well-designed, informative & navigable? I once turned down a position for a job with a small marketing firm because a) they claimed to specialize in every. single. industry. even though it was just one lady running it and b) she couldn’t even hire good designers or write good copy for her own site, so, what the hell would the marketing materials be like?

Ok, let’s talk physical plant. Once you’re at the building, if the place has a parking lot, check out the other cars. Were they purchased in the last decade? Are they well-maintained cars that look like they are driven by well-paid happy people who can afford things like auto maintenance and car washes? No? You see only ancient, rusted heaps held together by duct tape and CLINTON/GORE ’92 bumper stickers? Interesting.

One possible takeaway: Ask for as much money up front as you can possibly get, because you are never getting a raise.

Look at the building itself & the grounds outside. Is everything maintained? Clean? Accessible? Climate-controlled? Pay attention to your gut reaction. The inside and office itself might be fine, but if the sight of the place instantly depresses you, it’s worth noting.

Once you’re inside the office, I want you to look at three things. Ready?

1) What are people’s computers like?

Are they ancient dusty beige hulks? Are there 10 million tangled cables coming out of them? Does the receptionist try to print out an application for you and spend 10 minutes cursing at the screen and apologizing? IS THIS A FLOPPY DRIVE I SEE BEFORE ME?

True story: I once worked for a small women’s non-profit as the office manager. We hired a development assistant to raise money at a salary of $32,000/year. Her computer was so old and slow that it would not interface with our network printer. The executive director was super-cheap about supplies, and would neither buy a new computer, a better version of a used computer, nor a $80 local printer that would connect to the existing computer. Part of this woman’s job was to create fundraising materials for mailings. You know, that might need to be printed at some point. Anytime she wanted to print something she had to email it to someone else to be printed out, which took forever, because her computer was too slow to do anything. She quit in tears of frustration after less than one month. Dollars raised = ZERO. So glad we saved that $80!

2) How are people dressed?

Dress codes vary so widely, and individuals also vary in their presentation, so this is more of a vibe thing than specifics, but what you are looking for is an idea of the overall dress code and culture and where & how you fit into it. Does it feel super-conformist and stiff, like you just stepped into Camazotz? Also, is there some indication that people can afford to buy a new pair of shoes and get a haircut every once in a while? It’s kind of like the cars in the parking lot – not something that directly affects you or is telling in itself, but it is an immediately visible factor that gives you a sense of how people are paid & treated & how they feel about work.

3) What is the overall vibe? 

Are you getting popcorn lung from the breakroom microwave? Do people have giant piles of unkempt papers on their desks? (1 = a messy eccentric, 2-3 = a few messy eccentrics, everyone = there is too much work to do here and nothing is ever resolved or filed). Is it clean, safe, maintained? Does the lighting remind you of a David Fincher movie? If you had to sum the place up in one word, would that word be “dystopian?”

What does the place sound like? What is the energy level like? How do people interact with each other? I like a busy space with some bustle to it. I don’t like a tomb. I don’t like listening to yelling. I don’t like feeling like there is barely held in tension. I will notice if everyone is sighing, or everyone is clenched and tense. I will notice if it smells like weed, cigarette stench left over from the 1970s, or fear. I will notice if conservative talk radio is on in the background. I will notice if every sentence people say starts with “Sorry,…” or if everyone is just a little too happy to see me, like the dinner party scene in 28 Days Later. I really didn’t enjoy it when an interviewer with a filthy office, full of papers and plates with crumbs on, balled up my coat and put it on the floor under his chair because there was no place to hang it, and I decided that a man who could not summon a closet or a coat rack probably couldn’t be the boss of me about anything.

I know a lot of worthy places are strapped for funds, but working for a great cause will not offset the daily damage that a shitty computer, a messy, poorly-maintained environment, and completely demoralized coworkers will wreak on your morale. You’re not in love yet, this is just the first date, so please don’t discount your gut if it’s telling you that this place doesn’t feel good. Do not assume that you will be able to change dodgy things for the better after you start working there. Change happens, but it happens slow.

As for the actual interview, Ask A Manager has a ton of advice on searching for jobs and interviewing for jobs on her site, so I am not going to recap all of that here. I am going to tell you about THE job interview question that has given me the most insight about what I’m stepping into.

The question:

“Is this a newly created position or will I be taking over for someone?”

Newly created? You can ask them about their rationale for creating it, how they envision it working. “It sounds like this was created to fulfill a short-term need and clear some backlog, so may I ask how you see this evolving as x project ends?” “If someone does this job very successfully for several years, what kind of opportunity for advancement is possible?” or “What is the time-frame for advancement, if any?“, etc.

You’ll find out loads of stuff.

  • Oh, the boss has all these grandiose visions that aren’t in the actual job description? Good to know.
  • Oh, you’ll be reporting to 8 different people who all have different ideas of what this job is? Good to know.
  • Oh, this is a dead-end mish-mosh of a bunch of unrelated low-priority tasks that piled up when they laid off three people? GOOD TO KNOW.

Will you be stepping into someone’s shoes? Cool. Where are they now?

  • Still with the company – “Would it be possible for me to meet them at some point during the interview process and get a picture of the day-to-day?” You will find out the real scoop of things. Bonus, if this person meets and likes you, they will advocate in your favor.
  • Fired, you say? – “Wow, that must have been very awkward, though it sounds like you have a strong idea of what you don’t want going forward. Would you be comfortable telling me how your priorities for the position have changed since that event, or any mistakes or pitfalls I should watch out for?
  • Left for another position? – Note to self, research who, what & where. Might give insight into what growth opportunities are out there later, or maybe we know someone in common who can make an introduction.

Almost every interviewer will ask you why you left or are leaving your current job. They are looking both for facts (are they consistent?) and attitudes. Do you go all weird when you talk about it? Do you spend 40 minutes kvetching about every unfair & incompetent thing your old boss did and get very worked up and angry? Are there inconsistencies? Are all of your stories about how nothing is your fault? If you answer this confidently & consistently, it will set their mind at ease. If not, it is a red flag for them about you.

By asking where this job came from and about who used to have it, you are doing the same thing. Does the story hint at some giant drama that dare not be named? Does your potential new boss seem fair, thoughtful, and forthcoming when s/he describes what went down? If the person left for a better opportunity, does the boss seem supportive & reasonable, or does it become a lecture about disloyalty? Someone who can’t or won’t answer simple questions like these either hasn’t thought about it enough to be your boss or is doing some weird power play.

If you do get to talk to the person who used to have the job, listen carefully to what they say and what they don’t say. A person who had a good experience working with the boss will be very forthcoming, the same way a reference who really liked working with you will be forthcoming when the company calls to check on you. A person who had a bad experience will be cagey and vague. If you’re asking “What was the best thing about working for so-and-so?” and getting answers like “uh….The schedule…. I guess” the person is telling you without telling you, “I would cheerfully burn it to the ground.” Just because they hated it doesn’t mean you’ll hate it, but like the other red flags, it’s information.

One more from my NO!-files: If you ever hear a potential new boss talk about how “We’re all like one big family here!” or “We like to think of ourselves as a family!” in an interview, my recommendation is to run far, far away. In my experience that means:

  • We have no structure or policies, it’s all just the CEO’s feelings and whims!
  • He (it’s often a “he”) sees himself as everyone’s dad. Stand by to be patronized!
  • We like to say thank you with flair & mandatory “fun!” outings instead of with money.
  • Speaking of money, we don’t use that to motivate you. We use guilt. Just think of the people who would be happy to have this job! And think of all the people we are helping! And think of how your long hours for little pay are helping me, your CEO-Dad, be more profitable! Don’t you want me to have a boat? But we’re a faaaaaaaamily!
  • The Venn diagram of “we are like a family!” businesses and “we will call with complex questions every single day of your vacation” businesses are a series of concentric circles.

Obviously this post is non-comprehensive, so tell us: What red flags and bad experiences have you run into during job searching? That unpaid “social media internship” that’s 40+hours/week? The dude who, per Twitter, told @Shinobi42 “I like to hire women because they’ll put up with my shit?” The interviewer that seems to have an office, but really just has his studio apartment with only the bed for sitting? (Recommendation: FLEE AT ONCE.)

Finally, in addition to Ask A Manager I would also recommend Work Made For Hire, Katie Lane’s site targeted to freelancers & creatives. It is excellent. Scripts galore.

439 thoughts on “Job Search Red Flags & Due Diligence

  1. Thank you, Captain! I’m looking for a job at the moment and this is really wise, useful advice.

    One of the standard pieces of advice given to jobseekers in this country (the UK) is to do things such as volunteering or training, so that potential employers can see that you haven’t just been sitting around doing nothing while you were unemployed. This is reasonable advice, and it also fits well with my natural inclinations; I like to be doing things. So I started learning Japanese, just for the fun of it. Then a friend and I set up our own business, because she was sick of being unemployed too and we saw an opening. Then I installed Ubuntu, fell madly in love with it because I realised I could finally get under the bonnet of the system again (I grew up with computers that you programmed yourself, rather than relying on a complex operating system, and I’d missed them), and promptly started learning Python out of a burning desire to write Linux apps. Then I saw an offer online and started learning PHP. Then I thought, actually, there’s nothing stopping me taking up my degree studies again (which I had to pause a few years ago for reasons too long and complex to explain here), and the long and the short of that is I’ll now be starting a Computer Science and IT degree in October.

    And now I’ve got employers telling me I’m doing too much. *headdesk*

    1. I was once told by an interviewer that I’m “too creative” and wouldn’t enjoy the job! I said that I have my own outlets to express my creativity and I’m satisfied with doing work that gets the job done, no matter how ordinary the day-to-day work might seem. I didn’t get the job. In retrospect I think they were right, I wouldn’t have been happy there. Not because I can’t handle uncreative work, but because I wouldn’t enjoy working with people who see creative people as a problem.

    2. Oh i HATED being told I was too smart / too well-educated to take on a job. “You’ll get bored”. Well, maybe, but I want a job, so stop writing me off, I need to start somewhere!

      1. “Oh i HATED being told I was too smart / too well-educated to take on a job. “You’ll get bored”. Well, maybe, but I want a job, so stop writing me off, I need to start somewhere!”

        I know it’s frustrating.

        From the employer’s side, I have absolutely turned people down because I didn’t think the job would be a good fit for them for these reasons. Employers tend to want people who they know will be likely to stay in post for a couple of years at least, and who they think will be positive and motivated when they are there.

        So anyone who is in this position of appearing overqualified by reason of experience or education, the best thing you can do is to come up with ways to convince the interviewer that you will stay and you will be happy in the post. These may vary depending on your situation, but would include being very keen on the nature of the work, needing reduced responsibilities for personal reasons, or wanting to get experience in a new field.

        If this is you, also be careful not to sound like you want your interviewer’s job.

        I turned someone down recently for a junior clerical role for this reason. The interview included drafting a sample email to tell someone that they had overspent. The guy’s answer included advising the budget holder to write to the funder to challenge the conditions of the grant! If something like that needs doing, it would be me that made the decision – he didn’t get the job because he overstepped the bounds of the role.

        So, if you are overqualified and trying to look awesome, try to look awesome in a way which is relevant to the job you’re actually applying for (doing *that* job excellently well), rather than looking you’d only be taking the job as a staging post.

        1. Thanks for this, it’s really helpful! I am starting my first real post-grad school job search, and I’m afraid I’ll face the “overqualified” thing a lot considering how the economy is right now and the scarcity of jobs. So it’s good to know how to handle this situation should I face it!

        2. I still haven’t had a good explanation of how I can be ‘overqualified’ for a one-week temping position, though. Who cares if I’m bored and outta there a week later, that’s what I’m meant to be!

          Fortunately I haven’t been desperate enough to chase temp admin positions in many years now; fingers crossed it stays that way.

        3. Yep, this has happened to me quite a few times. During one interview in particular, the primary interviewer brought up my degree about 6 times during the 40-ish minute interview: “You have a Bachelor’s, you’ll get bored and leave for something better.” I really wondered why she wanted to interview me if she was so certain I wouldn’t stay if hired.

          “If this is you, also be careful not to sound like you want your interviewer’s job.”

          During a few interviews for these types of positions, I’ve made the mistake of saying that X organization has plentiful growth/promotion opportunities within the company. I thought that it would show willingness to stay and grow with said employer. After reading an article and talking to my mother, I learned that mentioning this can be a death sentence. It implies that you may not be satisfied with the position for which you’re interviewing. If you’re already “overqualified,” you’re not doing yourself any favors by mentioning that you’re hoping to advance to another position..

  2. This is great! I think I am going to bookmark this thread for future reference.

    I am in the very lucky position at the moment of having a job I really like.
    All the same, I went on a job interview once because that job would have placed me a few hundred kilometers closer to my boyfriend.

    When I asked the guy who would have been my future boss what he would describe as attractive about the position they were looking to fill, his answer was: “We are a great team! After the corporate Christmas festivities, the younger team members always still spend the rest of the evening together.”

    Right… I get that it is nice to like your co-workers, but I found it very telling that he did 1) not describe an aspect of the actual job
    2) not include himself among the group that socialized.

    Eventually, my boyfriend moved to be with me instead 🙂

  3. “We’re one big family here!” Translation: “A dysfunctional family.”

    1. You are not kidding.

      Also, it is not a family. It is a business that will cut you in a heartbeat if you cost too much or don’t perform, but sulk like a child if you decide to leave.

      1. So…it is my family, at least. Many of our families, dare I say.

        But yeah, I’ve noticed that companies that seem to boast a “family” vibe tend to have bosses that are that much more likely to abuse and take advantage of their employees.

    2. I’m currently in such a “family” and sometimes it’s plain horrible. Boss will bring in his whole family (two children, wife, dog, sometimes even parents) to make everything loud and messy. Trying to work while a small child is crying is hell. Also, working over time is not paid in money, but chocolate. Sometimes thats nice, but most of the time it’s just the cheap way out to avoid paying a bonus after 3 hours of extra work.

      I also hear way to much private stuff about my boss, like his whole family story. I never wanted to know that ~__~

      I recommend nobody to be part of such a “family”- the atmosphere seems friendly at first but you are expected to work harder for less money because “we are family” and we all want to be friends, don’t we? So we help each other out, don’t we? That goes so far that my boss wil use my coworker as taxi service.

      1. “Also, working over time is not paid in money, but chocolate.”

        Do you work for Willy Wonka?

      2. I am currently working for a friend who, I’ve now learned the hard way, kind of sucks as a boss, largely because he plays both sides of the “family” vibe. The most egregious example is that our work hours expand from 8 to 9 hours a day for TWO MONTHS leading up to our gala, whether it is really necessary or not, without additional compensation or formal comp time. But then he gives us all the day after Thanksgiving off, which in his world makes us square for all of the extra hours. You know, because he’s so cool and laid back…. I am currently exploring new opportunities.

      3. “I recommend nobody to be part of such a “family”- the atmosphere seems friendly at first but you are expected to work harder for less money because “we are family” and we all want to be friends, don’t we? So we help each other out, don’t we?”

        Every “family” workplace environment/relationship that I’ve known of — either through my personal experience or others’ — comes down to exactly this.

        At a former job of mine, I couldn’t stand my boss, whereas a good friend of mine was basically her bff. My best friend would say, “If you heard Ve talk about [boss] and [good friend] talk about [boss], you’d swear it was two different people.” After I had left, I heard that this boss made my friend sign a contract to not get paid overtime. I said, “AHA, I knew it. She would not have the gall to do that were you two not ~friends~.”

    3. Back when I was a nanny, I learned that “We want someone who will be part of the family” usually translates to “We want you to be available to us whenever we want, without any boundaries!” The retail position I just left, in which the owners and manager had no professional boundaries, *also* featured my bosses saying that they wanted us to be “like a family”. I really wish they had said that when I was interviewing and saved us all the trouble.

    4. So true!

      I had the bad judgement to take a job where they said this on the 1st or 2nd day of work, thinking “wow! My employers are gonna care about me!” (I also didn’t have many choices.)

      About half of the things on Captain Awkward’s list applied, especially patronizing (when he lectured me about his conservative political viewpoint during the interview, I should have run then, but I’ve learned to have fairly low standards on the job market). My boss would refuse to fire people except under the most dire circumstances and instead tried to make us into hardworking employees by constantly degrading our self esteem and telling us we could never do better. Although the hours were good and our pay was incentivized, the company would delve into our personal lives and when we were moody and unhappy at work, they’d blame it on things such as “her boyfriend lives off her income” or “she’s on anti-depressants” (whether these things were true or not). Totally inappropriate!

      If I’m going to pick up a second family I’m not looking for an abusive one.

  4. Thanks for the advice! I’m a university graduate just starting to try and find something out there that I don’t actively hate doing which pays me ok and will definitely bear these in mind.
    One of my red flags was when I went for a trial shift at a cafe when I was younger. The manager there was downright rude to customers who came in with perfectly reasonable requests. I figured if she could be rude and unpleasant to the people who were supposed to be giving her money, she probably wasn’t going to be very nice to me. The pay was also rubbish and she got pretty shitty when I reminded her that she couldn’t legally pay me £5 an hour because I was over 21. Needless to say I didn’t take the job.

    1. Good points about people being rude to others. I am especially attentive to how people treat those they perceive as less powerful than them in a work or other professional environment. Even most jerks manage to be courteous to those more powerful than them, but how they treat service staff, e.g., is a good clue to essential character.

    2. Oh yes – I always go around and ask receptionists / other people who might be perceived as lower status what they think of my interview candidates, and if anyone was rude. Obviously I don’t want such a person on my team.

      So if you are being interviewed, be nice to everyone in a 500 yard radius of the office, you never know!

      1. As a general rule, be courteous and respectful in general. KatePreach is right to consult receptionists; they can smell bullsh*t.

      2. I have an anecdote that counters that, sort of
        (not saying that you shouldn’t be nice to support staff, but just playing Devil’s Advocate):

        Once I got to a job interview early, it was for a research position at a nearby university. The receptionist asked me if I wanted some coffee, so I got a cup and chatted her up for a bit before my interview started. She was a nice, elderly lady and this area of the university seemed devoid of life, so I wanted to be sweet and personable, as I generally am, especially since she was so nice. We’re laughing and enjoying ourselves, I feel pretty at ease. When the interview started, after I took a computer skills test, I was still pretty relaxed, personable, whathaveyou.

        During my interview I’m asked/told, “You seem like a smart, fun girl. Why would you want to work here? It’d be boring, you couldn’t talk to anyone.”

        Didn’t get the job.

        1. Isn’t that the system working, though? You were yourself, there was a clearly poor cultural fit, you didn’t get the job as a result of the clearly poor cultural fit. I miss how this is a counter-argument.

          1. Yeah, I don’t think Ve would’ve gotten the job if zie had been mean to the receptionist.

          2. No, not saying that I should have been mean or rude, just that being particularly nice/personable/a pleasant person to be around isn’t always in your best interest either.

  5. Some red flag interviews:

    – I was interviewing for a personal care attendant job in what was meant to be a low care retirement home. What I saw: stairs everywhere. All over the place. None of the residents seemed to be out of their rooms. While I was in the interview, the interviewer was called out of it by a man wearing a white apron with blood ALL OVER IT. I think he was a kosher butcher, but it was weird, and from their body language outside the window there seemed to be a crisis going on. I didn’t get the job anyway: she said I wasn’t cheerful enough. I think I dodged a bullet.

    – volunteer job this time. They were very hard to contact by email. Very. A real strain. When I did get the interview, they didn’t warn me the street numbers were out of order, and when I called them to ask for directions the receptionist didn’t know who I was. When I found my way there I was 15 minutes late (having arrived on time to where the street number should have been) but that was okay, because the interviewer (who would have been my supervisor) wasn’t there yet, and the receptionist COULDN’T FIND HER. I waited FORTY-FIVE MINUTES for her. When she arrived, she didn’t give me any information about the job that I hadn’t gotten from reading brochures about their organisation in the waiting room, and most of that was stuff I already knew before applying. I decided it was a bad fit for me.

    1. My job requires me to report to a new location every few months. Before my first day, or very early on my first day, a do a drive-by and find the location, even scope out parking and where the door is located. If it’s the day of, I then go find a local coffee shop and hang out for an hour or so, mentally preparing. It wouldn’t have made a difference in your case, but it’s still a helpful tip for those anxious about getting lost or not finding the place.

  6. I’m just gonna say one thing: OH MY GOD is that ‘We’re like a family!’ thing ever true. Every single bit of it.

  7. I once sat in on an interview with my employer where the dreaded ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ question came up and the girl didn’t even make an attempt to answer. I was brand new to interviewing so I didn’t know what to do when someone goes blank, but my manager jumped in and began counselling her that it’s totally normal not to know and it’s a dumb question anyway. (The position was as a weekender in retail so she’s not wrong – that question adds nothing when most people stay at the company closer to two years.) It was nice of my manager, but had the girl known to look for it there were 2 giant red flags being waved: 1) There were few personal boundaries in the workplace and you often found yourself on the receiving end of counselling sessions you didn’t ask for and 2) There was an ‘Us vs Them’ mentality in regards to the head office that had written the interview questions, and it made day to day running difficult and unprofessional.

    This post was exactly what I needed to read right now, it makes job hunting seem far less daunting!

  8. My tip: make sure there are enough co-workers for you. I worked at a place where I loved the work itself. It was fulfilling, the pay was good, and it was interesting. I interviewed off-site, which should have been my first clue. Turns out, everyone else but me and another person mysteriously “vanished” from the office. We were so swamped. Thank god our chemistry clicked, But there was simply too much work and after a while I came in contact with someone who’d previously worked there. Guess why she quit?

    I contacted the boss about the work conditions, the boss freaked out. Told me I should just work harder and she had someone else coming in, sometime in the future. The time kept changing. In the meanwhile she used the guilt approach. Ultimately I got another job and kept the friendship with my co-worker.

    1. Wow, have I been there or what… In my case the huge extra workload was a temporary situation, but management absolutely refused to get more workers even when things were going seriously wrong because we just didn’t have time to do it all. They, too, kept saying that someone would come in next week, no, the week after that, perhaps next month… I quit as soon as I could.

      1. I experienced this too. There’s probably a term for it, but basically, management’s perception of the number of staff it needs gradually sinks.

        What started as a four person job turned into a three person job. We were told “Well, sometimes you need to step up and do more temporarily, but we’ll replace them”. After a few weeks, they stopped saying that, and just started treating it like our job to do that amount of work with three people. Then, someone else quit… then, I got a new job. But they didn’t seem to be able to see that, while it was possible to step up and do extra for a short time when something unexpected happens, that doesn’t represent the baseline level of work each person is committed to doing.

        Of course, given the financial pressure to do the same with less staff, it’s not just about pyschology.

        1. It’s called “The Great Speedup” and was called that because, back in the day, management would simply begin speeding up the assembly line. Different approach, same result today. That’s one reason why unions (those of us still around) set work conditions as part of the contracts. Otherwise, you get “Do more with less” and it becomes worse and worse.

    2. Yeeeees to the ever-changing time for future hires. I once worked for several months at a restaurant that was open 7 days a week, morning to evening and had only 2 cooks, of which I was one. For either of us to have a day off the other had to work an entire day (prep, cleaning, meal rushes, open and close) alone. The other cook was in her mid-50’s and had health problems as well.
      It got to a point where I actually yelled at the HR head when she came down to lecture me because a customer had complained about slow service. (no fear of being fired. what could they do?) After a few months of “we’ll have new staff soon!” I quit.
      We also did not have an on-site manager for the better part of 6 months, so we also had to do a bunch of the ordering paperwork. The restaurant shut down last year.

  9. I had an interview not long ago that did not go well. I thought it was my dream job and prepared so so much for the interview but I came out not wanting the job and feeling confused. (Just FYI my current job is my first graduate job and it’s good but it’s in slightly the wrong area).

    Big red flags for me were:

    1. When I asked a question it wasn’t answered. For example I asked, “Could you give me an idea of the day to day duties of the job?” and the interviewer replied, “The job is so varied it’s not possible to answer that.” This was not a one off, there were quite a few instances of this.

    2. I had an uneasy feeling about the interviewer who would be my main boss. In my gut I knew I would not enjoy working with him.

    3. Almost all of the questions they asked me were what I would call ‘above my pay grade’. It was an entry level position and they were asking me what I thought about key changes happening in the field, what direction I would take the company in etc – I was prepared for some questions like this but I was not prepared for the whole interview to be about this with no questions about my CV, work experiences, skills etc. This added to my confusion about the duties involved in the job as they didn’t talk about them at all!

    It was the hardest interview I’ve ever had. I generally don’t like interviews but I’ve had quite a lot now and I’ve always come out before understanding more about the job and feeling like I did well. Anyway, I have a lot to learn about the working world – thanks for your help Captain.

    1. To your #2, I can’t stress enough if you get a funny feeling about that person, RUN. In job #1 I had a weird feeling about one person I’d be working with but overall liked the company, my co-workers, and loved the person who would be my boss. Haha, little did I know that about three months into working there they would re-organize and the person I felt funny about would be my immediate supervisor and the person I really liked and worked well with would be in a position where I never got to work with him again. I quit there after about a year and a half because the office was dysfunctional in other ways, but that was something I should have learned from because….

      Job #2 I interviewed with a guy that I Did. Not. Like. I took the job anyway figuring I can deal with difficult people, but haha NOPE. Turns out he hired me even though he thought women were incompetent and he was also a huge, HUGE bully. He YELLED at me! I was like, I am in my 30s, this is not acceptable. I spoke to HR and eventually left after only 8 months because HR did nothing and it was ruining me. So yeah, listen to that gut feeling that says “I don’t think I will mesh well with this person.” It’s really telling you something.

  10. “I know a lot of worthy places are strapped for funds, but working for a great cause will not offset the daily damage that a shitty computer, a messy, poorly-maintained environment, and completely demoralized coworkers will wreak on your morale. You’re not in love yet, this is just the first date, so please don’t discount your gut if it’s telling you that this place doesn’t feel good. Do not assume that you will be able to change dodgy things for the better after you start working there. Change happens, but it happens slow.”

    ALL OF THIS. I’ve worked in non-profits for nearly a decade, and it doesn’t matter how much you care about the mission; if you’re cold/hot, cramped, don’t have a consistent desk, have to work in a closet or on the mail table or outside (?!), have a computer that bluescreens a couple of times a week, have rats/giant cockroach eat your desk snacks, eat cold lunch because the microwave only works about half the time… there’s just not enough caring for that. (All of these have happened to me. Now I have no caring left.)

    Other major red flags for me:
    -The length and complexity of the interview process (in particular, compared to the complexity of the position). I had an old boss who told me, “If they try to interview you more than 3 times, RUN.” This is good advice. Unless you’re interviewing for a very high-level/high-stakes position (director/VP level and up) or for a highly competitive company that basically has the pick of any applicant in their field and knows it (*Google, cough Google*) and thus makes their interview ridiculous… long, crazy interview processes are major red flags. They indicate poor internal processes, poor decision making abilities, poor management of resources, and companies who think way too much of themselves without being able to back it up with anything.
    -How people answer small-talk questions (outside of interviews, like during a team lunch, tea break, or while you’re waiting for the interviewer to arrive) about their hobbies, interests, and life outside of work. If you get an opportunity for these kinds of chats, and the only answers you get are ironic laughs about how nice it would be to have time for hobbies amirte-just-kidding-of-course, also RUN. These people are not kidding.
    -How managers are hired and supported internally. Do they grow people internally? Do they hire people with previous management experience or just “management potential”? Do they mentor or offer professional development? Or do they throw people into the role unprepared as opportunities open? This gives you valuable information not only about your own growth opportunity but also now effective your managers are likely to be. If they boss’s position a “program for people looking to move into management for the first time,” RUN.
    -If you get an offer, ask for some time to think about it, maybe even asking for a (short) extension to the date they want a decision by, even if you’re 98% sure you want it. See how they react. If they try to pressure or guilt you into DECIDING IMMEDIATELY DON’T YOU LOVE THE CHILDREN (especially if they don’t even a compelling reason why), RUN.

    1. My boyfriend interviewed with Google! They jerked him around for six months, flew him all over for interviews (LA, North Carolina, back to LA, Waterloo, wherever…I think he interviewed eight times.) and then ended up turning him down because he wasn’t willing to move cities (or commute for two hours each way.) Even though the guy who would have been his immediate boss didn’t care if he worked remotely and seemed really enthused, he was vetoed by some higher-ups at the LAST MINUTE who wouldn’t allow a remote hire. We’re a little bitter.

      It worked out, though, because not that much later he got the offer for his current job, where the (beautiful) office is ten minutes away, they treat their people like gold, and the people are so awesome that we regularly have them around for board games and BBQ. All in all, it’s lucky that Google were such jerks, because he’s infinitely happier where he is now than he would have been.

      1. YEah… and Google has the prestige, resources, and candidate pool to do shit like that (and it’s still annoying and potentially red-flaggy). But a tiny, 15-employee non-profit who wants you to do 9 interviews and jerks you around for months and months? RUN. Nothing they can offer will make up for the sheer level of incompetence that are showing you right out of the gate.

    2. Speaking of overly-complicated interview processes… I was one of a panel of TEN interviewers last year. We were not interviewing for a CEO or Board member – this was an important but mid-level position. There were five pairs of us representing various different parts of the business, and we all got 10 minutes of each interview to talk to the candidates. Luckily the person we eventually employed was (a) brilliant and (b) not too fazed by the cast-of-thousands interview process to accept the job, but if that ever happens again I am staging an intervention! I did make a bit of a fuss about the ridiculousness of the process at the time, but allowed myself to be shouted down.

      Anyway, if you find yourself in a situation like this as an interviewee you can take away that the organisation is probably a bit dysfunctional, and that a LOT of people think they have input into your job, so you’ll have to manage a whole load of stakeholders and their expectations.

    3. I spent FAR too much of last year being jerked around by Teavana for the sake of a /sales associate/ position for minimum wage. They interviewed me six times. SIX TIMES. The last of those six interviews went wonderfully, the manager of that location TOLD me that I would be an excellent fit and that she definitely wanted another(!) interview with me, and she promised that they’d be in touch with me within two weeks. Three and a half weeks passed with absolutely no word at all, so I eventually made a polite phone call, and got – in more or less these exact words – “Oh, hahaha, we hired someone else! Sorry about that!”

      NEVER. AGAIN. (As it turns out, they’re an atrocious company anyway. So… bullet dodged?)

    4. The manager thing is really important. One restaurant I worked for basically imploded because of this. The owner never really paid his staff well, but he did give occasional raises. After awhile though, he decided he didn’t want to pay the going rate for the upper positions, so he would just take people straight out of college and then promote them as needed, usually before they were ready. This eventually included the sous chef position as well. The kitchen became more and more disorganized, the menu less and less interesting, and morale and food quality declined. It’s hard on the people getting promoted too early and underpaid too. One woman I know thought it was a good opportunity at first, but then she became so frustrated that she stopped cooking.

    5. I got the absurd-interview thing second hand with one of my coworkers. She had been working as a student employee while finishing her doctorate for several years, then got hired as a temp when someone left the department. Then in order to keep her job, *for which they were considering nobody else* (if they were formally interviewing an external candidate, I could see why they’d be obligated to follow the same procedure with everyone), she had to do an extended half-day interview with several different groups including our group of coworkers. It was Awkward.

    6. Speaking from the experience of leaving an emotionally draining nonprofit work experience how staff are supported and trained is a really important question. My “department” is essentially a department of one, and while I have a mentor within the organization (the Financial Director used to have my job) – I report strictly to the executive director who has no real experience with my job duties. She’s good on some macro issues, but I’m unable to ask her for advice/suggestions on anything more day to day she’d have no response. It can also make taking vacations and quitting more fraught.

      I’m not allowed to leave a “I’m on vacation, for immediate questions contact” away messages on my email and am expected to check my email at least every other day when I’m on vacation and provide responses. Also, when I finally realized that for many many reasons I was ready to quit – I felt like I needed to provide a three month notice period because again, if I’m not replaced not only is my job left undone but there would be no one to train a replacement. So now I’m in my last month of a ridiculously long notice period and have totally mentally checked out.

      All of this might have been red flagged if I’d asked about management and training. I was in the case of “having” to get a job, my predecessor did kindly warn me that my boss was difficult, and the cause is one I do care about deeply – but these is one of the huge components to this becoming a job I now NEED to leave.

  11. When I was being interviewed for my current job, I was asked why I left my previous position (I had been unemployed for almost 6 months at that point). I gave my reasons for not accepting an offer to turn my 1-year contract into a 3-year contract, which included the company not wanting to invest in my further education as they had promised (which would leave me underqualified at the end of the contract compared to others in the field). The interviewer then just kept asking: “I don’t understand, why wouldn’t they invest in your further education? Wouldn’t that be cheaper than having to train someone else for the job?” OVER and OVER. What was I supposed to say? There’s only so many polite variations on a theme of ‘I don’t know, they wouldn’t give me a reason beyond ‘financial crisis’, you should ask them’. She wouldn’t let it go, to the detriment of the rest of the interview.
    I was offered and accepted the position based on interviews with other staff members, but only because I knew I wouldn’t have much to do with that one interviewer. Every time there is some business with her, she displays the same pattern of latching on to one point, no matter how unimportant, and ignoring everything else. If she would have become my direct supervisor, for instance, I would never have taken the position.

    The moral is: if you’re going to work closely with these people, make sure they’re people you can actually work with: how they behave during the interview is probably a reflection of how they behave the rest of their working week.

  12. I’m a certified veterinary technician and had an interview at a veterinary clinic that was conducted by the head tech there. She mentioned several times during the interview that the head veterinarian was ‘brusque’ and ‘rough around the edges.’ Since one of the reasons I left my previous job was because of a major personality conflict with an employee, that raised some major red flags.

    Midway through the interview the vet showed up to start seeing his appointments. This particular clinic was for exotics, meaning they saw mostly reptiles, birds, and pocket pets. That meant they needed a supply of crickets on hand to feed their patients, and it just so happened that a fresh box had just arrived. The tech had earlier confessed to me that she was severely phobic of all insects and had to have someone else do the feedings.

    The vet proceeded to chase her around the building with the box of crickets. To the point she was cornered and started crying and hyperventilating. It was truly the most epic red flag being raised I could have possibly have imagined…you’d need a crane to hoist the thing. I turned down the job and the tech BEGGED me to reconsider…I got the sense the vet’s behavior had made other candidates and employees bolt.

    Even if the cricket incident hadn’t occurred, the way she spoke of her boss would have been enough despite being more subtle (she wasn’t ranting, just slipping in the odd comment here and there.) At the very least, I think I would have asked to meet the man directly before taking the position.

  13. My interview for my current job was over two hours long. About 80% of that time? The boss telling me her life story, the detailed history of her business, etc. She had a few questions for me and I answered them, but mostly it was her talking. At the time I was glad because I can listen like a mofo so I figured I was acing the interview (and I did get the job, obviously), but working there has revealed that, while she’s overcome a lot of obstacles and her nonprofit does a lot of good, she’s hugely narcissistic and has a very poor sense of time: two things that make my job frustrating and more difficult on a daily basis. My coworkers all had a pretty identical experience and a pretty identical sense of, “Shoulda seen the red flag.”

    I guess my takeaway from that is: if an interview follows a really unusual format (especially if there’s no rationale given for it), think about why that might be, and what dysfunctionalities it might reveal.

    1. I had an interview like that and you’re right, it was a huge red flag that I should have seen! If you spend long stretches of the interview sitting there thinking, “I’m not going to interrupt you, but shouldn’t I be talking just a little bit?” take it as a sign of things to come.

    2. I have also had this exact interview, to the point that the interviewer did not ask any questions and it was really difficult to actually slip in any details about, you know, me and my qualifications. I also most felt like I was being rude at points, because I was interrupting her monologue, but otherwise I would have just walked out of that interview having said nothing but “Yes, absolutely” and “Oh, I see” for an hour and half! I did not get offered the job, so I have no idea whether this was just a function of the woman’s personality or if it was some sort of secret interview test which I presumably failed!

    3. Thank you so much for bringing this up! The interview for my previous job was a similar experience — my interviewer/future boss had almost no actual questions for me, which I thought was weird, and I left having no clue how I actually did until I was offered the job. In that case, my boss turned out to be utterly incapable of staying on task in a meaningful way, utterly disconnected from what anyone’s daily work entailed despite it being a five-person company, and generally a blow-where-the-wind-takes-you sort of person. So yeah, what this sort of thing indicates probably varies a lot, but I suspect it’s probably always an indication of SOMETHING weird.

  14. Captain, this ROCKS. Also, I’m loving the reference to Camazotz. I’m all nostalgic now for A Wrinkle in Time.

    I have found that sometimes, it’s just a feeling I get from someone. I got an off-putting vibe from one person I interviewed with–I got the feeling they was rude (turned out it was the case). At another place, I got the vibe that the foundation’s president was off somehow, and my lord did that bear out (berating people over email while ccing everyone in the foundation, screaming at people, etc.) I took both jobs–the first one because it was a huge pay increase and I wouldn’t be working directly for the rude director, the second one because I had been laid off from a job after the economy went kaput in 2008 and needed the job.

    Other things I’d note: Do you get the feeling they’re trying to “catch” you at being wrong or bad at something? Are you getting interviewed by every single person in the organization by committee or over endless numbers of days? (That smacks to me of indecisiveness and really poor time management–if I’m being interviewed by the director, the people I’d be supervised by, their assistants, and peripheral folks, they’re wasting my time and theirs). If they decide on someone else, do they let you know if they’ve filled the position but thank you for your time? I had three interviews with a place and then heard nothing. I called and left a message for the person I interviewed with, asking what the status or next steps were. No call back. I finally sent him a short, cordial email, asking him what the next steps were, and he finally wrote me back a week later saying they weren’t sure but they were keeping their options open but maybe they’d call me. Yeah, no.

    How do they interact with each other? How do they talk about other people they work for or with? How do they talk about people they supervise? Are they nice–and is that all they’re trying to be? Are they so invested in being people’s friend that they won’t really be a boss? Boundaries are a good thing. Assholes and squishy people pleasers are two sides of the same shitty coin.

    Are they trying to emulate their clients/donors/prospects? That’s a turn off for me, personally (which means I won’t fit in) but YMMV.

  15. I’m still fairly young, but things I’ve already encountered…I’m in CS.

    -Cracking sexist jokes during my interview
    -Not being given a project description (it happens, often legitimately, but it means that things could suck in the future)
    -Why is everyone here a white dude? (Right now I’m in an office like this where everything is wonderful, but I still consider it a red flag)
    -Standing me up for a Skype interview, and blaming me
    -Trying to schedule Skype interviews after the in-person rounds…what was the point of me visiting you, again?

    I also dress more feminine that usual during my interviews. Does this freak them out? Good to know.

    1. Everyone is a white dude is a legit concern of mine. My office is small, about 25 people, and it’s 6 women, one black man and one Asian man. So white men are about two-thirds of the office. It makes me uncomfortable, even though nothing is hugely problematic here (just the usual small company difficulties).

      1. My current job has only two women employees including myself. This could’ve been a MAJOR concern for me, especially in such a male-dominated field (Hazmat cleanup), however they did a couple of things very right:

        1. One of the interviewers was a woman. Good sign that they value her opinions.
        2. No sexist questions or comments at all. The only time gender was mentioned in the interview at all was when the (female) supervisor warned me about handling birth-defect-causing chemicals on the job. Also good.
        3. After I’d been hired, the supervisors told me how to report any harassment problems and that if anyone even made me feel uncomfortable to let them know.

        Basically, if a company makes it clear to me that the reason they don’t have many women/minority employees is because they don’t have many women/minority applicants… not a problem. But unless that’s clear, “all white dudes” = HUGE red flag.

        1. A good friend of mine had a very similar interview experience with a small IT organisation, but the reality of the job was otherwise. Sexist jokes all day long in the office, and when she complained, she was told to HTFU.
          Thankfully, she’s a strong woman, and dropped a harassment suit in their lap, while walking away.
          It was shitty that what several of us, her included, thought was a good role turned out to not be.

      2. Yeah, it took me a while to get used to it. Funnily enough they are MUCH touchier about the lack of racial diversity than about the lack of gender diversity. Maybe because the lack of women in my field is a known and often-discussed problem?

        I think the reasons why I felt comfortable taking the job, despite that, were in part:

        1. When I asked if there were any female engineers, I got a slightly-guilty/enthusiastic response of, “Not right now, we wish it was otherwise, if you want to talk to former female employee X here’s her contact info!” They didn’t try to cover it up, or act like they didn’t understand why I’d ask.

        2. It was a very small place, so I’d gotten to meet a lot of the company while interviewing, and they were all very genuinely friendly.

        3. They’d publicly broken out gender numbers of applicants before (based on name-guessing), and it was clear that female applicants received interviews and offers at a comparable rate. Also, publicly discussing such things means that someone is paying attention to those numbers.

        1. That’s interesting that they’re touchier about the racial diversity. My company doesn’t seem too concerned with either. Of the women five are white, and five are also conventionally attractive and under 35. Those things all concern me, but I don’t feel comfortable addressing it because it’s one of those “don’t rock the boat” kind of places and the economy being what it is I’d rather have a job than take the high road.

    2. “Why is everyone here a white dude?”

      Maybe it’s just me but in job postings where they say they want someone who’ll play Starcraft (might have been a different game) with them after work or that they’re looking for someone just like us, that’s what I assume is the case. (Not because I think only white dudes play Starcraft but because it feels like a safe bet that the person who wrote it thinks that.)

      I don’t know, there’s just something about an employer saying “We want someone just like us” that really rubs me the wrong way. IIRC, someone wrote an article about why that mentality is bad for business or IT but I’m not sure how to find it now.

  16. I think 90% of my job interviews have been on the phone. Makes it very difficult to get a sense of an operation. I suck at coming up with questions to ask my interviewers too, its amazing I ever get job offers.

    1. “I suck at coming up with questions to ask my interviewers too, its amazing I ever get job offers.”

      Yeah, that depends. I would advise people to have one decent question planned in advance, but it’s also fine to say at the end ‘actually, you covered everything I wanted to ask about already!’

      Note: questions here shouldn’t be about things like the staff canteen, the pension arrangements, etc., because it looks like you’re only interested in those not in the actual job. You can and should absolutely ask about those if you get a job offer and as a negotiating tactic, and you can ask them alongside a bunch of other questions in the interview, but you shouldn’t only ask this sort of thing in the interview.

      1. Yep, I usually go with something like “how is achievement assessed – is there a regular review procedure, and if so, what is measured?” That tells you a lot too. You want to make sure there is some way for people to know you’re doing a good job, because that is how you get raises and promotions.

        1. Oh yes! A job I had, the review procedure involved the boss ranking your performance in various things on a scale that had the highest rank as “adequate.” That really says something, when the highest achievement your boss acknowledges is “adequate performance.” And, in the way of marking schemes everywhere, you will never get 100% which means that you are official labeled as “inadequate” in some portion of your job.

      2. My go-to question has become “What surprised you most between your interview and starting to work here?”

        Every interviewer * I’ve asked it to has said, “Uh, wow! Good question,” though for a few seconds, and then given me really insightful information.

        *Except the time I was being interviewed by Bland Neutral HY Lady for a technical position she knew absolutely nothing about. She did not answer the question. This was also insightful.

          1. Agreed! Several interviewees have asked me what it’s like to work at [employer] or what’s the best/worst thing about working for [employer] and those usually elicit some interesting answers (I have occasionally been surprised by the answers my colleagues give!). I will definitely give them a go at any future job interviews.

        1. This is genius. I have had a string recently of jobs at organizations that do great work/ have great co-workers but the upper management is shite, which makes it hard to feel supported and/or like continuing at those organizations. Maybe this is a way to get a feel for that disconnect.

        2. Yeah! This reminds me of the question I asked during my college search process, “what is the biggest negative stereotype about your school, and why isn’t it true?” which was also super informative. (Negative information being more varied than positive information.) However, I’ve been looking for a less-aggressive version of that question to ask in interviews, and I think this might just fit the bill.

    2. I always do a short (maybe ten minutes) phone interview before bringing anyone in. I can usually weed out most of the people that way. It didn’t occur to me that a business might hire someone based solely on a phone interview.

      1. That can be the case when there’s a distance issue. Earlier this year I was doing a temporary job abroad and trying to line up a job for when I got back; I had a whole bunch of phone and Skype interviews as replacements for in-person ones. (Then again, I wasn’t hired for any of those jobs…)

        I also once had a phone “interview” that was like 20 minutes long and consisted of my then-future supervisor pretty much ascertaining that I’d be happy with the job (rather than the other way around), after which I was hired. That was weird. (I was gonna be an intern, though (the first one they’d ever had), and I’d been recommended by someone within the department, so I guess their level of scrutiny wasn’t that high.)

  17. Re: the general vibe of the place, level of upkeep, etc.

    If the bathrooms have tampon/maxi pad machines, are they stocked? In working order? If they aren’t, that’s a red flag.

      1. I’ve temped at places without trash receptacles in the bathroomm. Scary but true.

  18. I was just laid off from a job that had major red flags from start to end (none of them, incidentally, related to the actual reason I was laid off, the sequester!). I had been planning to leave within a year: being laid off bumped up my time schedule but is for the best. At this point, I feel woefully prepared on whether to judge whether a job is actually red-flaggy or if I’m being picky, so I intend to bookmark this thread and read carefully.

    1) I got the job because I’d e-mailed a friend of a family member hoping that she could pass my resume to people in my field on as she’d promised. (She worked in a field that used some of the same skillsets but not the same area.) She instead asked if I would work for her. I thought this friend could be trusted to look out for me. I was wrong.

    2) I was told I had the job and I didn’t need to interview, but I was going to have a day of meeting people who I would be working with. Midway through the day, I found out that the people I was interviewing with did not think I was already hired, but instead thought I was interviewing! As a candidate! This drastically changed my approach.

    3) Offices were fine, but everyone seemed vaguely unhappy and stressed a lot, and no one ever had a consistent day-to-day schedule. One of the people I met actually told me, “you should really think about whether or not you want to work here.”

    4) Poor communication in general, which led my start date to be pushed back…and back…and back…to the point I had no idea when I was going to move, or if they would ever contact me again.

    5) Once in the job, so many red flags. The moment that hurt me the most was: before winter break, I had been working on two projects, one of them huge, one of them really tiny and quick. Right after winter break, she asked me to join a phone meeting. I’d thought we were meeting to discuss the big project, as that had been what I’d been working on, and I prepared for that. Once we were in the meeting, she told me to start talking about the tiny and quick project, which I hadn’t looked at for weeks. I stammered and had to run back and forth to get printouts — never mind that I had previously emailed her all the relevant information! — which she rejected *in* the phone conversation and asked me to make copies with new headings…and then she said, on the phone, there had been a miscommunication and we’d have to talk to them about the big project later, ending the conversation early. I had never been so embarrassed in a work environment. Afterwards, I mentioned to my boss that I was sorry I’d been unprepared for the meeting, but I’d thought we were discussing the big project. She smiled, nodded, and *never spoke to me again for the rest of my time there*.

    1. Oh my gosh. It must feel great to be free of all of that.

      When someone on the interview tells you not to work there…. Consider believing them.

      In my work career, the key has been that when the job is “gosh we would like someone with your title around” rather than actually understanding or planning for the title or the position, I now know to run like heck. Some people with my title can come in and prosper in a vague situation with uncertain support, an unclear mandate, and nobody who knows how the job works…. But not me.

  19. I had a tutoring “job”. I say “job” because I didn’t work for a single day. (And I didn’t get any money paid.) I’m just glad that I managed to leave without any big drama.

    How did that happen? Well, it was basically tutoring on demand. The boss would send emails to everyone, and we had to reply as soon as possible. Obviously, most of us were young students, who mainly did that as a job for summer. So, I applied, and was accepted right away. It took about a week until I got my first assignment. I replied as soon as I got the mail, but as it had been sent two hours earlier, someone else had already taken the assignment. Okay, fine. The next time, I replied 15 minutes after the email had been sent. Still too late. The third time, I finally got it… and then the person who requested the tutoring moved the starting date back a couple of weeks, at which time I’d already be back in college. And then I finally had to quit because I had to leave soon and it wouldn’t have been worth it.

    So, what did I learn from that? Stay away from on-demand jobs where there’s no guarantee that someone would demand you. I think the problem was that apparently tutoring season is during late August/early September, but most students are free all summer. So there was too much personnel for too few people. In the two months that I would have been available, I only got those three opportunities. And it’s not like one session pays god knows how much.

    Another lesson I learned is to stay away from places where apparently only one person is responsible for everything. It was really just this one guy holding the entire thing together.

    As I said above, I was really lucky that the guy was nice and understanding and basically worked with the assumption that most workers would only be available for a few months. But I still regret taking that job. I wish I had gotten an actual job.

    1. I wouldn’t go so far as to say stay away period– I tutor for a couple agencies like that, but I do it as extra income on the side (I’m in grad school and get paid through fellowship/TAship). But yeah, I’m on board with you about not taking that kind of job as a main job, and if they expect something like that to be your only job in an interview, that’s a huge red flag (actually that would probably go for any part time gig).

      These days I set up most of my tutoring jobs on my own through a tutoring website rather than getting them through an agency, but I’ve had good experiences with on demand jobs as extra, rather than primary, income.

      (I agree with you, though, about the jobs where one person is responsible for everything. That job sounds really disorganized, more so than any tutoring job I’ve done.)

  20. A tip I read for developers: ask if you can see the area where you’ll be working. Not the specific desk that would be assigned to you, just the area of the office where the developers work. If they make excuses and won’t let you near it, you should expect bad working conditions.

    1. I meant to say, though I read this advice specifically for developers, a field where you’re often expected to work in inadequate conditions, I think it could apply to all office jobs.

  21. One of my standard questions is now “what is the difference between an employee who meets your qualifications and one who you would consider outstanding?” My main purpose when I started asking the question was to filter out the companies that would say “an outstanding employee is one who works sixty hours a week”, but it’s a good window into the corporate culture in other ways.

    I once interviewed at a company where the only person who seemed actually enthusiastic about working there was the internal recruiter. That would be a red flag.

  22. One pretty obvious red flag for me, in retrospect, was for my current position. I put in for an admin position at a small legal firm, and they essentially wanted to hire someone that could start working the next day, before the previous person had left. After being hired and in conversation with my predecessor, it became clear that they’d had had more than two weeks notice for her leaving. And yet they were desperate to hire someone at the last minute?

    Being a small firm, there was no actual HR, and the bosses hated to do that side of it. They weren’t great at communicating issues, communicating decisions that affected the rest of us, or hiring replacements in a timely manner. I gave 6 unofficial months notice and two official months notice, and they didn’t start looking for a replacement until about 3 weeks out from my leave date. They were great lawyers, but not so great managers.

    1. How desperate someplace seems is a big indicator for me as well. It’s not a good sign when they seem to be hiring anyone who’s breathing and willing to start on monday. I’ve had jobs like that that worked out okay, but usually it means the manager is not very good and your coworkers wil be a mixed bag at best.

      1. The flip side is also true – if the process drags on and on for a long period of time, that suggests a lot of unpleasant possibilities: the company’s wish list for qualifications/experience is too specific or too unreasonable, general disorganization and an inability to make decisions, disrespect for someone else’s time, disagreement or confusion about the business need for the position, etc.

      2. That also depends on the industry and the economy. One of my friends got hired to detail rv’s and trailers and started that afternoon, but it’s unskilled labour and our city is booming (as in the recession took our economy from ridiculously overinflated to just really really good), so the unskilled labour jobs that don’t pay great are often really easy to get. That’s a very small caveat though, generally I totally agree that it’s usually a bad sign.

  23. Oh, i have enjoyed reading this post. So many things that i agree with. And then there are the guidelines that you have mention what to look at and then how to behave and of course the vibe that you get when looking at that new place. Gosh, i remember when i left my old workplace and started working at the new one, i realized only then that i have worked at a wrong place for so many years.

  24. If the job is not at a non-profit, keep your eyes open to see how far they take the for-profitness of it. When I was starting in my field, I noticed during a job interview at one place that no one had a computer. That was unusual even back then, so I asked about it. One of my interviewers told me that the bosses wanted it that way; the industry bills by the hour, so the bosses made more money if it took everyone longer to research their projects and get them written up. I’ve always been glad that I didn’t have to work there.

    1. A corollary for non-profits… the Captain has already touched on checking out how far they take their cheapness, but also check how how far they take their WE ARE NOT A BUSINESS attitude. Just because you aren’t making money, you still need “business” things like policies, organised payroll, income, growth, and an effort to improve efficiency. Non-profits aren’t country songs; they can’t just be livin’ on love. (And they need to recognize that.)

  25. I will add that, if you are interviewing at a large company, take the initial bureaucracy issues with a grain of salt. I’ve worked at several Corporate Overlords, and in every circumstance, the HR/Recruiter/initial interview processes were painful to arrange and ridiculous (I was LITERALLY kidnapped at one point as a result of one recruiter’s incompetence), but in each case the job itself was not plagued with those issues. If you’re not working in/with those departments and the company is of a certain size, it’s much more important to pay attention to the pluses and minuses of the people and departments you will be working with than the recruiter’s incompetence.

    1. Yup, literally! They sent a hired car to pick me up at the airport (seems fancy, but is actually cheaper than cab fare at that particular airport), but the recruiter forgot to provide the driver with the corporate account number, and then didn’t answer her phone for 45 minutes while the driver insisted I stay in the car while he drove around the block until someone paid him ($115, plus tip).

      Eventually, I paid my own ransom* because I was in danger of being late for the interview, and when the recruiter finally caught up with me halfway through the day and found out about what had happened, her response was basically. “Oh. Sorry.” No mention of reimbursement, no sincere apology, no explanation. It was cray.

      *Not to suggest that it was the driver’s fault. The poor guy just wanted to get paid.

        1. They did eventually pay me back, but only after I got hired and they asked for feedback on the interview process. Which I provided the hell out of. 🙂 That’s one of the pernicious part of job interviewing — I couldn’t bring up the problems until the job had been offered or denied and I no longer had skin in the game.

          P.S. The job itself was awesome, by the way. I couldn’t be happier that I took it.

      1. I think it’s entirely reasonable to be extremely angry, separately, with anyone who detains you against your will for any reason. There are mechanisms for redress of non-payment and breach of contract which, while probably not ideal for him, are way more ethical than holding the nearest person able to pay him against their will.

        1. I agree, Mary, that it would be completely reasonable to be angry/uspet/frightened about the whole situation, absolutely. I wasn’t, though. The driver was clearly bewildered as to what to do and he and I had an ongoing conversation about what next steps should be (for example, he offered to stop and call the police as a resolution, which I rejected as an option because once the police get involved, things can take a loooonnnggg time). It was a mess all the way around and should have been handled differently by both the recruiter and the driver, but I was really just annoyed by the inconvenience.

          1. Ah, I think I read you too prescriptively, as in, not only weren’t you bothered, but that it would be unethical for you to be bothered

  26. Totally off topic, but the lit geek in me LOVES the “A Wrinkle In Time” reference. That made me smile!

  27. This was not something I knew when applying for my first internship at age 19, but if the office only has one actual employee and everyone else working there is an unpaid intern, the company might be a little unstable. And relocate to California without telling you. You know, just as a random example.

  28. Are all the cubicles/doors/bathrooms/breakrooms covered in passive-agressive memos about office behavior and procedures? This to me is a red flag that you have a micro-manager or perhaps just a very poor manager.

    If it’s an hourly job, ask what their stance on overtime is, and see if it meshes with your plans. A lot of places hate paying overtime, so see if you can speak with someone who has/had your job for how they handle it: are you expected to work off the clock, clock out for breaks, do they offer early days if you have time built up?

    Similarly, how do they handle requests for time off? Not just vacations, but things like doctor appointments. You can come across some weird things, like nobody is allowed to have any time in June off because that’s when the boss is on vacation.

    And I know you can’t exactly find this out on an interview, but at one of my previous jobs, I found out that all 10+ of us working in the back office were on some sort of anxiety/depression meds, and all but one of us had started them after working there. Now, obviously, this could just be a coincidence, but it was a VERY stressful place to work at–I was working two and three people’s jobs at once because they wouldn’t hire new people and couldn’t keep the ones they did hire. If people keep bursting into the restroom to cry, it is a HUGE red flag!

    1. Oh man, the passive-aggressive notes things is DEFINITELY something you should take note of. Someone in that office is going to annoy the shit out of you every single day, for real.

      1. Probably 2 people – the person writing the notes, and the person/people who’s behavior leads to the notes. After all, if there’s a PA note about peeing on the toilet seat, that means at least one of your co-workers pees on toilet seat.

        1. I seriously considered leaving a PA note in the bathroom at my last place of employment, because someone was not being careful with her menstrual blood. It was like, WHAT THE FUCK, are you failing at Diva Cup or something, because every month it’s like a goddamn murder scene in the stalls.

          I understand PA notes in the bathrooms, is what I am saying, but they’re mostly (I find) a warning sign about antisocial behavior *in the bathrooms* and don’t say much about the person writing them. (for example, they are often written by a departmental secretary or receptionist after several complaints from staff.)

          1. I would say that the nature of the notes matter. Peeing on the seat, red flag. Please clean out the fridge could just mean they do sweeps once a quarter and throw out anything that nobody claimed, which is a great thing.

            Funny thing: I caught the lady who was taping up a note in the shared kitchen that said something like, People who use the communal dishsoap and don’t put money in the pot are terrible free-loaders. It was 7 pm on a Friday, so she didn’t think anyone would be there. She jumped and said that she was hanging the sign for someone else. Sure, you were. 🙂

          2. I mean, there are notes and there are Notes. “Please make sure the bathroom stall is clean for the next person; our cleaning staff only comes once per day.” vs. “Make sure YOU clean-up after YOURSELF in the bathroom. BE CONSIDERATE!!!!” or “Please don’t flush feminine products.” vs. “Flush ONLY PAPER or the pipes will jam and YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR THE PLUMBER. Don’t flush: (unnecessarily long list to make the point).”

            I’ve been trying to think of a non-passive-aggressive-note solution to my current bathroom dilemma. I am one of only 2 women in a company. We have 3 bathrooms (self-contained little room with toilet and sink), one men’s, one unigender, and one women’s. Men has started using the women’s bathroom, which is irritating enough (especially in a professional environment), but they have also been leaving the seat up.

            I’ve accepted the seat will never ever be down in the unigender bathroom; fine. And I sort of understand why in a place with such skewed gender ratios, it may seems tempting to use the unoccupied women’s bathroom instead of waiting for one of the other two, even though it bothers be a bit. BUT PUT THE GODDAMN SEATS DOWN, ASSHOLES.

          3. To ReanaZ (except there was no Reply for that comment, probably it was already too deeply nested): In a similar case I put up a note saying “Hey guys. If you please leave the seat down when you’re done in the women’s bathroom, we promise to leave the seat up when we’re done in the men’s bathroom.” I had it signed by my (very few) female colleagues as well as myself and put it up – behind the loo, so they actually looked at it while doing their business if they did it standing. It actually worked. Except for one person who then made a point of only using the women’s bathroom and always leaving the seat up. But then, there’s usually at least one jerk everywhere…

          4. Strangely, it’s never bothered me when men leave the seat up. Maybe because I was married for 7 years to a charming chap, who amongst many other unpleasant characteristics, left the seat down and peed all over it.

    2. Oh man, how do you handle requests for time off. Good question. There’s nothing worse than a non-existent policy, where you feel dumb if you ask for an okay, since you’ve been told that as long as there’s enough people around then it’s fine, but you feel awful if you don’t, because what if that was a bad time!

      The worst that happened because of our non-policy was that two people (out of a support staff of 5) were both out of the office for a week and a half. This was bloody murder.

    3. The overtime thing! I never figured out how to non-awkwardly ask about it but it would’ve saved me so much heartache if I’d figured it out for this one job that: consistently scheduled 40 hours, required you to clock in 15 min early for the walk to your station and stay 30 min to an hour after every shift for cleaning and the walk back. Everyone was always in overtime on Saturday (except if you called in sick one day and took the lecture and the write up) and being in overtime was a pile of paperwork and an extensive look at your “efficiency,” a lecture, and a discussion on “How we can prevent this next week.” Never again.

  29. I wanted to follow up a little on the “crappy job” part. MrCan works as a receiver at a grocery store and I recognize in myself that “That’s not a career, that’s a crappy job” reaction, which I’ve had to tamp down a lot. He doesn’t love it, but he likes the variety of work he does, the people he works with and the physical nature of the job. He’s been there long enough that he’s paid pretty well and he gets extra vacation days. It doesn’t challenge him intellectually, but he often has to solve problems with whatever tools are around, which he enjoys. If he finds a career path he prefers he’ll pursue it, but for now he’s happy in a job that gives him a reasonably consistent schedule and income, and where he’s been for long enough to have earned some perks.

    Judging someone’s intelligence and ambition by the job they’re currently doing basically ignores all the factors that go into finding and keeping any job. If I’d let my inner snob decide that a guy who only went to the equivalent of community college, works in a grocery store and doesn’t read as much as I do wasn’t worth my time I’d have missed out on a great friend and relationship.

    1. “Judging someone’s intelligence and ambition by the job they’re currently doing basically ignores all the factors that go into finding and keeping any job.”

      Indeed. My partner has worked with 2 different bartenders who had backgrounds the average customer would never expect. One of them had been a flavor chemist and the other was on the team that developed one of the earlier Pentium processors. They had both burned out of their respective careers and started tending bar.

      1. A good half of the smartest people I know tend bar or work in food service of some kind.

        1. If they’re super-geniuses who’ve had multiple careers that go on a résumé, it may well be that they got sick of people looking at their CV and going, “You could do anything. What are you doing here?” Everyone thinks someone else’s job is more glamorous and is puzzled by why you want to do theirs. Food service knows why you’re frikkin’ there: Because, like everyone else, you need to eat. They don’t care if you get bored and leave after a year or two, because everyone gets bored and leaves after a year or two. If you’ve burned out on your initial technical field(s), keep finding yourself typecast anyway, are tired of getting funny looks and mutterings about ‘potential’, and just want to stop caring when your shift ends so you can think about your personal projects, then bartending or waiting tables is an ideal choice. So are a lot of mundane clerical jobs. There’s a reason Einstein supported himself working in a patent office.

    2. One of the things I’ve come to realize is that many people just want a “job” that is mildly interesting and pays the bills, and not a “career.” They have other things outside of work that matter to them. That’s not a story that gets told a lot, but it’s true.

      1. I’m definitely in that place. Some of the things I love most are things that I know would get all the joy sucked out of them if I had to do them on a schedule for pay. I really enjoy being a useful little cog in the machine so long as it’s a non-evil machine.

        1. Some of the things I love most are things that I know would get all the joy sucked out of them if I had to do them on a schedule for pay.

          Yup. This right here is why I quit teaching. I love it, but doing it for a living was breaking my heart.

  30. I have turned down two job offers in the last four years (one four years ago and one two years ago). Both of them were promotions/payrises with solvent, non-skeevy employers.

    Caveat: yes I know I’m lucky to have the option.

    First one: I got the impression they were looking for wonderwoman to solve all of their problems simultaneously (restructure the department, sort out a load of management issues, introduce new financial structures, introduce better spending and budgeting discipline, etc.) I basically decided I could do without the stress at that point in my life.

    The second one: firstly, the Finance Director (i.e. my ultimate boss) was very hostile in the interview. I think I got the offer partly because I stood up to him and talked back, but I decided I didn’t want to deal with such an adversarial workplace. Secondly, the guy who actually made me the offer, my presumptive future boss, was very negative in how he did it. I talked to him some more before I decided to turn it down, and I got the feeling that was his style. So I didn’t fancy being caught between mister adversary and mister negative for the next stage of my working life. Thirdly, open plan office! I am an introvert and I hate them, they make it much harder for me to work. It took me a while to admit to myself that that was a valid reason to say no, though.

    No, I don’t regret turning down either one of those jobs!

    I have done a fair bit of interviewing people for jobs, incidentally, and of being interviewed. The Captain’s analogy to dating is right: as an interviewer, you don’t want someone who looks desperate, disproportionately eager to please, or as if you’re their only option. It is much better to try to treat the interview as a two-way conversation, and act as if you’re interviewing them as well, looking for a mutual fit. Ironically I get many more job offers this way – it helps make me much more nervous, and make the interview more conversational which is one of my strengths.

    Other tip: be honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want in a job. I saw a job ad recently which was something like ‘Friendly? Cheerful? Outgoing? Fun? If this sounds like you, join our team!’, and I know myself well enough now to run in the opposite direction. A job like that is really bad news for an introvert. On the other hand I like spreadsheets and databases – of course, who doesn’t???!

    By the way, if anyone has specific questions about accountancy and finance jobs and careers, I am happy to try to answer them.

    1. Thirdly, open plan office! I am an introvert and I hate them, they make it much harder for me to work. It took me a while to admit to myself that that was a valid reason to say no, though.

      Oh, god, this. My current employers have been bouncing me around through temp offices (for good reasons) and the eventual plan is to go to one of these. And I’m dreading it so badly I’m thinking about looking for another job, even though I love this one.

      1. Oof. And once they got on this track, it’s really hard to get them off it, even when it’s like “I’m so glad this open team atmosphere is making all of this confidential employee & client data I’m processing visible to everyone!”

    2. Re introversion, have you run into any other specific things to watch out for? It seems like almost every job I see includes in their waffle “and the best part is spending so much time meeting and chatting with interesting people!”, and while that’s something I personally really want to avoid, it’s hard to tell whether the job honestly does involve a lot of face time or whether it’s just a cliché they’ve put in to attract extroverts.

      1. Despite being an introvert I do genuinely enjoy all the interesting people I met through my job. I just have to get away and hide from them every so often!

        Having said that, things like detail oriented or meticulous or self -motivated might indicate an introvert friendly job. I tend to go for job adverts which talk about systems and processes and other nerdy stuff, and avoid the ones which are all about politics.

        It is possible to be a good manager or head of division as an introvert, but no denying it’s harder. I tend to schedule my time carefully. This hour I’m helping my team with their stuff; this hour I’m in committees convincing people of things; this hour I have my door shut and my headphones on, playing with spreadsheets (my ideas of fun).

        It also varies by field. Accountancy which I do has jobs for both introverts and extroverts. Being a receptionist would be much harder for me.

        1. Thanks, that’s really interesting 🙂 STEM-type jobs do seem to be a little more introversion-friendly than the arts/humanities, and good idea about the scheduling -knowing what to expect and what my limits tend to be is helpful in all areas of life!

          1. More seniority generally helps for me (I can manage my own time, choose which meetings to go to, delegate to fit everyone ‘s personality and skills.

            But it does make the office politics worse.

    3. I’m so with you–I hate the open floor plan with the fire of a thousand suns.

      First, in most of my jobs, I handle confidential information–or if not confidential, information that could be construed as gossip-worthy. It’s not for everyone to see.

      Second, in one job where I had to call people, it was really difficult to hear the person on the phone when two people were in a loud conversation right near my desk. It was also really off-putting when the person on the other end of the phone could hear it. The executive director was all, “Well, use the conference room” (he was very much against me working from home). Really? I have a workspace with my information and notes but I’m supposed to move everything into the conference room–if there isn’t already a meeting there–to do my job? Argh.

      Also–how long are the meetings? If your interviews drag on and on and on, chances are the meetings will as well, and I find that meetings that go on and on don’t actually do anything but waste time.

    4. A hearty “heck yeah!” to dislike of open-plan offices. One of the departments I’m currently working in has one. The worst bit is that the rules are all informal; on paper, no one has a permanent desk space, to encourage moving around and interacting with others in novel ways, but the reality is that people stay in one place and keep stuff at a particular desk, even when they’re not supposed to. It just adds a whole other level of anxiety, of trying to figure out which space I can work in on a particular day without someone coming in and wanting to use it.

      1. Open offices are bad enough. Hot desking is a TOOL OF THE DARK LORD KILL IT KILL IT

      2. I used to work a bank call centre, which was open plan, as they often are. I could deal with the general buzz of other people’s conversations, as long as the customer couldn’t hear anything specific (hello banking privacy laws!), but what I really hated (until they eventually changed it, thank god), was having to jockey for a desk every single day. I hardly ever got to sit near anyone on my team, which, while it led to making new and interesting acquaintances with other workers, meant newbies like me were left relying on strangers for additional training. And you didn’t always get to sit next to somebody nice and helpful. When they fixed it, each team got an assigned area, and although you weren’t always at the same desk, you were usually with the same people.

        Not only did we have to fight for a space, we also had to fight for a free headset. Oh dear lord, that was stressful. Eventually they got the company to pony up for a bunch of new headsets that we were allowed to take home and be liable for, but until then, it was every person for themselves, pacing anxiously around the floor and looking at every unattended workstation to see if there was a free headset lying around. And once you had one, if you left your desk for any reason near the start of a shift (not just your own shift, but any shift that was starting, so basically the start of ANY hour up to about four hours before closing), you were likely to come back to no headset. People would steal them from computers even though they were obviously plugged in and being used. This happened to me once MID-CALL. Like, I went to find a supervisor and came back with one, only to be unable to talk to the customer. *tears hair out*

        That job was so stressful. I didn’t do well with phones before I started; it was a desperation job, a “get me off these damn benefits” job. I lasted a little under a year, give or take a few months for bereavement leave (my dad died two months in) and sick leave due to panic attacks. My team leader was superb, though 🙂 Really understanding, experienced with mental ill-health and bereavement, and a fellow geek. We still keep in touch, and he’s provided me with excellent references!

      3. I used to work a bank call centre, which was open plan, as they often are. I could deal with the general buzz of other people’s conversations, as long as the customer couldn’t hear anything specific (hello banking privacy laws!), but what I really hated (until they eventually changed it, thank god), was having to jockey for a desk every single day. I hardly ever got to sit near anyone on my team, which, while it led to making new and interesting acquaintances with other workers, meant newbies like me were left relying on strangers for additional training. And you didn’t always get to sit next to somebody nice and helpful. When they fixed it, each team got an assigned area, and although you weren’t always at the same desk, you were usually with the same people.

        Not only did we have to fight for a space, we also had to fight for a free headset. Oh dear lord, that was stressful. Eventually they got the company to pony up for a bunch of new headsets that we were allowed to take home and be liable for, but until then, it was every person for themselves, pacing anxiously around the floor and looking at every unattended workstation to see if there was a free headset lying around. And once you had one, if you left your desk for any reason near the start of a shift (not just your own shift, but any shift that was starting, so basically the start of ANY hour up to about four hours before closing), you were likely to come back to no headset. People would steal them from computers even though they were obviously plugged in and being used. This happened to me once MID-CALL. Like, I went to find a supervisor and came back with one, only to be unable to talk to the customer. *tears hair out*

        That job was so stressful. I didn’t do well with phones before I started; it was a desperation job, a “get me off these damn benefits” job. I lasted a little under a year, give or take a few months for bereavement leave (my dad died two months in) and sick leave due to panic attacks. My team leader was superb, though 🙂 Really understanding, experienced with mental ill-health and bereavement, and a fellow geek. We still keep in touch, and he’s provided me with excellent references!

    5. Open floor plan. Echhh. That should’ve been a red flag at the Worst Company Ever. One of the main things I was hired to do was copyedit. It’s difficult to untangle somebody else’s bad writing when there are no walls, everyone in your immediate surroundings is making sales calls, and the salespeople don’t use their indoor voices.

      It took a long time for me to grasp what a bad idea this was, which says something about the darthiness of the company. The noise problem was rendered barely noticeable by the everyday psychological trauma.

    6. Open plan offices are TERRIBLE things. I had a contract job at a start-up that only required me to show up in person once a week, but that one day a week I had to spend sitting at a desk right out in the open, in the same small office as all the other employees. I quite liked all my co-workers, in fact, but it drove me bonkers, because I was expected to do the same kind of heads-down concentrated research work that I was otherwise doing in the peace and quiet of my own apartment. My shoulders would creep up around my ears over the course of the day, and by the end of it I could hardly breathe. I couldn’t wait get the hell out of there and go back to interacting with people via email.

      1. Ugh, that’s awful.

        I’m the only full-time staff at my current job without a door (it was a back corner of the office that was converted to an office space), and I deal with more or less of the same. Can’t have lunch at my desk without people coming up to me and asking me stuff that can wait until after, and they stand in the hallway near my desk to have conversations with one another.

        At least they’re finally working on getting me a door. Lord knows I need it.

  31. Another big red flag: “How well do you work with difficult personalities?”

    That means that someone in the organization is likely abusive, possibly in subtle, annoying ways, but that they are going to do everything they can within the bounds of the corporate culture to break your spirit.

    I always ask two questions in an interview, if I’m talking to someone who would be within one level or so of me in an organization. (And actually smart organizations will have you interview with people you’ll be working side by side with. For me that’s always a plus!)

    What’s your favorite thing about working here?
    What’s your least favorite thing? (Or perhaps, what’s one thing you would change about working here if you could.)

    The way people think about and respond to these questions always help me understand a litte more about the company. The more corporate BS they spew the more I realize I probably wont like it, but honest answers about the work, or the culture are great. For the second answer especially I would be cautious about someone who wont be honest with me and tells me nothing.

    Sadly the conversation mentioned in the article happend at a place I already worked, and was part of our process for hiring a new person at the time. Hiring is hard for me, because I work in a technical field so I have to make sure you are capable of doing the job, and that we can work together. I tend to ask a lot of technical questions, and questions about how you work and how you work with other people. There are two things I’m looking for, how well you think, and how well you can communicate those thoughts. I don’t need a big song and dance of enthusiasm, but I do need what you’re saying to make sense and be easy for me to understand.

    I also ask one or two more “getting to know you” things, like how you got into the field or what interests you about it. I also have asked “If you had all the money you needed and didn’t need to work, what would you do with your time?” This is the time to be really honest. For example, don’t tell me you’d just keep working, because that makes me feel like you are lying, or a very sad person.

    1. I’ve been asked the “if you didn’t have to work, what would you do with your time” question before, and I was never sure if it was meant to be a getting to know you thing, or if it was a test, and if I didn’t say something relating to the job or working then I’d prove I wasn’t dedicated enough (she only wants to work for the money!) and get knocked out of the running.

      1. If the person interviewing you doesn’t think that you are coming to work primarily because they are going to pay you they are delusional and you don’t want to work for them anyway.

        I usually am trying to get to a “what besides work are you passionate about” answer. (Which I’ve also asked and gotten “well mostly work” answers. GRRR people, GRRR.)

        1. “If the person interviewing you doesn’t think that you are coming to work primarily because they are going to pay you they are delusional”

          Haha. My current boss pretty much told me in the interview that he set the pay grade low so people would only apply because they loved the position so much. 0.o

          I applied because I DO love the position but I was also very clear about how much I was expecting to get paid (much more than his base rate) and expected regular raises. Since it was a new position and I was the first hire I was able to pave the way for more “normal” interviews and job postings in the future. He’s still a little off but my work is mostly done independently so…

        2. It’s a “communication is only possible between equals” problem: you don’t mean it as a “read my mind” question, but the situation makes it into one. I don’t have a ready solution, unfortunately.

        3. I have to admit I’d be wary of that question, because I’m not all that fond of employers who take an interest in my non-work life when I haven’t offered to share it. Also, it would be hard for me to figure out whether it was meant as an honest question (as you’re asking it) or whether it’s like “Tell me about a challenge you’ve overcome” – which almost always carries the unspoken “at work” attached.

          1. Agreed. If you want to sneak that into a casual chat, great. But if you start asking me personal, non-work-related questions in the interview, I will consider that as a potential red flag that the office culture is bad at personal/work boundaries.

          2. Er, that is to say, *I* would not to like to work for someone who asked me personal questions in an interview, because it’s icky *to me* an what i want in a work environment, not that it’s inherently a terrible thing to ask if you want to hire people who like to talk about non-work stuff at work a lot. In that way, it is a good filtering question indeed!

    2. I had an interview at a place where the previous person occupying my would be-position quit because of someone else at the branch. I got to meet him and he confessed to liking to “push people’s buttons”.

    3. Re the “difficult people” — yeah. I interviewed at a consulting firm a few years back to do publications/editorial work, and a series of questions asked in the panel interview made very clear that a big part of their culture was that the people doing the writing HATED being edited and that a major part of the editors’ job was therefore figuring out ways to navigate that (instead of, you know, concentrating on the job of MAKING WRITTEN PRODUCT BETTER). I was coming from a place where the editorial process was very collaborative and the vast majority of the writers, especially those who were writing in English as their second language, appreciated what we did for them. I was not interested in having turf wars every day.

      (The big boss in the panel interview also described herself cheerfully as a “semi-recovering workaholic,” right before making it clear that everyone on the team was expected to work at least six days a week. Not just when a big project was landing, but EVERY WEEK. You know what that says to me, big consulting firm? It says you haven’t hired enough people to get all the work done in a normal amount of time.)

    4. ‘I also have asked “If you had all the money you needed and didn’t need to work, what would you do with your time?” This is the time to be really honest. For example, don’t tell me you’d just keep working, because that makes me feel like you are lying, or a very sad person.’

      What about doing the same sort of thing, but 20-30 hours a week instead of 40, and choosing my own projects? Granted, this is because I currently have the great good fortune to be working in the field that is my passion. I’m actually doing useful data analysis on my own time for fun. But it’s definitely not the only fun in my life!

    5. Actually, the difficult personality thing has worked out well for me more than once. The first time was when I was hired to assist a project where the manager was the difficult one, micromanaging and kind of abrasive. I was intimidated by her, but she also took a tremendous interest in me and mentored me along with being a micromanager and sometimes annoying. Maybe our personalities just meshed; she’s not unlike my mom, so I was able to let a lot of her fussing wash over me in a way other people, particularly men, couldn’t.

      The other time, the person was someone I needed to get information from, and I was told he was difficult. I approached him when I needed to and asked for the info and when he could get it to me. He very brusquely told me he was busy but that he’d have it for me by Friday, and he did. This was at a tech company and his kind of uncommunicative blunt personality isn’t unusual, so I’ve learned to deal with it. Yes, he was a crab, but it wasn’t personal; the person I was replacing did see it as personal, and it bothered her in a way it didn’t bother me.

      I’m not saying it’s not a red flag, but it could be good to ask for specifics about what makes the person difficult, and try to figure out if that would be a problem for you. It might not be.

      1. Yes, I temped at a place where several people warned me about this one particular person, and frankly I did not have ANY problems with them at all, to the extent that they offered to be a professional reference for me. Part of it was that there were long, long, LONG-standing personality conflicts (it really had gotten to the “bitch eating crackers” stage), and part of it was that this person was a lot more technologically-savvy than the people who were doing work for him, which must be frustrating. I mean, if I’d have interviewed for the job instead of being sent on a temp assignment, I may not have taken it, but it turned out ok. Trust your gut, though, is the key thing.

    6. Thanks for saying this! I didn’t get a lab tech position that I was really hoping to get and they spent a rather long time on this in the interview. It didn’t really register as a red flag beyond the fact that I thought I’d stuffed up my response (Talk to them about it and if that doesn’t work just try and maintain minimal polite conversation) but now I think that it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t get the job.

    7. But what if the really honest answer is that you’d keep working? I honestly like to work for the sake of it, because it gives my life a nice amount of structure and social interaction. So I might work less if I was rich, but I’d definitely still work.

      1. heh, yeah, my answer for that kind of thing is that doing a PhD taught me that I do not do well with a lack of structure. For me it’s a “know yourself” question.

        I don’t think there is a right or a wrong answer, though – it’s more about corporate/organisation culture. For some places, “I have a fantastically busy life of sport/volunteering/family outside work” is exactly the right answer. For others, “I absolutely love working, I’m glad that you pay me but I’d probably want to do it anyway” is the right answer. It’s one of those questions where, if you’re fortunate enough to be in the position where you’re looking for the *right* job and not just *any* job, you might as well be honest, because unless you really know the company culture it’s very hard to predict what the “correct” answer is supposed to be.

        1. I also would TOTALLY keep working, probably pro bono for non profits or something. But I went like two weeks without a job once and thought I’d go nuts. (I worked 3 jobs all through college. I just like having stuff to do.)

          My issue is, if you don’t show me who you are in an interview I can’t hire you. I know that you want to keep up your perfect corporate drone face because that seems most likely to get you hired, and for some jobs it will.

          But no one is their “interview mask” every day. And I need to know what you’re really going to be like at work. If you never show me that in an interview I probably can’t hire you. I also found that once I stopped trying to be vanilla boring corporate drone in interviews I got more job offers. (YMMV)

      2. Maybe mention someplace you’d like to volunteer with? My reasons are kind of different, but that’s what my answer would be. Or even something like “well, I’d go looking for my absolute dream job, which is…”

      3. Some options which would involve daily structure and interaction but could show your interests might include volunteering, or taking a pay cut to work for a not-for-profit group you support. Or starting your own business. Or taking classes in stuff that always interested you, but you never had the time (or money) to pursue before.

    8. Another big red flag: “How well do you work with difficult personalities?”

      The coolest company I ever worked for asked a variant of that question. My coworkers-to-be weren’t at all difficult, but a small minority of the clients were. If you can’t suss out from the context whose personalities they expect you to find difficult, that’s a fair question to ask them.

    9. I’ve had really good results with the “most favorite/least favorite” questions, too–it really gives you insight into what the interviewer values, and if you get similar answers from more than one person, it can be good window into the culture. Sometimes, depending on the interviewer, I ask the “least favorite” question as “if you could change one thing about working here, what would it be?”

    10. “How well do you work with difficult personalities?”
      “Um…Charles Manson difficult, or leaves her coffee cup in the sink constantly difficult?”

    11. Oh my God, yes about the “How do you work with difficult personalities?” thing. I interviewed for an editing position with this mortgage company, and a good quarter to two-thirds of the interview centered on how I would deal with workplace dysfunction, drama, gossip, or hostility. They were really, really keen on finding out if I’d play along with whatever insanity they’d decided to foster. One of the interviewers really seemed to have it in for me (The other two, and the person I’d talked with on the phone, really liked me) and asked me a bunch of irrelevant questions about my degree (We’d both studied English, and she was trying to trip me up about the Victorians, which a) failed, and b) had zilch to do with mortgages or editing). The sad thing is, I was still prepared to deal with it, because my extended unemployment benefits were about to run out, two-plus years of unemployment had made me suicidal, and the pay was great. Buuuuut then they told me I was hired, but they needed corporate approval for funding/training, and I dealt with maybe two months of that before I told them not to bother (Nicer than that, but really, you think I will wait around forever to maybe get hired for your horrible company? Psh).

    12. The “difficult personalities” question is less of a red flag if you’re interviewing for a position where you’re required to interact with a lot of interchangeable members of the general public. If you do retail or technical support, you run into a lot of “difficult personalities” once and then never see them again — it’s just the nature of the beast, and in that case the question is a valid way to gauge whether you’re going to break down in tears the first time someone is an unreasonable tit.

      The correct answer in that circumstance, by the by, is, “I would politely suggest every alternative within my power to resolve their issue, and if none of them are acceptable, I would call a manager, because that is what they are for, and the problem is clearly above my pay grade.” If the interviewer doesn’t think this is the way to handle argumentative patrons, then you DON’T want to work there.

    13. Good lord, that is so true!! I posted below about a job that had had 10 different employees in the same position over a three year period, and I was asked that question in my interview!!

      I was happy to boast that I could get along with ANYONE, but I had never, ever met anyone as difficult to work with as the AD in that organisation.

      I learnt a very important distinction that I have utilised since: I can work with ANYONE who – regardless of their personality or management style – is capable and is working effectively towards the agreed-upon end result.

      That describes the many ‘difficult’ people I had gotten along with in the past.

      What I now know is, I can’t get along with people who are willing to sacrifice the end result in service of meeting a selfish need, or whose personalities prevent them from working effectively towards the end result.

  32. Oh wow, you’re whole last bullet-pointed NO list is my office. Literally. And everyone there is looking for a new job. So here’s the red flag I had in my interview that I completely didn’t catch: in the group of questions the HR lady said “how are you with dealing with yelling or people who yell” and I was like “I’ve dealt with that before (I’m in a deadline-driven industry and tempers can flare) and I just let it go and move on.”

    Of course I thought she only meant every once in a while, when things are really bad or behind or, like I said, the usual for this type of job market. Nope. I work for a woman who screams, not yells, screams at people every single day. She also says horribly mean-spirited, abusive things about people, including calling them fat or stupid, or telling them they should go kill themselves. She liked to “joke” with the pregnant women about how fat they were getting (she clearly has issues about weight).

    And she fancies all of us her family. She asks intrusive questions about people’s love lives. And we have “cocktail parties” randomly when she wants everyone “to have fun”, which we are yelled at if we don’t come to quick enough. And yet she complains when people don’t work enough overtime, which no one is paid for.

    And looking back, I just didn’t catch the questions like “how are you with yelling?” or “how do you feel about overtime?” and so on. Within a month of working here, the stress from the yelling (even not directed at me, since it’s so loud it carries through the whole office), had me looking for a new job.

    1. The “how do you work with difficult people” and “how are you with yelling?” stuff is huge.

      I once interviewed for an assistant position where the recruiter had warned me about “difficult personalities” and the potential boss straight up told me she was a yeller sometimes and asked how I would deal with that. I said that if anyone yelled at me at work about something that wasn’t an immediate safety issue (like “STAND BACK, SHE’S GOING TO BLOW!” or “FIRE!”), I would get up, walk away, go outside, take a walk around the block a few times or go find some tea, and come back in 20-30 minutes and see if things had calmed down. I also said that I would start sending resumes out within 24 hours and leave as soon as possible.

      She was completely taken aback. “You’d just get up? You’d just WALK OUT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? You would QUIT YOUR JOB because someone was a little MEAN TO YOU? Are you really that THIN SKINNED? GOD, GROW A SPINE.”

      And I said “Ha ha, was that a funny test or something? Because, yeah, I’m out.”

      My spine was just fine. It was just set to “Don’t take any of this person’s shit” instead of “Stay here and take it while being slowly ground to a fine paste.”

      1. Though the yelling never came from my bosses or coworkers, I suddenly feel much better about quitting the call center I worked at. (I lasted less than three months. Now I know why they pay so well and offer benefits and overtime pay, and why they’re always hiring when practically nowhere else in town is.)

        1. I too once worked in the 9th circle of call center hell (cough*alarm response*cough), and basically played beat the clock to get a new job before they could fire me for breaking one of their multitudinous infractions. We were absolutely forbidden to hang up on a customer, no matter how abusive they became, it was horrible. You had to try and get them to a supervisor the minute things went south, and sometimes the customer was a raging a-hole sadist who knew you had to take it and wouldn’t let you transfer them. I felt like I was liberated from a POW camp when I finally did get out and into my current (non-screamy) position. And all for the princely sum of $10/hr. You were also expected to be on-call, even on your days off. Goooooood times.

          1. I just started being the person who processes the quality assurance surveys for my telecom company – the ones customers get emailed when their trouble tickets are closed. Hollllly crap, I would not ever want to be on the Repair Answer team, because so many of our customers are a-holes even when their issue 1) was not our fault, and 2) was fixed in less than 5 minutes.

      2. Oh, jeez.

        So not long out of college, I had this job that I absolutely loved. I mean, I loved the work- it was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to be doing, incredibly interesting, intellectually challenging, doing something that felt really worthwhile. The lot. Except for the people I worked with.

        Looking back, I should really have quit after the first day I was to work with Head Of Project. Immediate Supervisor hadn’t let me know of a bunch of the things that were expected of me working with HOP- I’d been told that I was accompanying her to see how certain things worked, but it turned out I was supposed to be doing a bunch of work I hadn’t been told about when I’d asked. None of which would have been a massive deal, except that it all had to be done in advance and.. owch. Not good. Especially since this was my first time working in Favourite Field, I was so worried about doing a great job and impressing everyone.

        Anyway, the day was horrendous, I was mortified at the situation, etcetc. Managed to just about pull things together, though. Anyway, Head of Project calls me in the office the next day to yell at me. She got massively horrible- wouldn’t let me speak, twisted everything I did try to say, yelled at me for the better part of an hour. And when I ended up in tears, just got far, far meaner.

        I really should have left when Immediate Supervisor told me that being yelled at and belittled all the time was par for the course, that it was completely normal to cry about work a few times a week, and that my previous experience with jobs that involved not crying on a regular basis was just a combination of blind luck and pampering.

        Of course, I didn’t leave, things got far worse. Never again.

        1. My horrible bully boss from job #2 above also acted like this was just “how it was” in my industry, and it was lies. I’ve worked before and since both in that industry and in others where I was not abused. While the work was sometimes strenuous, sometimes stressful, and sometimes did make me cry from frustration or lack of sleep, it was never abusive anywhere else. The problem is not the industry, the problem is abusers. I’d glad we’re both out of those situations, anon for this one.

  33. Wow, this post was timely for me. I’ve just been let go from a job that started off seeming almost perfect, but rapidly deteriorated. Looking back, I can’t say that the interview had any red flags that I’d missed, but it became apparent very quickly whilst working there that something wasn’t right. (For context, the job was in elderly residential care.)

    -At the interview, I was told I’d get two weeks external training as I was new to the sector. Once I had started, I was told I would be following another member of staff around. For thirty minutes. Thankfully, a lot of my job I could wing, but I was often asked to do something that should really have been demonstrated to me by someone trained (e.g. changing catheter bags). Oh, and it was my fault when I didn’t automatically know how to do those things.

    -I was subordinate to five members of staff, all of whom had different routines for doing the job, and all of whom would report me to the management when they caught me following the routine of another senior staff member. So I was locked in a constant cycle of: Follow Person A’s orders until Person B tells me to do it differently. Think you’re doing fine until Person C chews you out loudly and publicly for doing such a crap job and tells you the ‘proper order’ to do things in. Ad infinitum. Seriously, it was over things as simple as moving a catering trolley twelve feet down a corridor.

    (This actually got the the stage where I couldn’t tell if I was actually doing something wrong, or if I was merely following the “wrong” routine for that day. Which didn’t matter in the end, because all management heard was how I was doing my job wrong from several different people. I spent the last fortnight on the job in a state of self-doubting panic, sure I was screwing up everything because I was such an unreliable person.)

    -When I started the job, I was up front about the fact I was seeing a counselor for some minor processing issues, and that I may be having an Asperger’s assessment in the future. Which was fine with them (apparently), until I actually got the assessment booked. At which point my workplace assessment scores plummeted from “satisfactory, picking up skills well, good team member,” to “unable to follow procedures, unwilling to listen to criticism.”

    (And don’t get me started on how my manager told me that I couldn’t have Asperger’s, because “you just have to find the thing that starts your thinking going astray”, followed by a rambling story about how her best friend only has OCD because a guy broke up with her, but the guy broke up with her because she had OCD. What?…)

    Ultimately, I was put on sick leave, and after a long string of back and forth interviews, told that if I couldn’t explain to them everything that they should be doing to assist me up front, then I would be fired. Even though I have no formal diagnosis yet, and every suggestion I made up to that point was laughed off as, “Oh, you don’t need to do that!”

    I just got a letter telling me that “they are sorry to see me go”, along with some heavily edited meeting minutes where, strangely enough, all the issues and concerns I raised are edited out to make it look like I agreed to quit.


    Sorry this got a bit long for a first comment, this has all just been building up over the past few months. Looking back on it all, I can see so many things that I just shrugged off as “an informal environment” or me not being good enough. But now I’m out, it feels like a great weight off my shoulders.

    TL;DR – Sometimes it’s easy to let red flags slide when you look at them individually, but then you turn around and behind you is a vast wasteland of dysfunction and gaslighting.

    1. Oh man, that sounds horrible. You have my sympathies, and I hope you have better luck in the future.

  34. Geez. My most recent lemon of a job had serious red flags from the get go. Background: When I moved to New City two and a half years ago, I was desperate to not work in food service anymore. I’d been burned pretty badly with the inconsistency of relying on tips in a suit-case-school college town. I eventually went back to food service, had some bad experiences with petty managers at a job I still work one day a week at for pocket money. I took a seasonal golf course job late last summer, and when the season ended in November, I managed to line up an interview for a receptionist position at a spa.

    I interviewed shortly before Thanksgiving. The interview process itself wasn’t so bad. I don’t remember any really odd questions, or at least none I’d never heard before in the current entry-level job search world. They wanted a super multi-tasker, not out of the ordinary. But. When we were setting up my training shifts, the owner didn’t so much ask when I was available as tell me when I would be coming in to train. Most of the time? Not a huge deal. But for a major holiday, when I’d briefly mentioned I was excited to see my own family for Turkey Day for the first time in 3-4 years? And that I had a 3 hour drive to see said family? I ended up not being able to talk my way out of it, and worked the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the Friday and Saturday after it. I didn’t get to see my family. Or the boyfriend’s family. This both sort of colored my perception the rest of the time I was there, and foreshadowed a whole hell of a lot.

    I wasn’t allowed to change my schedule for the first six months of employment. Something they never told me in the interview. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, but I wasn’t able to request days off- every day I didn’t work had to be covered by someone else, and that was tough to make happen.

    I was expected to always have phone/email available, because hoo boy, did every tiny oversight and mistake get phoned or emailed back, with annoyed urgency. And documented with cutesy “Oops!” notes. It made me feel stupid, and incapable. I’m still struggling with that. And I still feel a titch of anxiety looking at my email or phone sometimes, and I was fired back in February.

    When the owner noticed a few more small oversights (ex: music left on over night. drawer deposit in the wrong spot on her desk, someone wasn’t put on the wait list) occurring than she liked, we were expected to come in for weekly team meetings. They were paid, but didn’t mesh with my second job, and I had to rush to get to and from them. At one of them, my boss expressed surprise that I had most of a college degree while she told us she was planning on only hiring college graduates for our position going forward. It had been on my resume.

    One of the front desk people got her aesthetician’s license and I was expected to come in 20 minutes early when I took over from her so she could prep for any appointment she had. Mind you, this job was less than 25 hours a week, and it also paid only 50 cents over minimum wage.

    When my golf course job picked back up with their Friday Fish Fry, I tried to just switch shifts with one of my coworkers, so we had the same number of shifts as before, just on different days, that was the final straw. I came into work one day, and she fired me. She told me I made too many mistakes, and asked me why I did that. When I tried to answer, she told me I never took responsibility for them and only had excuses. And that I violated their policy by trying to change my schedule in the middle of my 4th month there. Eventually, I was like “Boss, I’m not sure how you want me to answer you”, and took my things and left.

    I probably shouldn’t have accepted it after the thing with Thanksgiving, but I so desperately wanted a foot in the door for office work that I just looked past it.

  35. Oh, my, yes. I’ve got several Red Flag-laden stories, but my favorite is when I did a weeklong copy-desk tryout at a newspaper of some renown in the city to which I very much wanted to move. (I loved the job I had at the time, but hated the location.) It was a shitshow — unfriendly, beaten-down people giving me death stares all week, no one ever speaking above a whisper (it’s a newsroom, folks, come on!). At the paper I was coming from, we always took tryouts out for drinks on their last night. This place, half the people didn’t even bother to introduce themselves. On the second night, I drove back to my hotel in tears. On the third night, MY JACKET WAS STOLEN. Right off the back of the chair I was sitting in, I guess when I went to the bathroom or cafeteria.

    I got offered the job and turned it down, but because I was an idiot when I was in my late 20s and was desperate to move, I called them up a year later and asked if they had any new openings. All they had was a six-month temp slot (ALERT, ALERT), which — again, idiot — I took.

    Predictably, it was two more years of shitshow (I got un-temped after eight or nine months, but everyone took full advantage of my second-class status until then, which was standard practice — they’d bring in temps and see how long they’d take being treated like they weren’t actually members of the staff even though they did the same work). The kind of place where people constantly criticize everything you do, every day, for six months and then you get a review saying you’re doing a great job and have a bright future (prompting the question, is the boss just lazy, does he live in another dimension, or … ???). The hours were crap and the junior staff worked holidays, which is par for the course for a newspaper copy desk, but at most places they try to make up for that by giving you days off other times when you need it, attempting to help you have a life, etc. Not here at Historic Super-Serious News Organization — you had to practically sell a kidney to get off a Tuesday evening in March, let alone a summer Saturday. (When I finally left, I got a check for FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS in unused vaca time.) If you did miraculously get time off, the boss would do sadistic things like give you the summer week you asked for EXCEPT FOR ONE DAY RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF IT, at which point you would have to start wheeling and dealing with your asshole colleagues (actual convo — Senior colleague: “It’s such a pain to make summer vaca requests in MAY — how do I know what I’m doing in JUNE?” Me: “Um, well, it’s helpful to plan ahead; what did you do when you were more junior here?” Her: “Um, not go on vacation?” Me: “…”). I bided my time, saved my money — that was blood money, yall — and escaped to go to grad school.

    MY JACKET WAS STOLEN, folks. Very simple pro tip, if at any point in an interview process you realize someone at the office has relieved you of some of your personal belongings, that’s not a place you want to work.

    1. I’m sorry to laugh at your pain, but dude, your jacket was stolen. Thank you for sharing this cautionary tale. 🙂

      1. Oh, it’s been long enough now that I, too, can laugh. I laughed REALLY HARD four years later when the parent company of this newspaper almost shut the whole place down amid a contract dispute. (Even though I still work in the newspaper biz and that would have been a really, really bad sign for an industry that is already circling the drain … I’ve got plenty more shitshow stories where this one came from, like the one about a dear friend who worked at the Trib and got laid off when she was seven months pregnant. Kids, don’t major in journalism.)

        1. I did work experience at a very famous ladymag (at the time I thought I wanted to be a magazine journalist – I can no longer remember why, except I was still only a neophyte feminist back then). It was one of those mags that starts with a chirpy letter from the editor every month about how much fun they’re having a [Magazine] Towers. The editor’s letter still makes me laugh hollowly whenever I pick up a copy in the hairdresser. It was the most brutal, depressing place I’ve ever worked. The staff never got to do any writing, they all spent their days trying to stab each other in the back, and I spent most of the time on the phone trying to wheedle free cosmetics out of companies for the magazine’s giveaways – that is, when I wasn’t being shouted at by the editor for losing her mail (I’d put it on her desk – she put her bag on top of it and blamed me) or any number of other supposed infractions that were basically down to her not paying attention. I mainlined The Devil Wears Prada when it came out because it reminded me SO MUCH of the month I spent being a ladymag skivvy.

          1. In my experience, the interviewer is allowed to say “fun” only once (and hopefully just because they are nervous). If they say “fun” twice or more: run far away. This place is the opposite of fun.

            I realize this could vary wildly by field, but I work in data analysis and even when the job is great, fun isn’t the word I would use. Fun means they are hiding something or that they have no idea what they are talking about.

  36. I worked for 17 years as a kinda/sorta independent contractor in a work environment that was described as a “family”. Here, “Mom” had fabulously good intentions and painfully bad boundaries, and too often managed by guilt, manipulation, and indirect communication. I LOVE the work, and got a lot out of working there, but I’ll don’t think I’ll ever work in another place where the staff are considered the owner’s “kids”. In the long run, it ended up feeling less loving and inclusive than infantilizing, and encouraged some immature behavior from even the most professional of my coworkers. [And sometimes, embarrassingly, from me, too… 😦 ]

    I’ve gone mostly into “private practice” now, and these days I work in that “family” environment only one day a month. I feel more like an adult.

  37. Red flag: “[last person in this position] really transformed this position! We’re looking for someone with a lot of initiative to really make it their own! You can take it in a lot of different directions!”

    Translation: There is no job description, and no one will ever give you clear expectations. Please come fix all our problems without us having to think about you or them.

    Maybe this would work well for some people? For me, TOTAL red flag. especially considering the job was low in the corporate structure and it didn’t seem like I would have the authority to actually make any of those different directions stick.

    A green flag in an interview that sadly I did not get the job for: telling me about other opportunities within the company that were not open at the moment but would probably come up soon, that I would also be a good fit for. This was a large company so I got the sense that they knew where there were often openings (i.e. they weren’t already planning for a specific employee to GTFO) and it made me feel like the recruiter cared about the big picture, not just filling this slot and moving on. I also got the impression she had actually read my resume and cover letter and thought about where I specifically would fit well.

    1. “Red flag: “[last person in this position] really transformed this position! We’re looking for someone with a lot of initiative to really make it their own! You can take it in a lot of different directions!”

      Translation: There is no job description, and no one will ever give you clear expectations. Please come fix all our problems without us having to think about you or them.”

      Yeah, that’s my current role, with a big helping of ‘and we want you to achieve a lot without changing anything or inconveniencing anyone!’

      1. I had a job interview once for a very vaguely described job function, and the interviewer then asked me basically what I would do. I was stumped as they still hadn’t given me much of a job description and only a working job title, and left knowing that I wouldn’t be working at the place that wanted the interviewing candidate to outline the new position’s function.

      2. “As a bonus, we’re certainly NOT going to spend any money on the resources, training, or new processes that would be needed to solve all of the problems!”

  38. Oh wow, I had the experience with a social media/marketing/sales firm that I would be a sales rep that basically sold social media and marketing representation from this company. The CEO basically offered me the job on the spot, and it was a Skype interview, and I found out that they were a company of two guys a couple of states over doing all these companies’ social media and marketing. I said “sorry, but not thanks” and ran far far away.

    I could totally see how the ‘family’ thing could cause some of those issues. It’s interesting I’d never thought of it that way. My current job is a bit like that, but it was never said until later on, not during the interview process. And it still remains very professional, it’s just everyone really likes each other a lot, and it’s a small company, so that helps that ‘feel’ too. But still, it’s understandable that it could become a problem.

    This is a great list. I wish I had had some of these red flags and things to look for when I was last job-searching 🙂

  39. I’m a sysadmin. One thing I’ve learned to avoid is “we really like to feel we keep the startup culture here”. That usually means “we expect you to be available round the clock, and not require any overtime pay”.

    Also, seeing as how I’m a woman in a very male-dominated field: “We don’t have any problem with gender discrimination here, in fact I personally don’t even see gender”. That means they are completely unaware of their own blind spots and they will be unwilling to listen, much less act, if and when problems do arise. I would assume the same applies if you switch gender for race, too.

    1. I’ve worked for a couple of “we really like to feel we keep the startup culture here” organizations (also as a sysadmin), but in those cases “startup culture” meant keeping the organization open to ideas from everyone and keeping bureaucracy to a minimum to remain flexible. It was clearly a conscious decision that the entire company participated in, and worked out pretty well. (No more than 40 hours/week expected!) I can see how a self-proclaimed startup culture could be a warning signal, but I’d also ask exactly what that means.

      Yes, “I don’t see ______” translates to me as “I don’t see ______ism.” Beware.

  40. “I can be difficult to work for.”

    Believe them! This is not a joke, this is not an overstatement. It’s probably the case that 90% of current and escaped employees have called him on his behaviour in the past. What’s worse is that the boss now figures that one sentence in an interview excuses him for all sorts of horrible practices (daily yelling, allowing the evangelical wingnut in the office to harrass employees while acting the victim, ridiculous requests, etc).

    If can afford it, run out the door and don’t dare to glance back.

    1. One of my rules of life is, “When someone tells you that they’re crazy, believe them. They’d know.” Another one is, “Crazy people, left to their own devices, do not become less crazy over time.” They’re closely related to things like, “When someone tries to tell you they’re not good enough for you, they’re almost always right, although also almost always for the wrong reasons.”

      1. I’m curious whether you mean “crazy” like “abusive/difficult to work with/irrational expectations” or “crazy” like “experiences mental health issues.”

        I’m all for “When someone tells you who they are, believe them,” but as someone who is the mental health kind of crazy and tries to be fairly transparent and responsible about it, I kind of resent the implication that everyone should turn tail and run because I’m going to inevitably make life hell for them.

        1. I don’t know your specific issues, but if someone tells me that they have mental health issues, I’m going to be wondering how those issues are likely to affect our friendship, and what if anything they need or want me to do based on this. I may not always have that to offer–which they have a right to know, to decide in turn whether I am a good choice of friend for them–but some things I can do fairly easily if I know they’re wanted.

          One of my partners notes that things that are difficult for other people may be easy for them, and vice versa: this usually in the context of “I know this is valuable to you, and you’re welcome, but I’m not making a big sacrifice here.” They try to make it clear when something that feels like a big deal to me are in fact simple for them to give me–or if the thing I think is a small request would be large and difficult for them.

        2. (Did my other tries get eaten?)

          I mean “crazy” as in “persistently engages in disruptive behavior, particularly resisting all attempts to point out that they’re the problem here”. Crazy behavior can be prompted by mental illness, but it can also be prompted by general assholery, and being mentally ill doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll engage in crazy behavior. It’s also distinct from insanity, which is a legal concept involving competency to stand trial and culpability with regards to forming criminal intent.

          1. Your other tries got eaten, one hopes, mercifully, but you seemed very determined to express this thought so I let it through.

            If you read much earlier blog posts, you’ll see that I used it often much as you do here. It’s complex – I have a mental illness, there is a part of my brain & my feelings & behaviors that I myself mark as “the crazy part of me,” “feeling crazy” etc. and the word is probably not leaving my lexicon in that context. But we have a terrible habit, culturally, of assuming that bad behavior must stem from mental illness and also of using “crazy” as a catch-all term for “bad,” and not having fully thought it through, I participated in that habit.

            However, due often to the kind efforts of readers here, I have drastically cut back on and changed how I use the word. I think that equating “crazy” with “general assholery” is way out of line, Arabella, and I’d thank you not to do it here. No need to apologize, explain, further derail the thread – just stop, and use that word with more precision, if at all, going forward.

          2. I do too, in fact — anxiety disorder not otherwise specified. “Crazy” is my own personal particular shorthand for a lot of things that would otherwise take a very long time to explain in all their intricacies. I sincerely apologize, as it seems to have come out very not-like-I-intended,. I shall use some other expansions instead, or stay away from the topic from now on.

          3. Here’s the rule I try to use now. If I am talking about myself, it is ok to use “crazy.” If I am talking about others, nope. Find another way. Thanks for the apology & the rethink.

  41. My very worst job experience was assisting in an in-home day care, where the owner would greet parents and kids in the morning, spend all day in her bedroom while we assistants (both new in the same week, incidentally) worked with the kids, and then emerge in the afternoon to talk to parents as if she’d been with the kids all day.

    I quit after 2 days. Things were not clean enough, not safe enough, and not nearly caring enough. I maybe should’ve known, though, as during our interview, she mentioned having pressed charges against the two assistants who had recently departed — which she followed with a comment that went something like, “Yeah, all my brothers and uncles are cops, so…” I needed a job, and I still did when I quit, but I should’ve paid attention to the red flags during the interview.

    1. Once when I was freelance, during my initial meeting with a potential client he launched into a series of complaints about the incompetence of everyone who had ever done my work for him, which wrapped up with the information that he was suing the most recent person. That was my “wow, look at the time! Sorry to cut this short but I really need to never see you again” moment. I never did figure out if he had just gotten carried away and said more than he meant to, or if it was a strategy to impress me with his high standards & make me want to win his approval.

      1. If you are a freelancer, never, ever, ever try to go forward with a project with someone who utters the sentence, “I don’t know what I want.” Unless you are both telepathic and precognitive, this will not work.

        1. I design book covers, and if a potential client doesn’t come to me with a specific idea, I give two options:

          1. I design one front cover for them to review.
          2. I design two front covers (for a higher price) for them to review.

          I explain that #1 is the better, cheaper option if they have a good idea of what they’re looking for.

          This helps them understand, without my explicitly having to say so, that if they don’t know what they want, it leads to more time and labor for me, more money for them.

          A couple of clients have opted for #2, and it’s gone fine. I’m absolutely happy to do more work for them when they’re willing to pay for it.

  42. My personal favorite interview technique is to ask my potential boss to describe their philosophy of management. A blank stare is a red flag. If they haven’t put thought into how they manage people, they’re going to be the kind of boss that you’ll have to manage. This isn’t necessarily unworkable, but unless they’re a very likeable person and the job duties are well defined, I wouldn’t try it.

    Of course, a good answer isn’t a guarantee that everything will be fine either. I’ve had bosses that said all the right things, and then practiced a weird twisted version of them in which their employees were perpetually never good enough. That’s the other thing I’m learning right now – my behavior doesn’t have to be faultless before I can justify leaving. It doesn’t matter whether I’m the one having issues or whether the boss is unreasonable, and I don’t have to prove it. If it’s making me miserable and crazy it’s time to start applying for other jobs.

    Good luck to everyone out there.

  43. If you’ve already heard from other sources that the workplace you’re interviewing for is toxic, believe them. Don’t decide that just because you’re a can-do type of person who knows how to get along with others that you’ll be the exception. I took jobs at two of these places, and I don’t regret it because each served a purpose, but they were exactly as advertised and I didn’t end up staying long at either.

    1. I would advise that someone consider the sources though. I heard nothing but horror stories about X employer in Y industry, but the negativity was overwhelmingly due to employee attitudes. I spent years in Y industry, and it was exactly because of my can-do attitude that I excelled.

      1. “the negativity was overwhelmingly due to employee attitudes”

        Okay, I’ll bite. Why was *everyone* hired at the company a little shit?

        1. I didn’t mean to imply everyone, just the people I was running into. Have you ever had toxic friends that intentionally give you bad dating advice, or have unhealthy relationships with their food and bodies? Like that, but with a job.

      2. Well, one of these places I worked was a publishing company of about 100 people, and the turnover in the 18 months I was there was 50%. That’s nuts. At my exit interview I was candid about my dissatisfaction because I was moving on to grad school and I didn’t need these jokers for a reference. I told the HR person how demoralizing it was to work at a place with such high turnover, and cited as an example that memorable week in June in which management fired seven of the eight people working in a single department. She asked me, “Don’t you think they all deserved it?” And I said, “What are the odds?”

        1. Yikes! Yeah that’s a lot different than my experience. Most of the nay-sayers I ran across (granted totally different industry as well) were the kind to quit in a huff, walk out with their heads held high, and then complain to anyone who would listen, “They never appreciated me! I’m a special snowflake! I’ll be famous someday and they’ll be sorry!”

          1. Remember, many red flags are just information. A bunch of people badmouth a workplace? When you go into the interview, you reality-test what they said against what you are observing. It’s not on its own a reason to do anything, it’s just more information.

    2. I wish I had realized that when hired for my first job out of college. The place had a reputation, and several of my good friends mentioned the place’s less than stellar reviews as a good company to work for. The boss was a micromanaging pedantic jerk and his antics ended up driving me to chronic anxiety. I used to wish that I would get pneumonia so I wouldn’t have to go to work. Thank God I ran away for grad school…

  44. “•Oh, this is a dead-end mish-mosh of a bunch of unrelated low-priority tasks that piled up when they laid off three people? GOOD TO KNOW.”

    Heh, this totally describes what my current job was like when I first got hired. I spent about two years feeling like nothing I did was really of value. “Thankfully” due to reorgs and layoffs, I survived and now have a fully defined role that I like much better. If it had lasted a little longer, or if the economy hadn’t sucked (this was at the worst of the downturn) I would definitely have walked.

  45. THANK YOU for this. I keep doing the junior version with young friends and cousins by telling them that yes, they want colleges to accept them, but THEY also get to accept (or reject!) colleges.

    Not only is it literally true, but I think it’s easier to be relaxed and cordial and your best self if you’re not thinking that you are being JUDGED DOOM DOOM DOOM rather than it being a mutual conversation.

    1. Yes, very much this! It does horrible things to you when you approach a job interview (or a job search in general) feeling like your worth as a human being is on trial. (Been there, done that, have a little more self-esteem now, thank goodness.) Keeping in mind that you really are interviewing them too helps even the playing field a bit, so this is awesome advice on many levels, Captain!

    2. That was my lightbulb moment here. I spent a lot of my late high school years, and my entire college career, getting flooded with “advice” about applying for jobs, from all kinds of presumably well-meaning older people. It was all about how there are very specific completely unacknowledged rules for how to do everything, and if you don’t get them all totally right, you will never work and you are unprofessional and DOOM DOOM DOOM JUDGED. I spent an embarrassing amount of time feeling terrible that I hadn’t had a job to put on the application for a mall kiosk, or whether or not I should buy fancy paper for my resume (because plain is unprofessional, but nice paper is too nice for a 22 year-old kid who’s nobody). And then after the bottom fell out of the economy, it was a neverending stream of reasons why unemployed people are lazy stupid shits who deserve it. This was especially fun to me, hearing older people say they would not hire me because I was unemployed *and* I just had to be some lazy helicopter-parented jerk who wants a trophy for coming to work in her PJs. It drove me to the point of being willing to sacrifice anything, even my mental health, so I could bow and scrape completely and maybe, just maybe, turn that into $8/hr at a job with no potential for advancement. I was unrelentingly cruel to myself and it never seemed to work– which, of course, just made me turn the press harder, because I clearly wasn’t servile enough in this market.

      After a three-state move to a place where I can actually work in my chosen field, though, I guess I was shell-shocked enough to stop being so stinking mean to myself, and damned if that wasn’t the thing (Well, that and the presence of the right industry). I got a job, and so far have not been fired for asserting the boundaries that came with the job title. It was scary as hell, but getting to that point where you can approach someone as an equal seems to be the sweet spot. I wish I had known that years earlier.

      1. People who do not understand economics should not be allowed to have opinions about other people’s employment. Yes, I’m sure that in 2008 a huge swath of the population just suddenly got lazier; that is totally the most sensible explanation.

        And don’t even get me started on people who think Millenials are whiny lazy shits who never grow up because we aren’t buying enough houses. (I have for serious heard this one on multiple occasions.) People who were still in college in 2008 didn’t blow up the housing bubble, but apparently we can be blamed for it anyway!

        1. I get to hear a lot of complaints both at AND about Millennials. I was born in 1981, so I’m either the very youngest of Generation X or the very oldest of the Millennials, depending on who wants to bitch at me about what. A lot of the complaining seems to be due to a cultural difference: While GenXers were raised by people who got degrees and saw it as a significant and special improvement over the way things used to be, Millennials have been raised by people whose parents went to college in droves, and saw it as the normal path to success in life. They grew up being told that flipping burgers was beneath them, and many of them buy it. Consequently, there are places where the corporate culture has decreed that burger-flippers are sub-Neanderthal slackers, and since the they’re hired on the basis that anyone who isn’t a sub-Neanderthal slacker will GTFO so fast they’re not worth spending the training money on, the management can get away with dicking them over quite a lot. It perpetuates a nasty cycle not unlike the ones you see in sexist or racist areas of human culture, where the people getting treated badly grow up thinking they deserve it.

          Ideally, the economic bubble bursting would start that swinging back the other way, as people who are otherwise very traditionally-qualified for what we think of as “careers” end up working their way up from the bottom of the pyramid again. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the case — the dominant narrative is still that burger-flipping is a dead-end job for stoned teenagers, and we just have a lot of chronically un- and underemployed people getting desperate and depressed.

  46. This thread is freakishly timely. I’m actively jobhunting now, and in some ways my situation is very, very good indeed, and in some ways not so great at all.

    The good: I AM employed, with quite a lot of job security, where I’ve spent my entire nine-year career, moving from minimum-wage entry-level to third in command with four job titles (three of which require masters’ degrees). My boss knows I’ve outgrown this institution and is supportive of a move, accommodating time off for interviews, etc. I can take my time and shop as long as I need to without fear of losing my current gig. I work in a small, close-knit industry (public libraries) and I have a ton of great references, including friends in visible state-level positions. Because of the way I’ve moved through my current organization, I have mad skills all over the map (there’s literally no aspect of running a library I haven’t done, and I’m doing most of it now) and I am ready to dedicate myself to one specialty, but I’m pretty open to what that specialty is.

    The bad: I HAVE ONLY EVER HAD THE ONE JOB IN THIS PROFESSION. It’s municipal/county government, and the government job market is TERRIBLE. I live 200 miles away from the organizations I’m trying to gain access to. I don’t have that masters’ degree. I have to make a leap to a job that will support three people, because my partner (over 50, with recent poor health, in IT) and son (late teens, just starting out) will both have trouble finding work, so my salary requirements are pretty strict, and considerably more than I’m making now. I haven’t interviewed in nine years and I of course I know the theory of resumes and cover letters and interviewing, but I don’t have the nuance. I have social anxiety.

    There are a lot of problems with my current workplace. It’s underpaid and understaffed and the “family” dynamic is very strong here, haha, and it’s very public in a very small town and it’s pretty stressful to live in a fishbowl. There’s no way in the world I would accept this job today, and I just can’t stay here anymore, but I’m deeply grateful for where it’s taken me. I’ve loved it (and hated it), and learned so much, and become a different person in the time I’ve been here, and have a much better idea of what I want.

    I’m hypersensitive to the stuff you’re talking about in the post – all the myriad little things that say that this is a place I want to be, or not, but what about the reverse? It is indeed very like dating! And like going back to dating after Darth Vader, with newfound self-respect and boundaries, I see nothing but red flags everywhere and maybe where they don’t exist. How do you fight THAT? Where should I step back, compromise a little, wait and see? I’m afraid that in holding such high standards I may be overshooting, and that if I expect too much I just won’t find anything at all and I’ll be stuck in a place where I’m isolated, overworked, stagnant, and slowly losing love for my profession, and that just terrifies me.

    1. Oh, do I know that feels! Having worked a couple of places that were straight up abusive, I have felt like that. “Am I just overreacting because of my trauma from abusive-workplace? Or is this a legit sign that I don’t want to work here?” You are also not in an easy situation, and I hope you can find someplace that works!

      I will share though, that for me, they were legit signs. I was super nervous and upset walking out, and my anxiety was through the roof. Even coming right out of an abusive job, my body knew for me, even though I tried to rationalize it. And I also knew what the right place was – because I DIDN’T feel anxious. I walked in and felt like I could take a deep breath and relax.

      I’d also say that in my experience, being a little more sensitive to red flags and ruling more things out, if you can, isn’t all bad. But I also understand if that’s not an option. For me, one thing I use to figure out where I can compromise is imagining what I’d feel like if I had that situation at home, or what I’d feel like in a year. So if the computer isn’t super great? How annoyed would I be at home (answer: A WHOLE LOT). If the place isn’t perfect, there’s this one annoying thing, but in a year, I can’t see myself being super bullshit about it? Give it a try.

      And I definitely DEFINITELY recommend consulting with Team You on jobs. Often when you’re describing a job to someone on Team You, you’re going to unconsciously use language and tone that shows your true feels about a job, and members of Team You can often pick up on that and tell you “It sounds like you think this job is bullshit, maybe don’t take it”, or “wow that sounds amazing! go for it!”

      1. Thank you. Yes, my current job has been various levels of toxic over time, and at times straight-up abusive, and I second-guess myself a lot! That feeling of just being able to walk in and take a deep breath – that’s EXACTLY what I’m looking for. The feeling that this is a place and a group of people that actually feels GOOD, not just not-awful. And you’re right, that discernment totally emerges in conversations with trusted friends. I discuss every application I field with my best friend and my partner, at a minimum, and we have a deal that I will call Best Friend and “debrief” after every interview.

        “Would this be tolerable/annoying at home?” – that’s a very useful measure! I spend more time at work than I do at home, and yet I put up with so much bullshit that I would never put up with in a place where I have some sense of agency and ownership – OH WAIT… o.0

        1. Would it help if you try to frame the job you’re looking for as NOT a forever job? I waste a lot of anxiety on trying to imagine career paths and futures in shitty places because I have THIS job and job hunting is the worst, so I should stay, etc. You’re looking for a job that is better than yours in some ways (location, pay, hopefully culture), but it does not have to be the Best Library Job Ever to meet those criteria. It’s okay to take a job and still keep looking casually for something that is closer to your idea of the Best Library Job Ever. You’re committing to turn up and do your stuff when you get hired, not to stay there for the rest of eternity–you already know that! You’re leaving a job that is no longer a good fit.

          Also: could you try to make getting that MLA/MIS/whichever term they use where you are part of your contract negotiations? As in, they help fund it and make sure you have time off when required for classes? My roommate just finished hers a few months back and it was almost entirely online or evening classes, presumably because they know you’re already working while trying to get that qualification.

    2. I think WordPress ate my reply, so I’m trying again.

      I EMPATHIZE WITH THIS FEELS. For me, it was coming out of working at a place that was straight up abusive. I went through the whole thing of “wait, am I just overreacting?”

      I will share that for me, NOPE, not an overreaction. My body knew what was a bad place and what wasn’t. The bad place, I walked out on edge, my anxiety spiked to the max, looking over my shoulder, somewhat nauseated, pulse high. The good place, I walked in and immediately my anxiety went down. I was relaxed and comfortable. I would argue trust whatever vibes you get.

      Also, I highly recommend – and this really goes for everyone – consult with Team You. Describe the job and the interview to a trusted member of Team You. Whether you realize it or not, your words, tone, and body language will probably give away what you really think about the job. Members of Team You can probably pick up on that and tell you “wow, that sounds amazing!” or “you sound the opposite of enthused about this” or similar. That feedback is important!

    3. What I want to tell you is: GO ON THE INTERVIEW.

      It might be a bad fit? Go on the interview.
      There might be some of the same problems that bug you about your current joint? Go on the interview.

      An interview isn’t where you have to decide once and for all that this is the gig for you or solve any of these anxieties. An interview is information-gathering. Because of your experiences, you have a pretty good nose for danger and for what will not work for you. Your job on an interview is to present your best face but also to get as much info as you can. You can make decisions later, when you have more information, but for now, just go.

      If you apply for something, interview, and decide not to take it, you haven’t really lost anything.
      If you psych yourself out of applying or interviewing, you are rejecting the possibility that something might be better.

      It’s a tough, tough mindset to fight. I really hope you find something.

      1. This is my approach to my current situation. I’ve been in a leadership role at a community-based organization for the past 8 years, and recently a friend told me about a job opening at a much larger organization — where I would potentially make double the salary for fewer hours per week, as well as a number of other benefits (more structure, possibilities for advancement, terrific direct supervisor). Since it’s the position she’ll be leaving, she was able to give me really good info on the job.

        But it feels so delicate and difficult to leave where I am now, and I’m becoming more aware of how enmeshed I really am in my current job. So I’ve decided to send my CV and then take any possible interview as exploratory. if it turns out to be a good mutual fit, then I’m trying to remain confident that other details about transition time and process will also be easier to work out than I fear. No harm no foul from checking it out.

      2. God, yes, no question about that. If I get a call, I’ll happily show up and have a conversation and see what comes of it! Thank you, I needed to hear this. I FEEL like I’m doing everything right – applying for basically every single thing I’m actually qualified for in the area I’m willing to live for the money I’m willing to take, writing good tailored cover letters, networking online and off, trying to be very cool and relaxed about the whole thing and determined to reject any job I don’t actually feel awesome about. But I don’t know! I got a call from the very first resume I put in the field, had what felt to me like a fantastic interview (BUT HELLO first interview in a decade, wtf do I know?), and then didn’t get called back, and – not a call since. Including for some jobs that I felt were really brilliant fits. I’m starting to wonder if there’s something I’m just MISSING, something about the way the government job process happens in bigger institutions, that’s taking me out of play on a technicality and I don’t know any better because I’ve never done this before. I am actually setting up a lunch date with a friend at the State Library who does professional development to ask this exact question. (And wow, reading that over, I sound like the dude who didn’t get called for a second date and went, “BUT WHYYYY????” I… don’t feel very good about that.)

        My Team Me (including lots of other professional librarians) is all, “You’re amazing! If anyone can land something in this economy it’s you!” And my Jerkbrain is all, “Maybe you should just take that 20-hour-a-week clerking job and be grateful for it and go get a second gig as a barista that you can ditch if you ever get promoted.” It’s the slump, I know it is, I know that the slump eventually ends, but I am definitely discouraged and wonder if I should just show a leeetle more of the desperation I’m beginning to feel.

        1. Have you asked for any feedback from the interviews you’ve had? My organisation gives feedback to every unsuccessful interviewee, and a lot of places I’ve worked previously will give feedback if asked.

          Of course, it may not be about you at all (you were great, someone else was better – e.g. I had feedback from one interview that “you were our second choice”, which is kind of nice because you know you did well but… it’s the real-life Monopoly “You have won second prize in a beauty contest!”) or it may be that there’s something that you’re doing/not doing that could be easily corrected. I think lunch with a PD friend sounds like a great plan, and definitely NOT like a whiny dude who didn’t get a second date – you’re getting expert advice on something that you want to work on. That’s being the dude who thinks “hmm, all these women aren’t interested in going out with me a second time – what am I doing wrong?”, not the dude who thinks “what’s wrong with them?

          1. I HAD NO IDEA THAT WAS A THING. You can do that? Wow. I will definitely do that in the future.

            I would LOVE to know that, frex, I was the second choice for a particular position and another application to the same organization would be welcome. (see: skilled in a bunch of different specialties and looking for one to settle down into.)

            Thank you!

        2. >>I am actually setting up a lunch date with a friend at the State Library who does professional development to ask this exact question. (And wow, reading that over, I sound like the dude who didn’t get called for a second date and went, “BUT WHYYYY????” I… don’t feel very good about that.)

          Hey, the problem with that guy is that he doesn’t actually want to hear an answer. If you feel like the date went well and you literally never hear from them again, it’s totally OK to be a little “but WHHYYY?” The problem with the “but WHY” guy is the conversation that goes:

          “Hey, I had a good time on Friday, but I don’t think this is really right for me. Good luck in your online dating adventures!”
          “But WHYYY???”
          “Uh, no particular reason, you seem nice, but there just wasn’t chemistry for me. See you around!”
          “But WHYYY???f Did I do something wrong? Is it because I agreed when you suggested we split the bill?”
          “Uh, no, I was fine with that. Seriously, I can’t say anything specific, I just don’t want to go on another date.”
          “But WHYYY??”
          *block* *delete*

          Expecting feedback after an interview isn’t at all entitled or silly or anything like that. It’s a totally normal and reasonable expectation. Sometimes it’s totally unhelpful stuff like, “we just decided to go with the other person”, which, oh well, can’t do anything about that. Sometimes it will be genuinely helpful, “We needed someone who had more experience of X.” AAargh, I have LOADS of experience of X, but I totally messed that question up, sadface.

          But anyway, the point is that expecting feedback isn’t unreasonable. And if you’re not getting useful feedback from the interviewers themselves, then asking a friend in the same field to have a look over your applications or to do a mock interview with you. Again, that’s not you failing to take no for an answer, that’s you looking for more clarity and more information that you can use.

          Good luck, and I hope you get a useful comment from your friend!

        3. I’m in kind of a similar boat, and I’ll just second what thegirlfrommarz said. What I’ve been finding is that it’s either a matter of wanting to hire someone who would need to relocate even if I’ve got housing lined up in the area, or just being the second choice — someone had just a teensy bit more experience than I did, or had this one extra certification. With so many people applying for a given job, the companies can be really picky. It’s hard, and in my field the sequester has really tightened things up. Good luck.

        4. It’s completely legit to contact a company you’ve unsuccessfully interviewed for and ask them for feedback, and I would encourage it. I’ve done it and they were happy to discuss my interview with me. And sometimes you are a great fit, but so was another person and they had something that got them ahead – one of my colleagues was saying she missed out on a job she was very qualified for because the other candidate had more local knowledge. So calling is a good way to answer the “why?” question. (Also you don’t sound like the why dude. You sound like someone trying to get a better job and looking for ways to make that happen.)

          I’d say also, government jobs, sometimes the position falls victim to internal issues (overspent budget, change in management leads to a shift in priorities, too much red tape to wade through, etc) so it’s not you, it’s them.

        5. Hey, the problem with But WHYYY guy is not that he asks, but that he doesn’t listen to the answer. The answer is, “That was a nice evening, but I don’t feel that this is going to work out for me. Good luck elsewhere!” He becomes But WHYYY guy if he doesn’t take that as a sufficient answer and repeatedly hassles the date for more information.

          Or, if it was single-date-that-appeared-to-go-well followed by radio-silence-for-evermore, I think that But WHYYY guy is entitled to feel a little hurt and confused by the situation. Not entitled to hassle the date beyond a couple of texts or voicemails saying, “Hey, had a good time on Tuesday, want to meet up this weekend?” “Um, hi? Just wondering if you want to meet up again?”, but assuming that it was just a normal date and there was nothing scary or skeevily wrong, then everyone would expect at least some sort of feedback on what’s going to happen next.

          So you’re entitled to that after a job interview too. It’s pretty normal (at least here in the UK) not to hear back when you’ve just sent an application, but you should ALWAYS get at least a “We are sorry to inform you that you have not been successful…” email or letter after an interview. And most places will give you some feedback. It won’t always be helpful – often it’s just “Candidate B had more experience of X, we’re really sorry”, but occasionally it’ll be properly helpful.

          And if you’ve got several rejections,whether it’s jobs or dating, and not much information about why, then asking someone outside the situation with expertise is DEFINITELY a good move. So don’t feel bad AT ALL for that!

          TL;DR: asking Why isn’t wrong or annoying, ignoring the answer because it’s inconvenient is. 🙂

  47. Another red flag, from the same law office: “We order groceries in every week, and the support staff eats both breakfast and lunch together!”

    While that seemed awesome at the time, and the reduced expenses are nice, what it turned into for me was “mandatory fun”. You know, like at summer camp, when you’re required to do something and the counselors will get onto you if you don’t show up and show willing. Put this as a subheading under “we’re a big family!”.

    1. Right. “Howabout you just pay me more, and I’ll go read a book by myself and eat the lunch of my choosing, thanks!”

    2. Yow. “We eat breakfast and lunch together” says to me, “We are entitled to every bit of your time, so we’ll feed you to make sure you don’t take any time for yourself.” I use my lunchtime to run errands that I otherwise wouldn’t have time for.

        1. This is one reason (among several) that Mr Hypotenuse works for Company A and not Company B. Company A figures its employees are adults and gives them money and has occasional events that last a couple hours, and sure sometimes employees organize trips or whatnot but that’s their own thing.

          Company B wants to be your camp and your frat and your workplace all at once and has perks like multi-day work-organized trips on which you are not allowed to bring your families. Not working retreat or teambuilding stuff, just like…trips. For everyone. Because you aren’t supposed to have a life outside of work anyway. CREEEPY.

      1. This is exactly why we do this on film sets. “We need you to be happy + have energy to keep working” + “You won’t have time to go anywhere else” is for sure a factor. I mean, we aren’t trying to be assholes about it – it’s in union contracts that we have to provide meals at certain intervals or an allowance & time for people to go get their own and it ends up being cheaper to cater.

        Film shoots are short-term intense jobs, though. Eating 2 meals/day together every day for years? I don’t want to see anybody that much.

        1. I’ve actually always wondered about this. I mean, yes film shoots are short term, but if you’re a person who works on film crews as your job, don’t you just then move on to the next one? So it’s like lots of intense, short term projects in a row that end up being just like a long term job with crazy hours?

          Or is work just hard enough to find that you always end up with breaks in between (or pays well enough that you can take breaks in between)?

          1. I don’t know about film crews specifically, but I’ve had jobs in other fields that have the same kind of intensity/short-term thing going on.

            The way it usually works out for me is that there’s good enough pay to take breaks in between. Especially for something that pays hourly, working 15 hours a day = LOTS of overtime pay. Which is awesome, because after one job ends you’ve got to spend some time looking for another.

          2. My uncle is a locations manager for a fairly large studio, he works CRAZYCRAZYCRAZY for a while and then can afford to take a roughly equal amount of time off, because when you work 16+ hr days, the overtime pay is a lot.

    3. Working in the tech industry (in a fairly non-technical position), I see a lot of office snacks and meals being presented as a perk. I think they are — if the corresponding catch is not the cost of your time and social energy. There’s a big difference between “We provide lunch between 12 and 2 when most workers take their breaks, and snacks anytime, and you’re welcome to whatever’s in THIS fridge; THAT one is for personal lunches and you should put your name on your bag.” and “YOU MUST SHARE MEALS WITH US AS A TEAM BONDING EXERCISE.” As the Captain says, I’d much rather brown-bag and read a book than have forced social interaction off the clock. And I would rather take another job entirely than be expected to show up before the workday and eat/watch other people eat breakfast.

      1. Yeah, free food is great if it doesn’t come with weird strings attached.

        My office provides a fair number of free food related things, but it’s always acceptable to either hang in the caf socializing OR just grab your food and eat it at your desk. The exception is the free breakfast they provide the last two Fridays of every quarter for the marketing and technical documentation teams (we share an office space), in which case, extensive socializing is a no-go; you are expected to load up your plate of French toast or whatever and eat at your desk. The last two weeks of the quarter are always very busy; they want us properly fed and working.

        The idea that a company would provide free food and then use it to stop you from working makes no sense to me. Don’t they want you to work? Isn’t that why they hire people?

    4. Coming out of law school, I refused to work for any firm that had (a) a nap room or (b) showers. Places that offer too many “perks” like that offer them because they expect you to need them.

      1. Depending on the culture of your city, showers could just be a sign that there are a lot of cyclists. All of the places I’ve worked in Melbourne have them, but as far as I can tell it’s so you don’t smell like a cyclist in your icky cycling clothes. Bike racks, in use, would indicate this rather than “YOU MUST SPEND ALL YOUR TIME HERE.”

        1. Agreed. My partner’s pervious job was great in this respect, people were expected to show up on time and then leave on time and people were very rarely expected to work overtime, but the building had showers to accomodate people who biked to work or went for a run on their lunch break or whatever.

      2. It depends on the field you’re in — my lab has a shower, and I’m not totally sure why. I theorize that it’s a leftover (the building used to be for constructing large architectural models to do various thermal/lighting tests, and I think the shower might have been addressing the issue of “let us not have sawdust in unpleasant places.”) Now it’s mainly a convenience for the people who go out in the afternoon to take a run, or who bike into work, as Ali said.

    5. I had a Residence Life job at my university once that was like this. I was desperate to not go home to the family over the summer — long story short, if you have ever seen the Steve Martin/Goldie Hawn remake of “The Out-Of-Towners”, those are my parents — and this particular job offered room, board, and a small stipend in exchange for doing data entry and working a reception desk. ResLife people are much like people who go into HR because they adore shuffling humans around like chess pieces, and there was a lot of “mandatory fun”. Some of it was on the sports fields in July, which in Flagstaff meant hours outdoors in 90F weather with no shade or water breaks. I came out of it with a good sunburn on my scalp and a good case of the tingly-whirlies, i.e., mild heatstroke. I have no idea how the pregnant lady didn’t just kill someone and then sit down in the nearest air-conditioned building to wait for the cops to arrive.

      1. A pregnant woman out in 90-degree heat?! That’s insane!

        I hate the idea of forcing “fun” on people in offices. People have different ideas of what’s “fun” and forcing people to participate can only cause resentment. Having fun is what the end of a work shift is for.

  48. I had interviewed for a position in a different department of the same company I worked at.
    HR called me to tell me (after I had been interviewed by the hiring managers) that the years of experience I had claimed did not match with the previous position listings on my resume. It turns out that someone has only printed a single side of the 2-page resume and were missing ~5 years of my employment history.
    Keep in mind I ALREADY worked there and had gone through a full background screening and reference check upon initial employment.
    I was able to log into the personnel system and see all my listed background, so it came down to HR being unable to print two pages and not checking that before calling me to tell me I had lied about my job history.
    When I decided not to take that job (for other reasons) I let the hiring manager in on the fact that if I did not already work there, I would be VERY, VERY unlikely from the outside to want to work there considering the interactions with HR for that position.

  49. If there was one thing I could tell my younger self, it’s “companies are run by people too”. There’s intelligent ones, foolish ones, abusive ones and just okay ones, and the “okay” ones won’t always be the richest or even the most respected. My two best jobs, in terms of how my employers and employees treated me? Hostess and working on a small farm (I helped package salad greens for farmer’s markets).

    It’s still taken me a lot of work to get out of the “supplicant” mindset, though! Things like “looking professional enough” stress me out even more than work itself can (I’m fat, and have treatment-resistant adult acne.) I am pretty sure there are positions where I missed the red flags and took positions I didn’t have to because I was just starting out in the workplace, and didn’t think I *deserved* anything better.

  50. I like to ask the interviewers how long they’ve been with the organization and 2. what motivates them to work there. Lots of people saying they’ve been there only a year indicates high turnover and I now run. If they’re all motivated by the mission, it’s code for, “this place sucks and has shitty benefits and no one really wants to work here.”

    I also interviewed once for a position where one of the interviewers laid into me for not being able to quote the mission of the particular department at this non-profit off the top of my head in the interview. It was a big red flag to me! I was thrilled when I didn’t get a second interview, because it was such a ridiculous requirement for a candidate. Unrealistic expectations were probably in store for the lucky person who got that job.

    Finally, sad story to share. I once was desperate to leave a job I only took out of desperation. I mentioned it to an acquaintance who got all excited and told me that her org was hiring someone looking for similar skills to mine. So, I interviewed for the job and got it partially on her recommendation. What she didn’t tell me was that the boss for this position (also her boss) sucked and that this particular job turned over every six months or so. I found that out in the second week from her. And now I know: always ask about the boss and the culture when people are recommending a job for you!

  51. Right after graduation, I interviewed for an entry-level programming job in a defence/aerospace software firm. (A local firm in my home country, not American or multinational)

    The first interview was fairly normal and focused on my programming skills. Then they sent me to some psychological tests. It’s a fairly common practice in here, but these tests were far more time-consuming and detailed than any I’ve taken before or since and had no relation to the (again, entry-level) job requirements. Seriously, Rorschah blots.

    Then I was interviewed by a psychologist who was (probably intentionally) rude and asked personal questions that skirted the boundary of what’s legal to ask from a candidate.
    The psychologist also had a large, framed portrait of a national war hero in his office as well as a giant map of our country and military memorabilia. I got a definite “weird military fanboy” vibe from him. If this sounds like my own prejudices talking, I’ve worked with plenty of actual military personnel and never got this sort of vibe from any of them.

    I decided this wasn’t the job for me, was icily polite at him and didn’t bother to finish the psychological tests.

  52. I had an agency send me on a job interview for a position described as part time executive assistant to CEO. Turned out the current CEO (of a global real estate company mind you) wanted a nurse for his dad (the former CEO) who had Alzheimer’s. I spent time with 3 different people before speaking with the CEO and our talk turned into a discussion of how soon a person with dementia would die. Here’s the kicker, they wanted me to follow this guy around and make sure he didn’t leave the building alone, eat foods he was allergic to, get lost in the office etc WITHOUT ever mentioning to him that the reason he couldn’t remember things was that he had Alzheimer’s. So the whole day would have been me making up random reasons why he couldn’t do X Y or Z. I was desperate for a job but holy crap! I did not take the job and had some choice words for the agency that sent me out…and never worked with them again. SIgh, I’m still looking for full time work over a year later…

    1. Oh my god, that sounds like the setup to a terrible 80s movie, with the added benefit of it being totally fucking offensive to the person you’re supposed to be following. God.

  53. Another red flag: turnover rates and the types of people the company recruits.

    Where I live, there is a big company that is notorious for recruiting people fresh out of undergrad, because they know they can work those people like dogs. This company also has a huge turnover rate because eventually many of the 22-23 year olds turn into 25-26 year olds who amazingly want to do things other than work 60-80 hour/weeks.

    1. Yes, and if the office has a high turnover rate and acknowledges that in the interview, maybe think about that.

  54. I love this post. I love these comments. So much wisdom!

    I’ll share two red flag stories. Once, during my extremely long and unproductive search for a job in publishing, I interviewed with the journals department of a large STEMmy publisher. I spoke with three people: a woman with a similar position to the one open, the woman who managed the position, and the man who ran the department. The two women interviewed me together and I can’t remember who said what, but at one point one of them said “I see you used to be a teacher. Teachers. . . don’t do very well here.” I asked why–blah blah blah different kind of work than they’re used to–so I talked about my other work experiences. Then, one of them said “I see you’re an academic. Academics. . . . don’t do very well here.” I explained that I was indeed getting my PhD but I was actively seeking work outside academia for x, y, and z reasons.
    I thought it was going well, though, but then I went to see their manager, who seems utterly disaffected and unimpressed with his own office. And he looked over my application, and said “I see your objective is a career in publishing. People who are seeking jobs in publishing. . . don’t do well here.”
    Seriously. I didn’t take the job. For some reason I didn’t think I’d do well there.

    A couple years later, I’d been working away as a marketer for a university press, reasonably happy, and then I got an offer to take a higher-paying, better-titled position with a university-sponsored publication. I went to lunch with the editor and asked him many questions, not only about his plans for the publication but a great deal about the day-to-day, the salary and benefits, and so forth–I had a comfortable job and needed to be tempted away from it. The editor was pretty tempting, actually, and it felt like we were really on the same page about how to run the publication and expand its reach, but he was pretty vague on the details. I shrugged it off, figuring he was just your average boss who had no idea how to manage invoices and budgets and things like that. *I* know how to manage those things, so I felt that I could manage him.
    But first I talked to the previous person to hold the open position, and asked her why she left.
    And it turned out that not only was he the kind of boss who was out of touch with the nitty-gritty of running the office, but he was also the kind of boss to make promises and demands that the office couldn’t fulfill, and then get mad about it. And to get mad about other things. And to ask staffpeople to do or ignore things that weren’t quite ethical.
    At the time I was astonished, but in retrospect I suppose I might have guessed. A boss who doesn’t understand how things work on the ground floor is not necessarily evil, but he or she probably can’t help doing evil eventually.

    1. Takeaway: People don’t do well there, and they have no idea why but have constructed a narrative where it must be something about the employee’s background or interests that’s the reason and nothing about them and how they run things. RUN!

    2. Sorry to laugh, but I had to laugh at your STEMmy publisher interview story. People in publishing don’t do well at a publisher? lmao. They sound like a terrible organization.

      I am a former academic who worked with a few academic publishers in a previous position and it was…enlightening. I’m glad you seem to have a position you enjoy now!

    3. This made me LOL. So … basically anyone with the correct skill set and/or background for the job wouldn’t do well there. Yup. When you listen to yourselves talking, interviewers, do you hear what you are saying?

  55. Is there a limit as to how long a comment can be?

    I typed up a really long thing about red flags in retail/fast food and it failed to post.

    1. I’ve been getting random “this comment cannot be posted” messages on stuff of all lengths. I think the server or software is just spitting up.

      1. If you hit the back button when this happens, you can get the text of your comment in the reply box, copy it, and refresh the page. It seems to work okay after. I think wordpress is pitching a gentle fit about the number of comments.

  56. I wish you’d written this post 4 months ago – it might have saved me 4 months of frustration. It’s become very much apparent to me that the job I landed was basically created to shove all the left-over jobs and bits of admin that the regular sysadmin didn’t have time to do before she left and the new sysadmin couldn’t be arsed to do. On top of that, the CEO is one of those “We’re a big family!” guys – and views me as being something like the live-in babysitter.

    The new sysadmin walked out three weeks ago, just after payday – about one step ahead of being fired for incompetence. Apparently he’d been fired from the last place for incompetence too – which he admitted to me when he handed me his keys on the way out the door. The boss had had no idea. I think said boss had some fanciful idea that if he put a stack of books on systems administration on my desk maybe I’d somehow absorb the necessary skills by osmosis and be the new sysadmin. (On the same part-time wage and hours I’m on right now.) If they hadn’t kept the old sysadmin on retainer as a consultant we would have been so utterly screwed.

    I’m jobhunting already whilst clock-watching at the current job, and this time I know to be a lot more demanding and specific about job specifications – and I’ll think very, VERY carefully before going for any newly-created positions.

    (Also to avoid: companies without an HR department, companies where women are only in supporting admin roles, companies where there is only ONE person who is not white, companies where the boss insists he likes to be “a hands-on kind of guy”, companies that show up in a search at Companies House as being in a voluntary arrangement with HMRC – I could play Red Flag Bingo with my current employment, I swear.)

    1. Yeah, it would be great to have more red flags around “am I being handed a senior role and responsibilities on a junior pay grade and without training or any management allowances for the (possibly multi-year) learning curve?” if anyone has any. This is such a big problem in tech.

      Actually, one possible red flag is finding out that the person you’re replacing was you, only they were you five or ten years ago. There’s a very common pattern in tech (and I’m sure elsewhere) in which a small company hires a very young or inexperienced person as a technical lead, and this person over the course of months and years ramps up on the job and becomes the backbone of the organization. Then they discover at some point that the market rate for all their skill (which may have approached small-to-medium CTO level) is way way above what they’re being paid and leave. (It’s very rare to be able to suddenly negotiate a payrise from junior dev to CTO after all.)

      They’re essential to the company, they need to be replaced, the company is used to getting mid-career-ish level work out of someone on a junior salary, and the only way to hire someone on the salary they have in mind is to hire an actual junior. Cue extremely frustrating and scary situation where you are expected to be All the Things, All the Time, just like Suzy used to be, with management forgetting that Suzy had had five years of self-training before she got to be the Suzy they remember.

      1. Of course, it can be really great experience to have a role that’s a bit more senior than you’re comfortable with. That’s what’s in startup work, for some people. But it’s definitely something to go into with your eyes open and with management understanding what tradeoffs they’re making by having a less experienced person in that role (usually, salary and possibly innovative thinking versus but risking mistakes and slowness due to inexperience).

        1. I’ve filtered out a lot of companies by knowing what my skills are worth and what’s industry standard pay for different levels of responsibility. Figuring that out has taken a lot of research (thank you,!) and occasionally finding out what my peers are being paid. It’s really, really common for small companies to have filet migon tastes on a hamburger budget, so I’ve had a number of interviews go well only to come to a crashing halt when I state my salary expectations. The key word has usually been “IT Generalist” – meaning, they want someone who is an experienced sys admin, DBA, scripter, web dev, oh, and fix the printers as well, not realizing that those are at least three separate career tracks and such a person should be paid very, very highly. Then they’re shocked that I (who can do a couple of those and learn the others on the job as necessary, which is probably sufficient for their actual needs) want to be paid what they thought they could pay said guru.

          When a company has unreasonable expectations in their hiring process (due to ignorance or otherwise), it’s a really bad sign that they’re going to have unreasonable expectations after the hiring process too. Jobs that stretch your skill set are great, but a company that wants to pay you Geek Squad rates for doing experienced professional work is not somewhere that you’re going to be valued.

      2. One of the problems I have is that I have a lot of high-level theoretical knowledge of systems administration due to having so many friends who are sysadmins, and living with a partner of 10 years who is also a sysadmin. I’ve picked up the background knowledge to be able to understand what they’re talking about, and when something goes wrong I can usually figure out what’s going on and what needs to be fixed.

        The big problem? Is that I don’t have the hands-on experience that someone with that kind of knowledge would have picked up simply from being on the job and working their way up from a junior PFY-type position to actual sysadmin. I make a great IT manager but I am absolutely not a sysadmin, and it would take me at least a year of cramming this stuff solidly – acting as junior to an actual sysadmin – to get anywhere near the level they seem to expect me to be. The friend who got me the job (the recently-departed sysadmin, now acting consultant) mostly knew this before I was hired, though I still keep surprising her when I say “Yeah, this has gone wrong so we need to do [foo] – now, how EXACTLY do I do that?” Google is my friend, but there’s only so much you can Google for and a lot of the time the fixes you find assume a greater degree of familiarity than I actually have. It’s less a case of they want someone who’s me five years ago so much as they’re expecting me to be the person I could be five years from now.

        It doesn’t help when everyone on Team Me keeps telling me breezily that I’m smart and I’ll pick things up in no time. I know my brain, and I know I can’t pick this stuff up as fast as the boss wants me to. That’s not what I need to hear right now, and it actually makes things feel much harder and isolating.

        More importantly, the way this job makes me feel, I’m not sure I WANT to pick it up, either.

        1. “Google is my friend, but there’s only so much you can Google for and a lot of the time the fixes you find assume a greater degree of familiarity than I actually have.”

          That’s happened to me from time to time as well. Sometimes you just need someone to show you how it’s done or draw on a white board to explain it, because no amount of Googling is going to tell you that the login page is over *there*. I don’t have any great suggestions for dealing with it, just sympathy.

        2. I was in almost that situation when I started my first sysadmin job in 1998 – the difference was it wasn’t ten years of living with a sysadmin, it was only a couple of years hanging out in the Monastery and a Swedish place that had a high sysadmin quotient. I got a lot of help from the latter place. (Going by your nick/name here, I think we may have quite a few friends/net acquaintances in common, from people who used to hang in the Monastery but have since moved to other places…)

          I hope that some specific advice to your situation isn’t too off-topic for this thread. I think that right now one place where you’d find people who would be helpful is the chat room for ServerFault. The actual site is far less useful now than it used to be; there’s an influx of people who are nowhere near professional sysadmins, but the chat room does have some really good people in it. I usually am around during the (European) day, but not under this name – but I’m usually the only woman there so you’d find me easily. It’s not a place for tech support, but a sysadmin tearing out their hair over “how the fsck do I actually do this thing” will usually find someone who’s willing to throw them a oneliner.

  57. Another red flag I’ve noticed was a strong emphasis on discussion of negative situations. For example, one potential employer had me go through three meetings with separate groups and one with the CEO, and everyone asked very similar, very specific questions about negative experiences. For example, “how did you handle a situation where you had to explain that you had made a mistake or missed a deadline?” and “how did you handle a situation where a personality conflict negatively impacted your work?” were asked almost identically in all four meetings. I realize they were given a list, and that it’s good to explore how a potential hire will handle adversity. That said, almost all the questions were in the same vein and their tone was so challenging and almost antagonistic (another red flag) that I was really ready to leave after the second group! It was absolutely draining and after I left I felt exactly the way I do after a day when one of those negative experiences actually happened! It just didn’t give me a good feeling. I found out later (after taking another job, thankfully) that they did have high turnover and lots of mostly-manufactured crises coming straight from higher management, so I’m glad I trusted my instincts. All that said, I am a bit thin-skinned so YMMV.

    1. Oof, good one. I think it’s smart for employers to get into some of the “how do you handle mistakes?” territory, as it’s one way to weed out Dwight Schrutes. But I also think it’s smart for interviewees to answer and then find a way to ask, well, how do YOU handle it when an employee makes a mistake, boss?

      1. I also think it’s legit to ask “how often are there crises? how are they handled?” Some people thrive on constant putting out of fires. I? DO NOT.

    2. Oh, this is a BIG red flag! Though my current employer seems to be using it as a tactic to offer promotions without having to actually promote anyone. I work in a government position so of course there have been budget cuts. The union was pushing senior execs to offer promotions since they hadn’t offered any in years. So last year grade promotions were announced. In order to get a grade promotion in our agency, even if it’s for the exact same position you’re currently working, you have to apply as if you were trying to get a new job.
      I should have known that something was up when HR demanded that I send them my college transcripts, which they already had. Then when it came time for the interview, a lot of the questions were about how you would handle problems like “If you had X number of priority cases and your manager handed you 2 more, how would you prioritize them based on the type of case and how long you had been working on them?” The tone was not only antagonistic but outright rude. I came out of the interview thinking not only that I hadn’t done well, but that I wouldn’t want the promotion anyway!
      I thought that it was just me. But when I talked to other people who had gone for promotions, even promotions for positions above the one I was I was applying for, they had the same experience. Even with different interviewers, everyone felt like they had been worked over afterwards. In the end, over a dozen people applied for promotions but only 1 person was offered one in our office and they turned it down to take a similar position in a different office.
      I’ll tell you, I’m not only reconsidering going for a promotion the next time they are offered, but this combined with all the other problems that we have been having in the past year has me thinking about looking for a job in the private sector. The questions they asked anticipated some of the problems that have started after the interview so I guess I should have seen all of this coming. I love this job, even with the ridiculous caseloads and our out of touch senior execs but it’s getting really frustrating.

    1. You guys, read this, it’s great. What to watch out for in Retail & Food Service jobs. Thanks, Brigid, I am sorry your post was eaten by Internet Demons.

  58. If you’re interviewing for a teaching post, you’re always expected to deliver at least part of a lesson – usually a whole one. Because duh, how you interact with a class is pretty important…. or so you’d think. One job I had, they’d given me the age & topic of what to prepare for interview, but when I showed up there was some form of fail that meant those kids weren’t available. I asked if they needed to re-schedule the lesson – nope. I offered to show them what I’d prepared and the attitude was “oh ok, I suppose we could do that”.

    It became pretty clear, once I started, that they were desperate for cheap staff because a lot of people had bailed. I was newly qualified and there were loads of new hires from overseas. My new boss went off me pretty fast when she discovered I was a single mum so couldn’t come in early / stay until insane o’clock so she could go out drinking or carry on her fling with a married guy.

    I lasted about 7 months.

    1. I went to one of these where they had not managed to invite any actual students to attend, so all this participatory/discussion stuff that I do had to be quickly reworked to apply to the one dude sitting 10 rows back in the dark in a lecture hall. Awkward as hell. Me = not hired.

    2. I’ve found that, at least in my area, the job applications for teaching positions are extremely time-consuming; they most resemble college applications. They ask teacher applicants for their life history, including high school transcripts, essays, complete work history, etc.

      A red flag for me for these types of positions is that despite requiring applicants to fill out these huge applications, no one at the interview has even bothered to read even part of them. I understand that really, no one has the time to read everything on these applications, but it’s a huge waste of time if the interviewer hasn’t prepared to talk to you, and asks questions like “and do you have the appropriate certification for this position?” Um, yes, I do, and it says so on my application. The interview should be focused on more complex questions that can’t be covered on the application, like “how would or have you dealt with a student who does X?”

      As well as being annoying, this sort of thing indicates either a very concerning level of poor communication between the district’s HR (and frequently the district office in general) and the school administration which will have a huge impact on even good principals’ ability to accomplish anything, or a school administration that is always running around trying to get things done without preparing properly to do those things, and therefore driving everyone mad.

  59. This can’t really be universally true (can it?), but every very small company (less than, say, 15 people, including owners) that I’ve worked at has had terrible internal communication problems. Like, your boss doesn’t tell you when they’ve changed policies that affect your work until you’ve already done a bunch of stuff “wrong” (under the new policy).

    Wholeheartedly agree with “they’re auditioning for you, too,” though. When I go on a job interview, I look at the business in terms of whether I’d want to buy it, if I were looking to buy a business. Are they making decent money by ethical means? What does their future look like? Growing, holding steady, or gently fading into non-existence? I guess the non-profit equivalent would be whether I’d give them a big grant, if I had a big grant to give. Are they really serving the people/cause they say they want to serve? Would they do it better if I gave them my big grant (i.e., took the job)? Not only does this help spot red flags, if you take it seriously it can give you a thoughtful, confident look that might impress interviewers.

    1. It is not universally true 🙂 The companies I’ve worked for with the best communication were actually the small ones – including one where there were five full-time people including me! I’d say that communication problems aren’t a function of company size, they’re a function of the people involved and their skills.

      1. One thing I notice is that tech companies that are trying to move from small to medium size — like when they shift from startup/VC money to trying to capture actual market and have that big hiring spree — they have big communication problems. There’s this stage where companies can manage with their informal, personality-based processes, and then there’s this stage where companies have functioning somewhat formalized processes that do not require specific individuals in specific jobs. The transition is super painful, and many of my jobs have come right in that inflection point.

        Not that all the small or big places had great communication, but those were… stable dysfunctional systems, at least, rather than chaotic disasters.

        So, a red flag can be that the company is hiring a large number of people, compared to its size.

        (I assume other industries have similar issues with company growth but I have no experience there.)

    2. “Like, your boss doesn’t tell you when they’ve changed policies that affect your work until you’ve already done a bunch of stuff “wrong” (under the new policy).”

      It’s true where I worked. I couldn’t understand what my boss was doing until I read this:

      It really explained everything.

      1. Wow. That post described my grad school experience in a nutshell. Too busy, too tired, to emotionally invested, intermittent rewards based on responses to crises, not steady work, and far-off major rewards (“real” job, tenure, retirement(!)) that may never come. Even the feeling of walking away is just right. This terrible combination of panic at losing it all and just utter stillness and relief.

        Sooooo glad I walked away from there.

  60. In the same vein as the whole ‘we’re just like FAMILY!’ thing, it’s also worth thinking twice about actual family owned businesses. A lot of times there’s nothing wrong with them, but if the family is dysfunctional, OH BOY will it play out at work. This goes double for multiple generations in the same business.

    My contribution to the red flag stories is when my husband was interviewing at his current job (working for the 4th largest insurance company in the world) he had several interviews, but *never* got to see the office he’d be working in, even after asking. When he started the first day, he saw why. It’s in more run down area of the city on a street with two strip clubs and the inside… ever see Joe vs. the Volcano? Give that place a red carpet and that’s his office. He took the job because there was enough good that one red flag got cancelled out, and they’re moving to a better office in October, but it could have easily gone the other way.

    1. Upvote for the family-owned business thing, and that holds true no matter how big the company gets. If everybody in the executive suite is everybody else’s cousin/uncle/grandma, business decisions aren’t necessarily being made for business reasons, even in a billion dollar company.

    2. This is true.

      I spent a summer working in an art shop in a touristy area. The boss was alright, but she didn’t train me properly and expected me to know things that I couldn’t possibly know. The worst part though was her kids. She had her two 20 something kids cover for her in the afternoons, and on my first week one left me all alone in the store and never came back even though I hadn’t been taught how to close. The other one would sit in back playing video games, but if she noticed me doing something wrong she would write a passive aggressive note and leave it in plain sight. This over things that she could have simply told me. She also got in a snit over me leaving at my assigned time, because she didn’t want to vacuum the store and that afternoon had been to busy for me to do it. I had stayed late on several occasions, but on this day I had to get to a doctor’s appointment and had said so ahead of time.

      I should have known it would have been awful when the boss called me the second day after my interview to ask if I was a real person or if I was imaginary.

  61. Hello! If I had to give my one big red flag – it’s when there isn’t an interview at all. That goes double when it’s through an agency and you don’t speak to anyone from the actual company until you arrive on your first day.

    My worst experience was with this one agency that provides proofreaders and notetakers to students who need them. No interview, just me registering my details and the job was mine, but while I was registering I noticed that they didn’t give me a specific “this is how much you get paid per hour” in writing, they didn’t let me have a copy of the contract (which was standard anyway and I didn’t /need/ it, but it was a basic courtesy and a legal requirement). I didn’t get to speak to anyone from the university before starting.

    Payslips? None for five months, when they were meant to be weekly. Rate of pay? Didn’t know it until I figured it out from the payslips (I get £8-10/hr of the £23-28/hr they get from the uni or college). Details? They gave me an address, and not much more. The tipping point was when they told me it was a requirement for me to register with an umbrella company they’d given my details to or I wouldn’t get paid – the contract the company gave me stated that after every job I had to work for them for 27 hours at their convenience soliciting work (which is the job the agency is supposed to be doing); that I could only leave if they let me; and that I couldn’t work for anyone else while registered with them, but also that I was on a zero-hour contract and they weren’t obliged to give me work. They would also set up a company in my name, which would have messed up my tax right proper. When I said them no, they said that was okay, it wasn’t necessary as payroll would deal with my earnings as usual.

    The company I’m working for now was the same – no interview. I really wish I’d had one as other successful candidates who did have an interview started off knowing so much more than I do. They could ask questions about the business, meet their manager, clarify what the gap was between the job description and the job in actuality (which is vast, especially as my manager thinks I’m a temp and I was told I was on probation for a permanent position).

    I’m young and poor and naive so I’ll probably ignore every red flag I see. But I’m definitely going to ask questions now when I see some of the ones pointed out here – if nothing else I’ll know what I’m getting into, right?

    (Sorry, this turned out sort of ranty.)

    1. Yeah, when you’re broke and inexperienced sometimes you’ve got to ignore red flags.

      I just signed up for a job today where the interviewer called me “hon” several times and asked how I handle people cussing at me. But it’s full-time work, and if it turns out bad I can handle it until I find something better.

    2. Yikes. I’m guessing from the description of the work and the salary that you were doing disability support work? I did the same thing a few years ago. It might be worth getting in touch with the disability support office at the university you’re working with and making sure they’re aware of the weird terms and conditions in your contract. They should have some guidelines or policies around how companies they contract with treat their employees, and they might have an opinion on the weirdness!

  62. I have a pretty great interview story to share.
    I moved across the country a few years back; I’d been managing a store for a few years and figured that working (in a semi-managerial position) at a store in the same industry in my new city would be a good idea. Sadly, it wasn’t; there were THREE bosses to four or five employees, they couldn’t communicate with employees well or stick to scheduling agreements, they made a lot of business decisions that baffled me but I was the one who had to deal with irate customers face-to-face, etc. So I started looking for another job after a few months, which is really hard in San Francisco if you’re not in the tech world.

    After a few months, I got my first interview, for an office manager position in a small bakery in my neighborhood. I’m pretty good at organizing stuff and solving problems, so it sounded like a good position.

    The bakery owner, Cecile, had some questions on the phone for me about my Photoshop skills, but didn’t understand what needed to happen enough to explain it over the phone so she had me come in for a half-demonstration of the issue, half-interview late on a Sunday morning. It was a huge mess:

    Real questions she asked me during the interview:
    * How old are you?
    * What’s your zodiac sign?
    * When is your birthday?
    * Do you have a sweetie?
    * What would you say if I asked you to take this [vague gesture at nose] out? (I have a septum piercing, and that’s a valid question, but it’s better to ask a specific question than hand-wave at one’s own face.)

    At various times, she described the role of the office manager as “a cheerleader,” “a shoulder for me to lean/cry on,” and “[her] mom.” Unspoken but heavily implied was the role of therapist. I learned that she was no longer interested in the bakery business but needed to expand her business to make enough to retire. She sad “I don’t want to do this any more” more than once – not exactly the sort of thing that inspires a potential hire to get excited about the job. Who wants to sign on to be a cheerleader for someone who admits they hate their job?

    As Cecile mentioned on the phone, it was clear that she had no technical knowledge or experience but needed the office manager to be able to fix any computer problems instantly. She took a phone call about some email problems during the interview (really! And this despite the fact that as the phone rang she said “I’m usually not here on Sundays and I’m not expecting a call”) and used that issue as an example of something she’d expect me to drop everything to fix. And this wasn’t listed as a tech support job at all. Most of the Photoshop work was stuff I could learn to do, but she seemed unable to differentiate between a project that would take an hour and one that would take eight. She specifically said “if it’s Friday night and something needs to be done, you can’t leave until it’s done.”

    Also: this interview lasted an hour and fifteen minutes. Probably at least fifty minutes of that was her rambling, complaining monologue about how she didn’t like her job any more and needed someone to fix all her problems.

    As you may imagine, I did not take the job.

      1. According to, that’s not true. People generally don’t, because it’s illegal to make hiring decisions based on it (as long as the person in question is over a certain age, I think 40) so they would leave themselves open to a potential lawsuit, but they’re allowed to ask anything they want.

  63. This is an amazing thread.

    One red flag I learned a few years ago is “If you’re surprised they gave you a job offer, don’t take it.”

    The background is that I was getting my MSW. In the US, to get a Master’s of Social Work, you have to do two internships. I was interviewing for my first-year internship and I felt like I was being judged and found wanting the entire time. They asked a lot of typical questions, especially around what knowledge I had in the specific area they worked in, but even though they were smiling, and I knew I had the right answers, I had this weird vibe that I just wasn’t impressing them and wasn’t doing well. When the offer came a few days later, I was genuinely surprised they’d made it. I had honestly thought they did not like me, and hadn’t found me qualified – and I’d especially gotten that vibe from the person who would be my supervisor.

    I took the offer, and it was a huge mistake. That vibe, of never being quite good enough? Yeah, that was my supervisor’s entire MO. She also seemed to take a perverse delight in upsetting me so much that I would cry in supervision, and then blame everything on me, and if I would just not think of myself so highly, and just listen, and do what she told me…

    Yeah it was bad enough my advisor pulled me out after 3.5 months.

    I also took a course my second year in graduate school on organizational and workplace culture, which was fantastic. One thing we learned was to figure out what kind of environment you do best in/would prefer, and don’t take a job that’s not in that environment if you can help it. There’s basically two intersecting axes, as my professor explained it. Small company to large company, and more bureaucracy to less bureaucracy. Wherever you fall isn’t good or bad, it’s just where you are, and if you can take a job that has an environment that works for you, do it.

    The second big thing was to pay attention to the environment, similarly to things other commenters have said – is it quiet, loud, in good repair, not? Other things to look for are what kind of lighting do they use? Are there windows at all? Do people have any personal items on their desks like plants, pictures, etc., or is it all just the same cubicles? Does everyone have the same pro-company poster on their cube/door? Are doors open or closed? Are there any people engaged in casual conversation in the hallway, or is everyone sequestered in their cube or desk? Do people smile as you walk past them in the hall, or pretend you don’t exist? Is the building accessible – does it have wheelchair ramps, wide doors, etc.?

    1. Oh, MSW internships.

      My field office was the most incredibly disorganized thing. My first field placement was at an independent living center – it was amazing and I’d go work for them in a heartbeat if I could afford the pay cut (and I might just have to change up my life to afford that pay cut, I loved them that much). But my field supervisor was someone my school had worked with as a supervisor for YEARS, so they darn well knew he’s legally blind, and the school still kept forgetting to give him documents in accessible formats!

      My second field placement…well, I asked school to find me a match, and there was no match for me long past the point where they were supposed to have one, so I went out and found myself a placement. I still have mixed feelings about the whole experience. It was a very very small non-profit, and the grant my field supervisor was working under ran out about two months into the placement and wasn’t renewed. So she was usually not on the same site, was ALWAYS losing my paperwork, and was highly critical of me on the evaluations. I ended up crying on the shoulders of people from my first placement a few times because of the issues with my second.

      Lesson learned: Small-ish and friendly is good. Lack of basic infrastructure is BAD (at least, for me it is).

      I know I was hard to find a placement for because my primary employment has conflicts of interest with a LOT of potential field placements, but I really feel like the school could’ve done better by me. Sigh.

  64. Awesome post, Captain! I’m currently in the process of applying for a position at a large company, and wonder what your thoughts are about the situation I would be moving into if I got through the interviews.

    The person who held the job previously passed away unexpectedly a couple months ago. As far as I’ve been able to learn from friends working at the company, the event was not related to the work itself (it’s not a high-risk position by any stretch of the imagination), but I’m wondering if you have any advice on how to raise the subject of projects the previous job holder was working on with the hiring manager. I’m told he was well liked and respected on the team, so I want to be sensitive to that while still getting the information I need to make an informed decision.

    Any thoughts or advice?

    1. Biggest advice? Let them set the tone, and if the fact of the person’s death comes up you can indicate that you know – “That must have been a terrible loss. How do you anticipate transitioning his projects?”

      1. Excellent advice. I figure if they don’t bring it up, I can ask if there are ongoing projects that I need to get up to speed on, and make it about the work rather than the person who was doing the work.

  65. A BIG red flag is when the hiring manager trash talks the person that last had the position, or disses the other people interviewing. Yikes! Even worse, it’s done in a conspiratorial way. It makes you feel as though you are gaining the interviewer’s trust, but really they just have terrible boundaries and are unprofessional. My current supervisor did this in my interview, and she has a bad habit of trash talking other people on our team to this day!

    One more is when you are given lengthy “assignments” or hoops to jump through that don’t seem to have anything to do with the position or a respectful interview process. I was wined and dined through an interview, and at the end asked to provide written answers to a list of questions about my vision for the position and the agency. This seemed strange to me but I sent my answers, which took hours to write, and then–crickets. They never contacted me again or responded to my follow-up email. I was never even given notification that I didn’t get the job! Seems like they just wanted my ideas for free.

    1. THIS. I have graphic design/illustrator friends who have to deal with “assignments” all the time when they’re looking for work. They are all of the pretty unanimous opinion that any company that asks you to design logos, websites or marketing materials for them as part of the hiring process is incredibly dodgy.

      1. I had a similar experience about a year ago; I flew to another state for an interview that I was a finalist for, and they wanted me to give a 20 minute presentation about the job role (it was a certification program development role). I did the presentation, and we talked extensively for an hour, then they went and talked and decided that I wasn’t “enthusiastic enough” – but I’m sure it was because my presentation was a general discussion of such programs in general, not a presentation that said “here’s exactly how your program should be built.”

        Which was odd, because they’d scheduled the analysis (meetings with customers) for the following Monday and had asked before the interview if I’d be able to make a trip back the following week.

        They ended up not filling the position, which really makes me think that they were looking for some free/low-cost consulting.

      2. Huh. I guess there are a good way to do assignments and a dodgy way to do them? I’ve always seen assignments as a green flag–that the organisation has put thought in to the kind and quality of work they are looking for and how to best evaluate the work of someone incoming. Orgs I’ve worked for with assignments as opposed to without have always hired higher-quality people better suited to their jobs than those without.

        1. I think some assignments can be good – show me you actually know how to program, or teach, etc. but with design work it can get very tricky and unethical very quickly and companies use it as a way to get free design work.

          1. Yes–I think the tipoff is, “Is this something you the prospective employer could totally sell for real money?” along with, “Is this the same stuff I have in my portfolio?” I do translation – a normal test is a page or two, or a sampling, but a long cohesive passage that looks suspiciously entire could be a super unethical way to get free translation work. It does happen – I saw an ad on craigslist that was like, “Send us an email to sign up for the test! The test is writing a book review on a book of our choosing for free! If you do a good enough job, more offers of work may come your way!”

    2. This is a red flag in an interviewer OR a candidate. If you spend your whole job interview badmouthing your last gig, you are telling them you are still hung up on old conflicts. If they spend the whole time badmouthing the last person, they are telling you the same. It’s a big “we are unprofessional and indiscreet” signal flare.

      Everything they say about the person could be true (as it could be true of your former employer!), but if you’ve ever been on a first date where someone used you as a free therapist to help them process their divorce, you know why this is bad juju.

      1. On a related note, it’s always good to prepare a non-whining answer to questions like “Why did you leave Darth Company?” well in advance.

        Years ago, I applied for a job with a small publishing company. My first interview was with the president of the company. Midway through, he asked what it was like to work for Darth Company. Something about the way he said it made it obvious that it wasn’t a generic question about my experience. Darth Company’s reputation had spread.

        My reply: “Darth Company generally had about 10 employees, give or take, including the CEO and his wife. By the time I’d been there six months, with the exception of the CEO and his wife, I was the most senior employee.”

        I got the job. 🙂

        1. I usually give very generic answers. “The position was terminated due to lack of funding, but I learned X while working there” or “the team decided to take the website in a new direction”.

        2. This can also be a liberating experience. When I interviewed for my current (new this week!) job, the general manager who interviewed me, and whom I had known years earlier in the same industry, had clearly heard about my now-previous manager. She’s only been in the industry some nine months, but she’s made quite the reputation for herself. I talked about personality conflicts and my desire for more structure, but it was nice that he already *knew* some of the issues and I didn’t really have to outline them (or worry about appearing overly negative/critical), and we could just talk about where I’d fit in his company instead.

          1. Validating, isn’t it?

            After I’d been working at the new company for a little while, I asked my boss why he’d asked about Darth Company. Boss said that a friend of Woman I’d Replaced had worked there for a while, and had given her an earful. Woman I’d Replaced concluded that if I’d lasted an entire year there, I could endure any amount of pain. 😀

            … Which sounds like a red flag for the new company, now that I see it written like that, but no. It only meant that I found it easier to keep normal job frustrations in perspective.

  66. This is such a great post, and also a great resource for good questions to ask at an interview. I once had an employer tell me that if a candidate does not have any questions at the end of the interview, she strikes them off the list immediately. I usually prepare some company-specific questions, but in the past I’ve ended up a bit stumped if they get answered during the course of the interview. There’s some excellent ones here that I will add to my mental list.

    I feel like I could write this post again, specifically dealing with unpaid internships, as I have done so freaking many of them, I’ve gotten pretty good at sniffing out a raw deal. One question I got into the habit of asking at interviews for unpaid positions is “What will I get out of my time here?” (implied: because it sure as hell ain’t a living wage!) I obviously don’t phrase it so bluntly, but I usually ask something like:

    “I am very interested in X aspect of this company’s work. Are there any projects in that area that I could take on as part of the internship?” (bonus: This question makes you sound like a driven go-getter who is well-versed in the specifics of the company’s work)


    “What networking/professional development opportunities will this internship offer outside of my day-to-day tasks?”


    “These are my professional development goals for the coming year, could you elaborate on how X task or Y project is going to feed into this?”

    If you’re interviewing with a company who takes its internship programme seriously, you won’t need to ask these questions because they will have already been answered in detail, probably in the job description or during the interview. If the interviewer gives you a considered answer to this question, at least you know that someone you’re going to be working with has given thought to the matter and wants you to have a good experience. If the interview is nonplussed, dismissive or vague, this is a massive red flag. It makes it clear that they’ve only been thinking about this internship in terms what they can get out of you (for free), not how it can be beneficial for both parties.

    If they answer with something like “Well, it will look great on your CV!” or “We love our interns here, they all have so much fun!” RUN FOR THE HILLS.

  67. This thread is great! And also timely as I’m currently on the job hunt, and there are so many great suggestions of things to look at that I haven’t even thought about. A few of my own from a position I had cold emailed for, meaning, I emailed this guy and said, “I think your work sounds really great, do you have any open positions?”

    (1) His FIRST response back to me was, “Here’s a paper to read about what we do. What is your salary request?” I think starting salary negotiations before talking with me even once seems like a big red flag to me.

    (2) We did schedule an interview where the only person I talked to was my potential boss. He mentioned other employees but I did not talk to, meet, or even see them around. There were other people around who worked in other positions at the company, so it wasn’t like it was just the two of us in total seclusion (which I’d also consider red flag), but I think if you are going to be expected to work with others, it’s sort of makes sense that you might meet some of them on your interview.

    (3) I thought I pretty much bombed the interview. I felt unprepared for what seemed like a pop quiz. I was convinced when I left that I would not be offered the position, but I wasn’t upset about it because I didn’t think I’d be a good fit. Surprisingly, he sent me an email the following week saying he would be mailing me an offer letter. Back then I thought, “Hey, I guess I did better than I thought!”, but looking back I wonder if he was either not getting interest for the position or if he was getting a lot of turn downs because both my background and my interview indicated I was NOT the best fit there. A position that seemingly no ones wants might be a red flag.

    (4) Finally, my offer letter took months to arrive, while I was unemployed mind you, so I continued going on interviews thinking maybe the letter wasn’t actually coming. Eventually I took another position elsewhere, and since most of our communication had been via email, I emailed him and politely told him I had decided to take a position where my background was more appropriate. I never got a response from him, but then weeks later, HR emailed me to tell me where to report on my first day. So, his communication skills seemed lacking, red flag.

    Since I didn’t take the position, I can’t be sure that he would have been a terrible boss. But I definitely feel like I dodged a bullet.

  68. I used to do some sorta-freelance work through an agency. The client paid the agency, the agency paid me… a THIRD of what the client paid. After a while, I got pretty fed up with this, especially when it became clear that no, it wasn’t that I was really slow, it was that it was impossible to do a good job on any assignment in less than two days and because the money was such a small flat fee, I was making less than the minimum wage. So I started thinking about asking for a raise, but I thought it would be good to phone around other agencies first and get a sense if my agency (which I’d got into through a work contact at a time when I was desperate for almost anything) was typical or not. Every agency listed its fees on its site, “What is your commission, what percentage goes to the worker?” seemed like a reasonable question. Most of the places I phoned were fairly small organisations and a bit cagy, but they were affable enough and several of them said that if I was looking for a change, they’d be happy to look at my CV.

    Then this woman replied. And as soon as I finished my opening spiel was all “Who are you? Why are you asking this?”, and I was all “…but I just told you? My name is [Phospher] I work for a similar agency and blahblah I’m trying to research the industry… this is very easy to verify, if you’re concerned?” and she said she didn’t want to answer and told me what a nerve I had, phoning up and asking questions. And I was all “…okay?” and she said “it’s like I phoned you up and asked for the details of your private bank statement!” And, well, I was only vaguely mulling over actually trying to work at any of these places, but Boss Cannot Distinguish between Private Personal Business/Finances and How She Runs Her Company seemed like a whole Communist Parade of red flags to me.

    What I sort of wished I’d said was, “So, whatever you’re doing, it’s clearly not something you’re PROUD of, is it?”

    Which seems like another flag.

    Sadly, the main thing I got from that exercise the sense that exploiting the fuck out of employees was largely normal in that field. My agency was at least nice to me. I just gritted my teeth until I could get out of that type of work altogether.

    1. Actually, yes, it is literally exactly like calling and asking for details of your private bank statement, because her rates have a pretty direct and pertinent impact on that, don’t they?

      I can’t handle this, “How dare you ask how much you can expect to be paid?” routine. I think any employer who has a problem with basic questions like, “Do I get health benefits?” and, “By full-time, do you mean forty hours a week?” and, “Do you often ask employees to come in on weekends?” is an entitled and faithless employer. I know it’s becoming more and more common – given whose market it is now – to delay these questions, but I think it’s cruel. I had one prospective employer put off any, and I mean any, discussion of salary or benefits until the follow-up interview two weeks later. In a field where there no longer seems to be a floor, even for experienced full-time employees in large companies. And I interviewed with one company that I don’t think had yet decided whether to offer benefits, maybe just hold some interviews and see how many candidates expected them.

      It means they either (a) have no knowledge of their company’s compensation structure (b) have no understanding of what money is or (c) are trying to lowball you. Oh, or worst of all: (d) are not empowered to give you basic information during an initial interview All bad.

  69. And now to actually contribute:

    When I showed up at the HR office as instructed for my interview, with something like a reasonable 5 or 10 minutes before the scheduled time, I was welcomed and told to wait a few minutes. Normal, right? Except then one of the front desk people told me that the HR person I was supposed to meet was away, and that I would have to go directly to the department I was interviewing for. In a different building a five-minute walk away, in an area of a city I didn’t know at ALL, involving a steep hill, midday in August.

    They had to draw me a map.

    The actual interview with the people I’m working with went splendidly, in spite of my showing up totally sweaty and flustered. And I did end up taking the job, but that was definitely a big sign of how things are at this institution – my actual department is wonderful but the departments don’t talk to each other and the administration often seems to have no idea what it’s doing. Oy.

  70. On an interview for an assistant job at the Pentagon, the executive officer and another assistant gave me a long and probing interview. It was all very serious and pressurized. The job would include handling secret and top-secret documents, working with high level military and civilians, and seemed very intense. Towards the end of the interview, the assistant asked me point-blank “Is there anything you wouldn’t do?” I immediately thought, “Would I leak sensitive information? Would I let a general get away with sexual harrassment? Would I agree to act as an agent or double agent?” I was spinning, and quiet, and I was unknowingly giving her my INTJ stare while I thought. Before I could answer with a carefuly considered rundown of my most closely held ethics, she said “…because the last assistant didn’t want to water the plants or do any dusting, and we all need to pitch in and do things like that some times.”

    Red flag averted – I took the job.

  71. This is tremendously helpful and timely! I am job searching right now and I wonder if anyone has any advice on the International job search? Are there particular red flags to watch out for that are different given that the jobs I am seeking are overseas? Any thoughts at all would be welcome.

    1. Could you narrow down “overseas” to country or region & field for us? I think most stuff in this category is going to get culturally and industry-specific.

      1. Sorry, of course that makes sense! I am currently job searching in England and Ireland and mainland Europe (though frankly I would take work almost any where in the world right now). The field is pretty broad – I’m looking primarily for a post-doc, teaching, or research position. I just graduated and have never sought this type of job before, so any advice is deeply appreciated!

        1. Hello! I’m an American currently doing a master’s in Switzerland, but I’m based in a lab setting. The first thing I can tell you is that Switzerland is quite different from the countries surrounding it. 🙂 One thing that I did not realize (maybe you knew this already, but just in case!) is that many, if not most, laboratory programs in Western Europe are run in English — with the exception of France. 😛 Certainly nearly any lab you looked at in Switzerland, though the day-to-day conversations might happen in French or German, publishes articles in English and mostly will speak English as well.

          I can’t really give “red flags” per se, because my lab is frankly a very good one. I would say that (in my experience of doing internships and educational experiences in a few countries in western Europe) that the ridiculous workweek expectations that I encountered for academics in the U.S. are quite tempered here; more or less everyone in my lab works 40-hour weeks, with occasional longer hours when there are deadlines coming up. This can be problematic in labs where the supervisors or lab heads are less available, I think.

          Things that I would ask about, because they are things that I have encountered that could be problems:

          1. What kinds of employee support are available for healthcare, both physical and mental. These resources seem to be a bit more buried in European schools than in American ones (in my experience.)

          2. What kinds of associations are available for legal support for foreign national employees of a university. One of my labmates got into an annoying situation where they wanted to change their housing contract but could not, and it took several months before they found the university association that could help them negotiate.

          3. This is maybe not a question to put to the interviewer, but just to check out: what are the laws regarding contracts and postdocs? In Switzerland, you are only allowed to have three year-long contracts as a postdoc before the university either lets you go or offers you a long-term position with job security. Unfortunately, most foreign researchers are let go at the end of this time, so they have to make plans elsewhere.

          4. Will the university help you find housing? This is maybe not such a big deal in other countries, but in Switzerland the answer is no, and also finding housing is an absolute nightmare. Our lab postdoc was anxious and miserable about his housing for months after getting here,

          5. What resources are available for learning the local language, and how good are they? My university offers free language courses, but they mostly not very helpful.

          6. What kind of cultural biases are you going to be dealing with? Switzerland is quite conservative when it comes to traditional gender roles, and even though my lab is mostly female, the university at large is probably about 70% male.

          European countries tend to be xenophobic in different ways than the U.S. is. I have been absolutely flabbergasted by some of the racist things that my European colleagues would say out loud, and sometimes quite at a loss to know how to respond. Based on conversations with friends who are POC, I think that some kinds of racial harassment or racial microaggressions are more common in Europe. It’s something to be conscious of and think about, in any case.

          There are a lot of other, more specific things by research area and country — my general impressions, based on talking to people who have studied and taught in these places — is that the research culture in Scandinavia is more open and collaborative; the educational atmosphere in France is more dogmatic and rigid; and all the technical fields in Switzerland tend to tightly interlaced with start-ups, large corporations, and other profit-driven ventures.

          Unfortunately, it’s my experience that a lot of the cultural differences are pretty subtle and take a long time to even notice, let alone adjust to. 😛

          Hope something there is useful! Good luck!

          1. a bit off topic but:
            “6. What kind of cultural biases are you going to be dealing with? Switzerland is quite conservative when it comes to traditional gender roles, and even though my lab is mostly female, the university at large is probably about 70% male. ”

            The high percentage of male students has probably more to do with the University/field you’re in than with traditional gender roles. Across Switzerland the percentage of femal students is about 50%.

          2. @ marina — Yes, I’m at a technical university. However, I attended a technical university in the U.S. as well, and there was much, much more effort by the admissions staff to keep a gender balance there. Also, my actual program is not necessarily a super technical one, and we still only have four girls to sixteen guys.

            I am admittedly also including other facts in that assessment of traditional gender roles — Switzerland’s lack of paternity leave (I think it’s. . . one day, or something like that?) which is not really notable compared to the U.S., but compared to much of western Europe, it’s kind of depressing. Besides that, it’s more a feeling I’ve gotten from interacting with various Swiss people in different settings, not just at university.

          3. Hello Jane
            I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that your impression of how conservative gender roles in Switzerland are necessarily wrong, just that it isn’t as bad as 70% of men implies and that it isn’t representative for the other universities. Well, at least concerning students, postdocs, assistants and professors are a different matter…
            Switzerland is certainly quite conservative in some areas though I generally hadn’t thought it much worse than other european countries or the U.S. but you seem to have more experience than I do and can compare better.
            Anyway good luck with your master’s 🙂

        2. I work in academia in Germany (research assistant/phd student), but academic culture here depends very much on the field, and also on individual professors as they have a very strong position. The constant (for Germany) is: below professor level, there are virtually no long-term contracts. This is different in England for example.

          In my field(s), people have been telling me repeatedly that if you’re not wiling to work 60-80 hours a week, you can give up on an academic career right away. That would probably be a red flag to watch out for during the interview process. I would also be wary of part-time positions in German academia, often it is simply expected that you work full-time on a part-time salary.

          A piece of information from an experienced, successful professor: It seems that personal style is more important in Germany (i.e. people who are horrible to work with will have trouble finding a job) than in England where the focus seems to be more on academic achievement. If that is true, I suppose the danger of red flags will be higher in England, but I have only limited experience of my own to really judge that.

        3. A little late to the party, but for the UK – assuming you’re coming from the US – one thing you will find is that our employment law is more in favour of the employee than the employer in a lot of places. For example, if you’re from the US, you may be startled to discover that it’s standard to have a contract with strict terms, that this contact contains a mandatory notice period on both sides (often 30 days), that there is a legal minimum for vacation and sick leave (and the legal minimum for vacation is 28 days, which I know would be almost unheard of in the US), that your employer can’t fire you without cause, etc.

          On the flip side, it is very hard to get work in the UK as a foreign national unless you (and your prospective employer) can demonstrate that you are bringing in a skill set that they just can’t find locally. The visa requirements these days really stress this – the mindset is very much “Why can’t you get a local person to do this? Is there really no-one in the WHOLE COUNTRY who could do this job? Really?”. You may be onto a better deal with academic work because I imagine there’s a chance your field of interest is narrow enough that the answer to that question is “No, there really is no-one in the UK as uniquely qualified as this person”. 🙂

        4. Hello, arts and hums PhD in the UK here with a lot of peers in the same part of the process as you are. A few things to watch for…

          Does the department you are applying to use its grad students for teaching/TAing, and if so, does it pay them well/at all? My department gets TAing for free under the guise of ‘teacher training’ (which you have to have completed to apply for paid teaching positions) and pays its grad student teachers a very low hourly rate. Obviously red flag for grad students, but also red flag for you in terms of availability of hours for post doc/junior researchers if they can get grad students as cheap/free labour, general financial problems, and questionable ethics.

          Also, in the UK we’ve had a lot of cuts to higher education over the last few years, especially in arts and hums. Looking at how universities have responded to both the cuts (have they cut courses? cut or privatized services? laid off teaching staff? hired management staff? put bursaries in place?) and any student activism about cuts (are students encouraged or punished?) will give you a lot of information about the nature and values of that institution.

          I’m sure you know this already, but there is a huge amount of competition for academic jobs at the moment, and the culture in the UK (as in the US) does seem to be geared towards very long hours and a deep commitment to the community. Good luck!

    2. Depends what you mean by overseas, obviously. I’m living and working in Japan now and have gone through some job searches, so I can tell you the culture is VERY different from North America.
      Every region is likely to be very different from every other region in some aspect or other.

      1. About 10 years ago I worked with a Japanese-American woman who used to work for banks in Japan. She told me about this one interview she went on where she was interviewed by two men, one older, one pretty young. Halfway though the older one said ‘Are you married?’ and when she said yes followed up with ‘Do you have plans to have children soon?’. Before she could answer the younger man turned to the older one and said ‘You can’t ask questions like that these days!’ She was relieved until he turned to her and said ‘What if you got pregnant by accident? You can’t always predict when you’ll become a mother and leave work.’ She didn’t take the job.

    3. I might be able to help. My first real job right out of graduate school was overseas in Japan. My red flags were pretty specific to my particular job, but it’s good to keep in mind that some things that are red flags for Americans are just the way the culture functions for them (but only to an extent). I had to do a lot of sorting out between “okay is this just a bad place or is this culture shock?” and eventually came to the conclusion that it was just a terribly run university. So research the business culture of the place you are looking at and find out what is “normal” or not for that area – that should give you some better clues about what red flags to look for.

      Now for my experience, which may or may not be useful to you. Sorry this is so long.

      My interview for the position consisted of “Do you mind rice? Because you’ll be eating a lot of it.” I am not kidding. That was the first red flag.

      Second red flag: they asked me to start a month before I even graduated with my degree. I still had teaching obligations at my grad school, and they were actively disappointed that I couldn’t start right away. As it was, they ended up flying me over a week after I graduated, midway through their semester, to take over for a teacher who was leaving to go start her own graduate degree. I literally arrived, had a day of learning where everything in the town was, and then was teaching.

      Third red flag: my “training” with the teacher for whom I was taking over consisted of “here at the textbooks and here’s how I take attendance. Good luck!” I wasn’t trained in ESL and I’d taught freshman comp in America for one year prior to this. I was woefully unsupported at this place and had no idea what I was doing the entire time I was there. It wasn’t until halfway through my time there that I even got to watch another teacher teach and go “ohhhhh that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

      Fourth red flag: a new teacher who started with me (but had gotten there at the beginning of the semester) told me that the university had previously switched some failing students’ grades to passing in order to keep their tuition money coming in. They would do this without consulting the teacher and you would find out only when that student showed up in your next class which was supposed to be higher level.

      Fifth red flag: [and here’s what may be useful to you as it’s partially cultural]: no one – literally, no one – would tell me I had made a mistake until days or sometimes weeks after I’d screwed up. The Japanese are, as a culture, pretty non-confrontational and it’s considered bad to challenge your superior, so if your teacher gets something wrong in class, you don’t raise your hand and correct them. I would screw up on something as simple as the date of the final or something, and get an email two days later from another teacher telling me that my students had told him to tell me. It was ridiculous – I never knew that I’d screwed up when I screwed up because NO ONE WOULD TELL ME.

      Sixth red flag: when my fellow new teacher just left about a month before the second semester started (there are two months between semesters), I wasn’t informed that I’d be taking over two of her classes until literally three days before. Which meant I had three days to prepare a whole syllabus and semester of lessons.

      Seventh red flag: When I left, I still had absolutely no idea how to check my work email on the Japanese computer system. Zero clue.

      There were mounds of other red flags, like them not telling me basic information about how to get in and out of the country legally (I got there and they were like, “Oh, you don’t have this $60 stamp in your passport so that you can leave and return? Might need that before you go on vacation to Korea!”). And, since I was living in university provided housing, maintenance guys would randomly show up at my apartment on weekends to make sure everything in the apartment was okay (once they just went ahead and opened up my door at 8AM on a Sunday and I was still asleep in bed [luckily clothed because I stood right up and grabbed for a weapon!]).

      Captain, while I left that job because of pre-existing anxiety and depression issues, reading this thread has really, really helped me to see how truly awful that situation was. Typing this whole thing out was extremely cathartic in recognizing how that job worsened my mental health and it wasn’t just something wrong with me not being able to handle it but a toxic work environment that exacerbated numerous issues. Thank you thank you thank you.

  72. I love this thread! Both as someone who interviews others (a few “notes to self”, very helpful) and as someone who last year went through the interview process for the first time in a while, and for the first time ever for a more senior-type position.

    Preface: I’m very lucky; I work in a field I love (post-secondary administration, mostly working with students) and my previous job was great, just no longer very challenging. So I had been looking on and off for something new. And a sidenote on that — I was very careful to let my supervisor know this, and that it had nothing to do with my work environment or with him, but that I knew I’d topped out there. He was very supportive, which was great, although I know that not all supervisors would be. Part of the reason I kept him in the loop was that I’d had some bad experiences when potential employers had just gone ahead and called my supervisor without letting me know in advance, and without giving me the chance to alert them. BIG red flag when someone does that, as far as I’m concerned!

    Anyway, more luckiness. I had two interviews in two weeks, both very attractive similar positions, at two different institutions.

    First one: 18-person hiring committee! I was one of two finalists. The interview was off-site, at a hotel. We were all sitting around what looked like a banquet table, three sides with committee members, me all on my lonesome on the fourth side. There were no set questions; it was a 2-hour free-for-all, and two of the committee members were actively hostile. (“So, Tehanu, by your own admission you’ve never managed a budget this large, why do you think you’re qualified to do so in this position?” I was getting punchy, and as I’d already spoken at length about my approach to budgeting, so I think I said something like “it’s kinda just adding more zeros, isn’t it?”) Brutal experience. I left the interview hoping they wouldn’t offer me the job, because it would have been hard to turn down, in terms of my own professional advancement. They didn’t offer it — it went to someone internal. Clearly I was not a good fit for them, and they were clearly not a good fit for me.

    Second one: Arrived, chatted with the admin assistant before the interview began, she was very engaged in what was going on. The senior administrator came to get me and was very welcoming. Reasonably-sized committee. They had prepared intelligent questions and everyone listened carefully. No traps. Lots of eye contact, lots of questions about what I’d like to do, my values, approaches, etc. Five minutes into the interview I wanted to work with these people, half an hour into it, we were all building on each others’ enthusiasm. We just meshed well. The first round interview, they had something like five candidates. Next they brought me back for a day-long round of meetings so I could talk with key stakeholder groups, which was tiring, but which confirmed for the most part what a great place this was. Then the senior administrator offered me the position, and we spent most of the meeting planning all kinds of neat things we wanted to do.

    Haven’t regretted it for a second ever since. And in terms of the other institution? They person they hired is doing very well (it’s a small field so we tend to know each other), and is clearly a good fit for them, too.

  73. I have a question related to this thread – on almost every “How to do an Interview” article I’ve read, the advice is generally to show up 15 minutes early or so. However, I’ve had a few situations come up in which I showed up, 15 minutes early, and the person interviewing me seemed upset, even commenting that I was early and that they weren’t ready for me. I’ve always tried to respond lightly with, “Take your time, I can wait for you,” etc. Not trying to make a big deal of it, just giving them room to get ready. Would fellow Awkarders consider this a red flag? And any advice on how to handle it if it comes up again in the future?

    1. Show up at the building 15 minutes early. Maybe find a bathroom, check teeth, eat a breathmint, make sure you know what floor things are on, etc. I show up at the actual office 5ish minutes early.

      If they get MAD at you for being 15 minutes early, possible red flag.

      An oh, huh, you’re early isn’t a big deal. Just say, “traffic was with me” and “I’ll happily wait” or “Could you direct me to a restroom, since I’ve got time?” and don’t worry about it.

      1. Yeah, I always took the 15 minutes to mean “so you have time to find a parking spot/go over your interview questions/fix your hair” rather than actually be AT the interview.

    2. One factor is paperwork. Some employers will have you fill out new hire paperwork as part of the interviewing process, others won’t, so when you schedule the interview, ask if you’ll be filling out any forms beforehand. If you have to fill out paperwork for a background check, or they want a completed job application to go with your resume’, 15 minutes gives you time to do that before the meeting. If you really are just meeting to interview, 5 minutes is more appropriate.

    3. My father always said that “on time” doesn’t mean “early”. He learned that lesson in the army during WWII, because his platoon arrived early for a battle, and the ended up being outflanked (that was the story he told, anyways).

      I’m with the Captain here – arriving at the building early doesn’t mean arriving at the interview early. Make sure you have plenty of time (in fact, for one interview when I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going or how long it would take to get there, I tried the drive a couple days earlier just to make sure I knew where I was going – don’t depend on your GPS on the day of the interview without a dry run, preferably at the same time of day if you can).

      1. Yes, I second the dry run suggestion. The job I recently left after fifteen productive years was on a street in which few buildings had visible numbers, and the building where I needed to go had no number on it at all. I’m sure I would have figured things out without the dry run, but how much better it was to arrive unflustered!

    4. The only way I can see this being a problem is if the job is domestic work (housecleaning, cooking, yardwork, caregiving) in somebody’s home. If the homeowner isn’t ready for you, they might not have anything equivalent to a reception area for you to wait in, and it’s awkward for them to ask you to leave and come back.

      A company with office space, however, should be happy that you’re so on top of things.

      1. This spring I had in-home quotes with three companies before determining who I was going to hire when I moved. In each case the person coming to the house called me ten or fifteen minutes before the appointed time to triple-confirm the appointment (and obliquely give me the chance to push them back a few minutes if I wasn’t ready), and in each case I could peek out the window and see that they’d arrived and were cooling their heels in the parking lot before coming and presenting themselves at my door at *precisely* the time we’d agreed upon. When one guy did it, I thought, Oh, huh. When all three of them did it, I concluded Yeah, that’s how an interview at a person’s home ought to roll.

        Which I guess is to say I agree with cinderkeys: houses don’t (usually!) have lobbies, so for an interview at a person’s home it’s best to find a way to be pre-punctual without seeming like a stalker.

      2. Oof, it looks like WordPress ate my comment.

        This spring, three separate moving-company representatives called me ten or fifteen minutes out from our meeting times to verify that I was ready (or give me a chance to push them back if I wasn’t), and I could see through the window that each of them arrived and cooled his heels in the parking lot for a few minutes before presenting himself at my door at *precisely* the agreed-upon time. So I agree with cinderkeys; though most homes don’t have lobbies, it’s good to arrive pre-punctually, and that seemed like a good way to do it without seeming like one was loitering (or, worse, stalking someone).

    5. If there’s a reception, let the receptionist know you are there and at what time you have the actual appointment. They will know what’s the culture in regards to timeliness and call the person at the appropriate time, you will not be in flustered and the last minute

    6. I’m always irked by the ‘don’t be too early’ advice because it assumes you have complete control over that and if you don’t have a car in a city with poor/no public transit you really don’t. I don’t feel like people should be punished for being early when the only bus only comes by once an hour. If you have to choose between being 30 minutes early and 30 minutes late, early is the more polite option.

      I also hate it when they decide to start the interview 5 seconds after you get there even if you are early. I like to have a bit to get my brain out of “Oh lord, let me get there on time” mode into “calm, professional interviewee” mode. I get it if there’s no place to wait but why have a waiting room if you don’t want anyone using it?

      1. For the bus thing, if I’m going to be there more than 15 minutes or so early I try to find a coffee shop or something to wait in. That’s of course assuming there *is* a coffee shop though, and that you have some spare cash to buy something so you’re not just loitering in there for half an hour. Or if the busses are actually predictable (ha ha I know) I might just call and let them know when I expect to get there and see what they think would be best.

        1. I don’t have a car, and live in a town where the bus runs once an hour. So yeah, lots of being “too early.”

          My solution is to bring a book and use the inbetween time to relax, read, make phone calls, whatever. No coffee shop necessary unless the weather is really bad – I just hang out in the parking lot or at the bus stop. Then actually go into the interview place 5-10 minutes before the scheduled time, ready to go as soon as they’ll see me. Just because I have to get off the bus an hour early doesn’t mean I have to be in their office right then.

    7. Every time i have been in a work position where I was watching someone get ready for an interview, an interviewee being more than 5 minutes early really pissed off the interviewer. Now, I haven’t worked in environments that were particularly punctual, so YMMV, but arriving 15+ minutes early is perceived to be quite rude in the places I’ve worked. (This is definite;my own personal bias as well, so I was surprised to learn others had it.) Yes, you could just wait in the waiting room, but it seems people feel very flustered and pressured that they aren’t ready yet, and irritated that they have less time than expected. I’m with the Captain–arrive at the building early, but don’t go up to the office before 5-10 minutes early.

  74. Telemarketing has been the worst job for me so far, and I think a big part of it was that the product was sort of unnecessary (created to bring money to the people who made it rather than to serve a purpose), and the means by which we were expected to sell it were rather unethical.

    I have learned two things from the experience:

    1) If it’s sales, don’t take the job if you dislike the product. You don’t have to love it, but if you hate it then it’s going to make even the best workplace unpleasant.

    2) If possible, try to enquire about the methods by which the company tries to sell the product. If they won’t give you a straight answer or seem unreasonably passionate about sales figures (as in, “we really need to sell this stuff, the more the better, whichever way works”), be wary.

    Also, be aware that these kind of jobs usually work on a commission-based salary, so you should be reasonably sure you’lll be good at selling whatever it is. Because if you’re not good at it, you might end up paying for the pleasure of doing a job you hate. (Like I did.) Still, if you are good at it, it might be the perfect job for you – this one guy I knew had a voice like melted chocolate and, needless to say, flourished in the very same job.

    1. “Also, be aware that these kind of jobs usually work on a commission-based salary, so you should be reasonably sure you’lll be good at selling whatever it is. Because if you’re not good at it, you might end up paying for the pleasure of doing a job you hate. ”

      Oh yes, so much. Even if it’s a less qualified job – if they are not valuing my time enough to actually pay me, they can do the job themselves!

  75. The “we’re a family” thing is spot-on from my last (terrible) job. Other than that, I thought it was the perfect job from the interview because everyone was laughing and joking and really seemed to enjoy working there. (I found out later, after I was hired, that they’d been reprimanded for “acting unprofessional” during my interview.) However, in retrospect there was one other red flag, which is that when I asked the president why he thought people enjoyed working there, he turned the question over to the employees who were also doing the interview. I found out later that he showed no interest whatsoever in whether any of his employees were happy there (ergo why he was shocked when I quit even though I’d clearly been miserable for a long time), and upon leaving I had to go through every single one of my job responsibilities and tell him who to transfer it to because he genuinely had no idea what anyone else in the firm did except in the most vague terms. (It was a 7-person company.)

  76. Another this is so timely person here as I’m looking for a job after taking a job out of grad school and it not working out. As I read through these and look back on the job, I can spot some of the red flags. It was a place without a lot of structure, the physical plant wasn’t well cared for, they were in a period of change and as an interviewee, they kept missing details of what was going on with me. Everyone was nice but in hindsight, a lot of it fits together about why it didn’t work. They didn’t really know what they wanted me to do, they made promises that they never followed through on and while people were nice, what they said they were and did wasn’t the same as what actually happened.

    I learned a lot from it and as I’m interviewing for jobs. Its helping me put a more critical eye on what happened and put it behind me so I can find someplace better. Since I did learn that I enjoyed the job I was doing, but I need to be in a place that’s a better fit. It was a tough thing and I’m still dealing with the awfulness of the job not working, so with new interviews am constantly working on explaining but not talking too much about this year. Its a tough balance as a bad job gets in your head. Thank you for this.

  77. I had an interview once at a small company. They spent so much time telling me what a friendly group they were that it ran into lunchtime and we still hadn’t gotten around to talking about the work. They said we’d all go out to lunch together — that would be fun!

    So they all piled into one car with not nearly enough seats and expected me to sit on someone’s lap in the backseat so we could all ride to the restaurant together. They could not understand why I said no, thanks, I’ll take the bus and meet you at the restaurant. They were quite indignant about my polite refusal to hop onto the guy’s lap.

    They drove off and I went home. It was only one red flag but it was a doozie.

  78. I went looking through my past blog posts because I remembered blogging about my most hilarious job search from many years ago, and indeed I had:

    I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that if I feel I am more professionally clueful than the people who are nominally in a position of authority over me, everyone will be happier if I’m a contractor rather than an employee, mostly because I’m going to act like one anyway and if I’m officially a consultant (and being paid consultant wages) I have a much greater chance of getting autonomy and being taken seriously rather than getting tossed out on my ear for insubordination.

    I think this will significantly influence my negotiations on Friday with the people who interviewed me yesterday. I suspect they really want to hire someone who will be their savior, and I am not that person. I’m happy to tackle individual projects, but I don’t want to be responsible for figuring out how to turn the CEO’s vision into a viable company. If the idea of a salaried part-time gig for them falls through and all I get are occasional freelance assignments, I won’t be unhappy.

    I got the job: part-time, salaried. One month later:

    There is no question that I’m bad at new things. I mean, really bad. I do them anyway, because my unhappiness with new things is balanced by my happiness with familiar things, but I’m always tremendously aware of my own discomfort when it comes to doing anything new. It’s a good thing I learn quickly, or I’d be miserable all the time.

    I am getting this with my new job, in spades. I feel constantly off balance, denied information I need, asked to do things that are beyond my capabilities and experience. I can’t tell how much of this is neophobia and how much is that the company is in a complete state of flux and being run by people who don’t know anything about publishing.

    I do not like the CEO, my direct supervisor. I feel like he’s trying to bullshit me all the time. This was confirmed when he promised me that his assistant, who will also be my assistant, could write and edit articles and conduct interviews. When I asked her whether this was true, she laughed and said it wasn’t and he’d never asked her before promising me that she could do all this work for me. She then said she’d love to give me the lowdown… but only if she could call me from home, rather than from the office where the CEO might overhear. This does not inspire confidence.

    Actually, that’s not true. It doesn’t inspire confidence in the CEO. It does inspire confidence in me, because it means that I might finally, finally be presented with a problem to fix. Fixing things is what I do. Being given endless runarounds is not what I do. Being asked to create a budget and a plan out of thin air and then having them criticized on the basis of information I didn’t have by someone who doesn’t know the industry and is supposedly relying on my expertise is not what I do. The real test of this job will be whether it gets to a stage where I spend more time doing my work than I do explaining why it’s necessary and fighting to be allowed to do it.

    I am feeling very slightly better after talking with the CEO this afternoon and pushing back, but I despise having to crack a whip over my own boss, and I despise not being trusted. (He actually said that any budget quote I give him for written content can presumably be cut in half without an appreciable drop in quality, and then backpedaled when I put it back to him in those terms, and said that if I came back saying “No, really, we need two-thirds” we could work with that. That’s ludicrous. If there’s a budget, then give me a budget! Don’t make me dicker over it! And don’t in effect tell me that you don’t trust me to be sufficiently frugal! What kind of working environment is that?) On the other hand, if I know that there is a way to get things done, then I can and will use it, and I will get things done. But argh.

    I hope I can put up with it long enough to get to the point where the newness wears off. Then I’ll know how much of the discomfort is from things that are real problems, and I’ll be in a better state of mind to decide what I feel I can legitimately put up with.

    I don’t like it, though. It smells wrong. I hope that’s just because things are frantic right now, with the site about to relaunch and a big conference coming up, but it has all the hallmarks of a doomed dotcom–particularly the part where he plans to start with low-quality content until we earn the money to pay for high-quality content, which sounds completely backwards to me–and I don’t like it.

    One month after that:

    When we were leaving California, I put together a cathartic playlist called “Not that I’m bitter“. It’s got fifty breakup songs in it, roughly sorted into four phases: regretful love, anger, walking away, and satisfaction. David and I listened to it as we drove across the country, and then I put it away; I haven’t really needed it since.

    It’s a bad sign when a job makes me pull it out again, right?

    Very shortly after that, they asked me to write a business plan for their entire business. I had no experience of doing this whatsoever. I researched a great deal and gave it my best shot.

    As I was writing it, I tried very hard not to think of it as “If I quit next month, at least they’ll have something to work with while they scramble to hire someone new”, and I mostly succeeded. I’m still on the fence; we need the steady money, especially with two of my clients now substantially late paying me thousands of dollars, and since I got tired of the CEO interfering in my part of the business and sent him a sharp two-paragraph email, he’s been remarkably docile. He even voluntarily sent me budget numbers, where three weeks ago I was practically begging him to provide them and he wouldn’t. I really despise that I have to manage him in this fashion, but as long as the email has lasting effects, that’s bearable. On the other hand, he apparently fired someone who made a complaint about a colleague’s racial insults, he constantly tries to play people against each other–he’s made veiled nasty comments to me about the associate editor and vice versa, clearly missing the part where she and I get along extremely well and tell each other about this stuff–and there continue to be issues with payroll and money management.

    As a bonus, his boss at the investment company said “Now that you have the company credit card, go buy some gifts for my niece and nephew with it”, and he did! Or rather, he told the admin. asst. to do it, which is even worse. The unprofessionalism is absolutely rampant and it’s driving me crazy. I have the SPJ Code of Ethics front and center in the content plan, and journalistic integrity is the #1 thing on my list of “keys to success” (*gag*), so I hope that will get the message across that I am really really serious about things being on the up and up. And if they think that makes me a sucker, I will make it perfectly clear that being really ethical means not letting unethical people push you around.

    I handed in the business plan and was immediately fired. Like, in the same meeting. My reaction was pure relief. I’m still not sorry I took their money–I needed it, and I earned it–but I sure am glad I’m not in that job anymore, and I definitely trust my instincts when it comes to sketchy job interviews now! I’m also pretty sure that “the CEO is suddenly docile” meant “the CEO has decided to fire me once I’ve told him how to run his business”. Personality change = red flag, bigtime.

  79. Funnily enough, the red flags I saw for my old Darth job ended up not amounting to much, whereas I didn’t see any red flags for the true awfulness that lay within. Not even in retrospect.

    The most obvious red flag came from a company that, when I called in response to their ad, wouldn’t tell me what the company did or what the job was. I would have to go down there for some talk they were giving to find out. I didn’t go, but I’m guessing MLM.

    1. If you had gone I think you were either going to be recruited for a cult or sold a time-share.

    2. Oh yes, I’ve seen ads where the company’s name isn’t stated! Just “Call Bridget or come to our open reception at hotel so and so”

      And, no, I didn’t call

  80. I escaped a red-flag-filled job…
    Interview went ok, apart from the interviewer (boss) stating “You aren’t planning on having children, are you?”.
    Well, actually, DH and I were discussing it as something for the near future.
    I was too gobsmacked to answer with “thats none of your business, and not something you are legally allowed to ask a potential employee”.
    The interview was at a local (to them) cafe, and they seemed to like me, so invited me back to the “office” to meet some of the other team members. It was a conversion in the back of the bosses garage. A sleepout that was the office space for 6 people. With one lightbulb and no windows apart from the one in the door. You had to go into the garage for the bar fridge and kettle, there was no microwave and the toilet was across the yard, into the house, where it was the only toilet the family used.
    They then wanted me to do a couple of weekends ride-along. Which I did. I got told off after the first day for helping out / using the equipment. I would have thought they wanted to see my work, but no, I was meant to apparently just be watching how they did things. Boring! For 8 hours straight, two days a weekend, they wanted 3 weekends in a row, and then wanted me to do more after I came back from holiday before starting a 6-week, unpaid, bonded training scheme.
    I think I would have started in July, and possibly had my first paycheck at Christmas because it was all post-billed. Insane.
    I wound up pregnant in July, and in August I got talking to someone who worked for the same boss in a secondary company. I totally dodged a bullet there. Wowsers. Glad I went with my gut (and my friends advice. This was not a photography role, it was a pushy sales role. The way it worked was nasty)

    1. Again, if they don’t value your time enough to actually PAY you – I mean, of course you wont get paid for the interview, but my God, 6 weeks! Is that even legal? Very unprofessional. Dodged a bullet indeed.

  81. When I first moved to England, I was called in for an interview for a position that I considered something of a step down for my skillset – low pay, bad hours and lots of animal work. But I usually adore interviewing, and I needed a job, so I dressed up and trotted down.

    First off, I met the other two job candidates (which struck me as deeply unprofessional) and it transpired that we were all meeting the same man for the same job interview at the same time. Oh dear! Then the professor in question, a young white guy, came out to collect us – and it transpired that we were being interviewed game-show-style. All at the same time. The professor said “I don’t have time to interview you all, so I’d like you each to tell me why you should get the position.”

    One of the other women went first. She was very traditionally beautiful – tall and thin with long flowing blonde hair, wearing peep-toe stilettos and tight sexy secretary clothes. She leaned forward, looked deeply into the professor’s eyes – I swear to God she was making blowjob lips – and said “I have a Master’s degree in the subject and I will do literally anything for this job.”

    The second woman was an older woman with a hungry look and a skirt suit. She said, “I have a PhD in this subject and two children to feed. The job is only for 20 hours a week, but I will work for you for 40.”

    I went last. What was I supposed to say? “Yeah, I have a Bachelor’s degree in a different subject, I consider your science to be poor and your work to be beneath me, but I was really hoping to pick up something part-time so we could have some income coming in. If you haven’t read my CV then I really can’t help you any further. And no, I won’t work for free or do literally anything for you.” That’s not what I said, but I wish it was.

    Then the professor’s PhD students took us all on a tour of the animal research facility. The work was basically wiring circuit boards into rat brains. The professor had decided that the cheapest way to protect the rat’s brain/the circuit board/the wiring was to create head carriages out of old Coke cans. The animals were wearing mushroom-shaped creations that were literally made out of old Coke cans, badly cut up and hot-glued into a hat shape and stuck on their heads. They were huge, ungainly things and the rats were obviously uncomfortable – it would have been far more appropriate to use a small, sleek plastic head carriage. This yanked pretty hard on my heart strings, as well as filling me with horror and outrage at how poorly this animal work was being conducted. The PhD student explained that they made the Coke-can head carriages to save money because of course they did.

    The PhD student picked up a rat and offered it around. The other two women reacted with faint disgust, as if they had never handled a laboratory rat before. I corrected the way that the student held the rat as it was inappropriate and causing discomfort. This really annoyed him.

    And then one of the rats started bleeding from the head carriage and seizing. It whipped and writhed helplessly around the cage, smearing it with blood. The PhD student poked it helplessly… and that was when I walked out.

    Surprisingly, I wasn’t offered the job. The other women were apparently more qualified.

    1. I should clarify that I considered the work “beneath me” because their experimental model was literally “let’s pay someone minimum wage to randomly shock rats in the brain for poorly-planned reasons that don’t actually stand up to any questioning” and not because there is anything devaluing about animal work or tech positions, both of which I respect and am happy to do when justified. I think that it’s perfectly fine to value yourself too much to take a job hurting animals for bad reasons, but I shouldn’t have said “beneath me” in a thread where we value all types of work.

      1. Uhg. Not okay. That seems worth tipping off the institution’s ACUC, right there. The fact that it seized and died like that and it wasn’t a Big Fucking Deal says a lot.

        1. Oddly, PIs that I dislike never go on to prosper – quite the opposite actually. At some point I will complete the TOTALLY-fictional novel “Science and the Single Girl,” and when during the course of the plot certain nameless laboratories go up in flames, we can all avoid eye contact and whistle innocently.

          1. I suspect you dislike them for very good reasons 🙂

            An animal in our facility was found partially paralyzed last week. It wasn’t actively being used in an experiment, but they’re doing a full autopsy and pathology screening, and there are Big Meetings and Lots of Emails From Important People trying to figure out what happened – whether it had to do with some sort of handler error, or it was just a fluke. I can’t imagine that the guy you interviewed with will be around long – eventually they’ll forget to clean something up during an inspection, right? Or maybe he’ll just lose all his funding ’cause his experiments suck.

      2. I think it’s fine for animal cruelty to be beneath someone.;) There’s a way to do animal testing that is minimally invasive while maintaning ethical codes. I have friends who work in animal testing, and while it’s not for me, I respect their work. They’re def. not evil rat-haters.

        Sorry to go off on a tangent.

    2. Group interviews aren’t that uncommon, are they? I’ve had a few (admittedly mostly where they had several vacancies, so it wasn’t as if only one of the people there would get the job) and I’ve never thought of it as odd or unprofessional – then again, these have usually been low-skilled, low-paid holiday jobs rather than anything you’d get into as a career.

      I guess I just wanted to say that in some areas it’s normal practice, and not a red flag. The rest of your experience definitely is!

  82. This is so helpful! I often ignore my gut feelings but will now start to pay more attention to them and these signs.

    I had a very red-flag interview last year where I was interviewed by a recruitment agency for a position. They spent half of the time telling me that the employers swore a lot (which I don’t really care about), had very ‘un-PC’ senses of humour, and that I should be able to deal with that; so I was already assuming they would be racist and bigoted. To top it off, the agency interviewer made a rape joke about my previous job which made me go OH HELL NO.

    Somehow, I made it to the second stage and because I didn’t have any other offers going I went to meet the employers. They weren’t that bad, but I wasn’t offered the job, which was fine because I had already been offered my current wonderful job and didn’t really want it anyway, if the agency was to be believed.

    This post has made me realise how lucky I am to have my current job that let me change from fulltime to part time so I could go back to study fulltime and was really flexible about my hours – a definite green flag!

  83. I interviewed for a research technician position in a lab at an *amazing* institution, in a city where a lot of my friends were moving. I interviewed for almost a full day (it included sitting in on their lab meeting), I could tell they liked me, and I really liked all of them.

    The red flag? Two of the postdocs, separately in private conversations said “I came here to learn X, but I still haven’t gotten to do any of that [a year later].”

    Would it have been a terrible job? Almost certainly not. But it told me the head of the lab was willing to lure people in on promises and not deliver, which put all of my conversations with her about the job responsibilities and potential opportunities in a very different context, and lead me to take another position.

    1. I don’t think a lot of employers realize how crucial those promised skills/opportunities are, and how much of a lure they are when we take a job, or how much they screw us over when they don’t deliver. =/ Either that, or they don’t care. I took a summer technician job that was supposed to be two-thirds rough, physical field work, and one-third extremely useful specialized training and opportunity to work on papers that might finally let me break out of gruntwork and into an actual *career* in wildlife management. I was only two weeks into the job when the schedule was changed: all days were now field days. I’m two weeks from the end of the job now, and that hasn’t changed. There has been no training and there won’t be, this job was a total step down. I should have pushed harder to get the training, but you see, they also kept putting off paying us, so we were too busy pushing for our paychecks than for anything else. =/

      1. Uhg. That is awful.

        In my current job (which I love), because of the way their payroll works I wouldn’t get paid until a month after I’d been there. Which was a little rough, but at least I could plan for it. Then, after a month, despite having (1) a form with all my bank information for direct deposit, turned in over a month prior and (2) having my new address, entered into the system several weeks prior, they decided to MAIL MY PAYCHECK TO MY OLD ADDRESS, at my parents house in another state. But I had no idea they’d done that – all I knew was, no money in my bank account, no check in my mailbox. And my parents hadn’t realized it must be important, since at that point I still got a fair amount of mail at their place (usually junk, but they kept it all for me just in case). So it took about two weeks to figure out what happened and get my check. 6 weeks without pay in New Expensive City: Majorly sucky.

      2. Bittybird, this is kind of unrelated but I’m studying wildlife management right now and looking for my first job/internship in the field. Do you have any specific advice or red flags worth mentioning?

        1. I’m still struggling through the early stages of moving from unpaid jobs to paid jobs, so I only know so much, but I can say that if they warn you–repeatedly–about the rough conditions of the job, and that you will tend to work more than normal hours, they really, really mean it! Because of this, I think a lot struggle to get that first position (even just a volunteer position) was because I needed to prove that A) I can handle the physical side of things (no one wants to hire an employee who will quit after two days because they realize they don’t like working outside when it’s hot. I’ve seen this happen), and B) If it’s a job in an remote location where you may be living together or will be working long hours together, proving you can Get Along With Others. Once you’ve done this, doors will start to open…but you should try and choose work that will give you training in marketable skills, because that’s what’ll move you from unpaid to paid.

          A lot of these jobs, if they’re paid at all, seem to be paid through weird grants and things that are filled with loopholes. Like, if they call it a stipend, your hourly wage can be less than minimum wage. Or, because of the timeframe of the work (you need to start when the birds are nesting) and the processing time of the paperwork, you might be working for weeks before you’ve officially actually been *hired*…but since so many jobs aren’t paid at all, any money is a good thing. There seems to be a lot of “proving you can take it with a good attitude” in the early stages, and then, if you’ve got a few skills, you’ll start getting interviews for the good stuff. 🙂

          How to lift yourself out of gruntwork and into running projects…that I haven’t figured out yet.

          1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

            That’s actually really encouraging… I’ve been really worried because the majority of my experience is in manual labor jobs (as opposed to sciency things.) But now it sounds like that might actually be helpful!

      3. Oh, man, YES. That has turned out to be a red flag for my current job, which I otherwise like: during the interview process, there was lots of talk about how people move between the different labs and there’s always room for advancement. In reality, our lab is segregated from the rest and we have little room to move laterally OR up. If I got the chance, I’d warn potential hires about it so they can make a more informed choice. My work is fine, but it’s not lifetime work and it’s certainly not a career like they tried to play it off. Careers usually involve doing more than one job forever.

  84. The joy of being a career freelancer in show biz is that there are lots of difficult personalities, lots of hard gigs, and eventually, you’ll end up working with others who have the same horror stories you do. Certain producers and directors are the stuff of nightmares, but surviving even a short period with them is a badge of honor.

    1. There’s also a limit to how much shit you need to take. If you’re repping yourself or working for a reputable agency, walking out on someone who’s outright abusive — as opposed to just mercurial and picky — is always an option. It means you don’t get paid for that gig, but it also means that you get to choose job-by-job whether you will put up with it or not. You might decide to ignore dirty jokes, but lodge a formal protest over the director demanding you do something that is explicitly NOT part of your contract.

      It’s also a little different from the usual round of workplace horror stories. When Tales From The -Crypt- Cubicle go around an office, it usually means you’re all stuck there and looking for support for when the next one happens. When they go around a group of actors/musicians/models/whatever, they serve as warnings of things to avoid in the future. People bitch about you being creepy for long enough, and the good performers quit turning up to your calls.

  85. I discovered the hard way that it’s really important to look for red flags even if you think you don’t need to.

    I’d been working with a great bunch of people, but unfortunately, due to funding issues beyond their control, I’d been on monthly or three monthly contracts for over a year. My boss came to me and said there was a space in another group, with an 18 month contract that had an excellent chance of being renewed after that. Would I like to move? I said yes.

    Huge mistake. I found myself stuck working for a sociopath with an epic Napoleon complex, who picked out the most vulnerable members of his group with a skill that would’ve done credit to a hyena, and bullied them horribly. I spent almost two miserable years in the most toxic work environment I’d ever experienced, trying to do my job between comforting crying colleagues. Not too long after the contract was renewed for five years, I found another job and left. I felt bad for the people I’d abandoned there, but even the idea of another five years there killed my soul.

    If I’d only asked around in advance — basically, interviewed *them*, even though I didn’t get a ‘real’ interview — and found out more about the group dynamics, I could’ve avoided the whole thing. But because it was inside the same organisation, and most of the people who worked there were okay, I didn’t think to do that.

  86. One of my main red flag indicators is asking how much overtime is generally normal or necessary. Whatever the answer is, double it, and decide if that’s something you’re ok with. I learned this after my first job out of college – they said straight out that up to 8 hours of overtime would be required one week out of the month. They didn’t mention that the other three weeks would be closer to 16.

    Every place after that, (I’m always clear that I’m totally ok with doing some overtime, I just want to know how much it affects work/life balance, and that I’m very flexible) has consistently had twice as much overtime as they estimated. But “2-3 hours here and there” turning into “6 hours once every few months” is something I’m much happier to accommodate!

  87. I am a public school teacher. Here are some things to look for when applying for a public school job. (These are secondary questions; elementary may be slightly different.)

    1) Computers and Technology
    a) How many computer labs are there?
    b) Is there a computer teacher?
    c) Are the labs fully functional, with working printers and a dedicated teacher workstation?
    d) Are teachers expected to give away their free time to staff the lab during break/recess/after school?
    e) Are there laptop carts?
    f) Is there an established, easy-to-learn procedure for checking the carts out, for checking laptops out to students, and for returning them?
    g) Are there ample trainings for teachers who don’t know how to use technology?
    h) Does at least one administrator know enough about technology to be trusted to understand things like purchasing the right cables and projectors?
    i) Does the District IT department work together with the District technology officer/teacher on special assignment?
    j) Does the district IT department allow access to Google Drive/Dropbox/the Cloud?
    k) Does the district use Schoolloop, Aeries, Easy Grade Pro, or some other grading or attendance software? Are there trainings for it? Are you required to use it?
    l) Are students permitted to use their smartphones in class? What is the policy for improper cell/smartphone usage? Can they use laptops in class?
    m) Are there enough outlets?
    n) Is there a policy and supplies for cord control?

    2) Breaks and preps
    a) Does each full-time teacher get a prep period?
    b) How often will teachers be expected to give up their preps to substitute for other teachers/do things for the school? Is this paid?
    c) Will teachers be asked to give up their breaks to do yard duty? Is this paid?
    d) If a teacher needs an emergency bathroom break, is there someone who can be trusted to come within 5 minutes to cover class?

    3) Compensation
    a) Is there a classroom budget? What supplies might I expect and when should I expect to get them? (i.e. paper, staples, etc.)
    b) How do I order needed supplies? Is the supplies budget only for particular teachers?
    c) Is there a curriculum budget?
    d) Who pays for the substitute if I want to take kids on a field trip?
    e) Are there local merchants who offer a discount to teachers at this school?

    4) Average Yearly Progress status (NCLB)
    a) What’s the AYP status of this school? Has it ever failed? Is there an Alternative Governance committee? How many teachers here are in their first years of teaching?
    b) How many standardized tests per year does this school give students?
    c) How many months are taken up with standardized testing?
    d) How will students move to and from standardized test locations? Will they trickle into my classroom as they complete their tests in the computer lab? Will I be taking them to test?
    e) Am I expected to teach the entire curriculum by early May? What does the school expect me to teach them afterward if this is so? (This is not a snotty question; many schools expect teachers to teach into the next year’s curriculum while others expect teachers to find filler material.)
    f) What does the school do with students who are likely to fail the standardized test, both before and after the test?
    g) Is the school data-driven? Do they follow pacing guides? Who creates the pacing guides?

    5) Discipline
    a) Is there a security guard/cop on campus? Is the guard/cop armed?
    b) Does the school have an equity policy in place? If so, by how much does the school plan on reducing expulsions and detentions each year? How will they do so?
    c) If a student punches another student in the face, how long will that student’s suspension be? (This is a student morale question; if the answer is less than 1-2 days, students will have low morale and will feel unsafe.)
    d) How does the school handle ___ -ist remarks made between students or from students to teachers?
    e) What percentage of the faculty are people of color?
    f) What are faculty’s feelings about the school? Do they feel safe? Supported?
    g) What are the requirements for parents/visitors to come on campus? Are these reliably followed? Should I expect to have a parent in my classroom with no warning? What support should I expect if a parent becomes belligerent?
    h) Do cops come when called?
    i) When is after-school detention? How full is the detention room?
    j) What steps do I need to follow to give a student detention?

    6) Plant
    a) What have students written on the walls? Is there anti-teacher or anti-school graffiti on the walls? Gang sign?
    b) Is there a garden? Who cares for it? Are teachers expected to donate time toward it?
    c) Is there a grassy place for kids to play? Are there trees? Flowers? Are there places to eat?
    d) How ancient do the gym facilities look? How is the track and field?
    e) How many lights work?
    f) Is there student art in the hallways? Are there display cases? Are they damaged?
    g) Is the school full of phrases about testing? Are there lots of signs about test-taking strategies?
    h) What does the staff break room look like? Is it full of junk? Does it smell? Who cleans it?
    i) Is there a separate lot for faculty parking, or do visitors, teachers, and students park together?
    NOTE: Go look at the school site using Google Maps. Use a variety of photo heights as pictures are taken in different years. My own school looks brand new from street level (recent pics) but from about 500 feet up looks fairly thrashed (old pics).
    7) How close is the nearest liquor store? Bus/train terminal? Library? Supermarket? Mall?

    7) Library
    a) Is there a librarian or a library technician?
    b) How often is the library open?
    c) What is the procedure if students want to use the library?
    d) Where is the closest public library? (Look this up yourself.)
    e) Are there computers in the library?
    f) What is the policy if students fail to return a book? (This can be anything from detention until the book is turned in/paid for to no penalty at all.)

    8) Counselor and nurse
    a) Is there at least one counselor for every 350 students?
    b) Is the counselor available for students when they need counseling?
    c) Is there a school nurse readily available?
    d) If not, what is the policy regarding students and emergency medication such as asthma inhalers, insulin/glucose and/or epi pen kits?
    e) Will I receive information in short order telling me which kids need extra medical attention, what kind of attention they need, and symptoms to look out for?
    f) Will I have a first aid kit for my classroom, or am I expected to provide my own?

    9) Office staff
    a) Is the office staff friendly or irritated?
    b) Can the office staff find what you need quickly?
    c) Are teachers manning the front office?
    d) Are students manning the front office?
    e) Will the front office help you fill out paperwork if needed?
    f) Does the school have any problems with absence paperwork not being filed on time?
    g) Does the office staff treat principals, teachers, custodians, parents, and students differently?
    h) Is anyone in the office staff bilingual?
    i) Can someone in the office staff translate as needed?

    10) Professional Development and special programs
    a) Are there PD opportunities for each teacher? Or is the budget skewed so that only STEM and English teachers have PD opportunities?
    b) Are teachers expected to sign up for initiatives/special programs like Gear Up or AVID? Are they compensated for the extra work?
    c) Will the school pay for teachers to go to conferences and workshops?
    d) Does the district offer ample trainings for teachers who want to learn complementary subjects such as using technology in the classroom?

    11) Special Education
    a) How quickly will I get information on who is special ed in my classrooms and what their needs are?
    b) Will I ever be required to sign an IEP without sitting in on the IEP meeting?
    c) How often can I expect to have para-educators in my classroom?
    d) How many SpEd kids per period will I have on average?
    e) Does the district have a practice of pulling para-educators to serve as substitute teachers without notice?
    f) Will SpEd teachers be willing to help me modify my lessons and tests to accommodate needs?
    g) Are there facilities for students to use if they need extra time on tests? Is it my responsibility to find them as needed?

    12) English Language Learners
    a) What is the ratio of native English speakers to Redesignated English speakers to English Language Learners?
    b) What is the ratio of ELL 5s to ELL 3s to ELL 1s?
    c) Do students who speak little English have sheltered math, science, and social studies classes?
    d) Are there textbooks available in their home languages? Does the school supply dictionaries?
    e) How much support can I expect from the ELL E/LA teachers regarding restructuring my assignments to support ELL student growth?
    f) Do ELL students feel comfortable and positive about the school?
    g) How many different languages do students at my school speak?

    13) Miscellaneous
    a) What percentage of the faculty at the school is temporary? (A high percentage indicates the school is viewed by the district as a bad place to work.)
    b) How many teachers quit in the average year?
    c) Is it easy to get a sub, or do subs refuse to work here? If so, why?
    d) Is there a permanent floating sub? How is s/he treated by students, faculty, and staff?
    e) How are the custodians treated? Do they like working there? The lunch staff?
    f) Can you go on-site any time you want?
    g) Can you have food in your classroom?
    h) How long is the lunch break? Why?
    i) Do the classrooms have windows? How many teachers have papered over theirs?
    j) Is there asbestos in the walls? Are there plans to remove the asbestos?
    k) What is the bathroom policy for kids?
    l) How strictly is the school dress code enforced? Is it enforced more for girls than for boys? Is there a policy regarding sagging? Why or why not?
    m) What happens to a teacher who swears at a student? What happens to a student who swears at a teacher?
    n) How long can you hold a student after class? How long can you hold a student after school?
    o) Is there an after school program? How do kids perceive it?
    p) Are there clubs on campus? If so, what are the clubs?
    q) Are there sports on campus? What is the policy regarding athletes who have bad grades?
    r) Are there music, art, drama, and language classes?
    s) Do students get to choose their electives?
    t) How many kids at the school are students of color?
    u) How many kids at the school are on the free/reduced lunch program?
    v) How strong is the PTSA?
    w) How much homework am I expected to give per week?
    x) How many graded assignments are I expected to give per week?
    y) What is the grading period?
    z) How often am I expected to publish grades?

    1. Good for you working in a tough profession! That’s a great list! I taught high school but only lasted a year. Two things that should have been red flags for me on the job: one of my colleagues (who I’d also student-taught under) told me that if I had more than maybe an hour of free time in a week, I wasn’t working hard enough. Maybe that it what it takes, but if so, teaching is not the job for me. The second was that I felt the administration didn’t have my back with discipline issues. When the students were throwing things at me during class, the assistant principal suggested that I ask them to only throw soft things.

      I think our teacher training process could be improved a lot – as it is right now, at least in my state, once you have your license you hit the ground running and are expected to do everything ideally from the very start – there’s no ramping-up like there is in other jobs. I felt constantly pulled in different directions by the students, parents, and administrators and there was no support.

      Also didn’t help that my classroom was used by another teacher during my planning period and there was nowhere quiet I could go to plan, nor could I set up labs in advance in my classroom.

      1. “I think our teacher training process could be improved a lot – as it is right now, at least in my state, once you have your license you hit the ground running and are expected to do everything ideally from the very start – there’s no ramping-up like there is in other jobs. I felt constantly pulled in different directions by the students, parents, and administrators and there was no support.”

        Yes! This! I just lost my position as a school librarian after my first year teaching because the brand new evaluation system they very large district was using said I was not a great teacher. They have 4 levels, with 1 being lowest and 4 highest, and any non-tenured teacher who wants to keep their job has to score a 3 or 4. Over the year, I went from scoring mostly in the 2nd level to scoring mostly in the 3rd level, which, considering I had only student taught before, seems pretty good to me! But of course when you averaged out my scores from the 4 evaluations, I wasn’t good enough. Showing improvement didn’t matter; you had to be excellent from the beginning…at teaching…yeah, right!

        Really, there was almost no support from administration; everything was a test. I got lots of support from more experienced teachers, but next to nothing from the school administration. The district’s idea of supporting new teachers was to send out emails offering unpaid workshops in the evening and on weekends…I had been hired less than two weeks before the school year started, so I was working late doing planning and designing units every evening (this was a very teaching-heavy librarian position) after the school day ended, and pretty much collapsing on weekends, or barely managing to do my sink-full of dishes and loads of laundry that had piled up since I was so exhausted during the week.

        I loved my coworkers and my students, but these evaluation systems make being a new teacher even more difficult than it already was! I have no idea how to be a brand new teacher and not still be learning how to teach.

        1. Okay, I just wrote a long comment that I think was eaten. I’m not sure why. Basically I’m a school librarian who also was fired after my first year just at an independent school. Administrators are so tough to deal with as they don’t always get what they want and in an independent school, the procedures aren’t as clear cut as they would be at a public school.

    2. These are great questions — thanks so much. (I’m recently licensed and looking for my first teaching job.)

      My biggest red flag recently was an interview at a private school where: I would have been the fourth teacher in my position in six years; I was told that part of the reason for that high turnover was that “parents seem to find [my subject area] intimidating, and they can be a little… high-maintenance”; and every single teacher I spoke to told stories about the nasty, abusive notes they’d gotten from parents in their first few years at the school, “until they got used to me.” Yeesh.

  88. If you get interviewed by a boss or supervisor, do they have any idea what their underlings do?

    Look at the physical layout of the office – I worked in an office where our boss’s office was way down the hallway, and the admin and support folks were all clustered in an outer office, so he walked past us four times a day (morning, to and from lunch, and evening), and that was it. So our horrible new coworker’s blatant sexual harassment, leaving early/coming in late, watching movies and sleeping at his desk, leaving for hours in the middle of the day, etc. was never noticed or remarked on. (Our boss did notice when four of his five support workers – the only four who did any work – quit within a six week period. By then it was too late.)

    Does your boss seem super chummy with only one or two people? At another nonprofit, the boss only listened to and respected one person in the entire 15 person organization. He thought every else was shit.

    Do they let you meet any of your potential coworkers, or let them be part of the interview process? I’d want to at least meet the person I have to work with 8+ hours a day.

    Look at the gender dynamics. Are all the support/admin staff women and all the mid-level and higher staff men? That’s a bad sign if you’re a woman and ever want to advance (watch the new guy leap-frog over you because he’s a guy!).

    Do they promote from within? Are folks allowed to move around inside the organization?

  89. Oh, and, also, please don’t beat yourself up if you take a job and it turns out to be awful. I interviewed for a job where I asked all the right questions, spoke to a friend in HR, emailed back and forth with another person who had worked there for four years, and did ALL THE RESEARCH.

    And it still sucked. They lied about the job description, lied about the opportunity for travel, and lied, lied, lied about the flexibility of the office hours. I couldn’t come in a half hour early and leave a half hour early one day a week so I could continue volunteering as a tutor in the evenings. Because? No reason. Just because it was a stagnant, hidebound office and no one ever made a decision about anything because then they may be responsible for something. (Welcome to the federal government.)

    I beat myself up a lot afterwards for not “doing enough” to find out that stuff beforehand, but it really wasn’t my fault. I found out later that they used to let the people who were doing the job I was doing participate in the interview process, but stopped because they were actually being honest, and a lot of their candidates turned the job down.

  90. A few years, I did one of those group interviews at a nonprofit org where you meet with HR, then the immediate supervisor, then some potential peers, then the big boss. During the peer portion, I asked the “What do you like best about working here?” question. The three interviewers just looked at each other awkwardly until one guy volunteered, “Um… we get free coffee and juice.”

    If someone’s favorite thing about their job is the free coffee, RED FLAG.

  91. I had an interview recently where the manager (who was an all around nice guy, although he probably isn’t in a job fits him well) couldn’t think of what to ask me, and was just leafing through my resume and application for ideas. He was also on his way out (due to a sick family member) and neglected to call me to reschedule…but there I was, so the “interview” was back on – although shortened. As these were all big red flags as far as I was concerned (how can I depend on this guy being a reference for me when I leave?), but the really big thing that finally did it was his answer to my question, “Is this a seasonal, or permanent job?” I got a vague answer along the lines of it depends on whether or not I am a pain in the ass, or I sell well. Something about how eventually he’ll have to whittle down the workforce when the selling season finally ends, and that it could be me, or it could be someone else. Aside from all of the serious issues with that answer, there is no way that he could not know right then on the spot which kind of job it was. Why? Because seasonal employees do not get benefits, and permanent employees need to be placed on probation for a certain length of time before the benefits kick in. Was he going to wait till the major selling season was over before starting my probation timer? In addition to all of that, the owners of the business were absent (i.e., in a completely different state). The company has an anti-union statement in their literature, saying that the company had an open door policy for expressing grievances…but, really, where is this door exactly? Regardless of how some people feel about unions, the company needed to have a clear and accessible way for employees to “express grievances”…there simply was none. Disorganized manger (interview? what interview?), absent decision-makers (who’s accountable?), lack of respect for workers (dishonestly and unfairly establishing the terms of employment)…all big red flags.

  92. My red flags:

    Any job posting that uses the following: Ninja, Wizard, Jedi, etc. These are usually followed by another red flag: “pixel perfect”. There’s consistency and then there’s losing hours of time to fiddly cross-browser bullshit.

    Job postings with a ridiculous number of required skills, especially for entry level jobs or jobs that don’t pay much. I think it’s a warning sign if you can create 10 jobs out of the skills list for just one.

    I’m sure there’s others but it’s been a while since I did the job hunt.

  93. I interviewed for a trainee position last year. I loved the agency, I loved the atmosphere, I even loved the location of the office. During the interview, they mentioned I’d be expected to work 14+-hour-days “on occasion, but probably more often” (red flag). My brain said, “It’s a PR job, you were expecting this.” When I wasn’t expecting was the pay – they offered me exactly what I was making in Small Town, County of Nowhere, at the time. I could live relatively comfortable on that amount in Small Town, but the job was in Major City With Two Universities, translation: LIFE HERE IS EXPENSIVE.
    So when they offered me the job, I asked for some time and was very open about having to do the math on if I could afford taking the job (reddest damn flag on the planet!). I called back a few days later and again, was very honest about not being able to afford rent, food and life in Major City in general on what they were offering. The agency’s boss then told me that he understood what I was saying, but I should understand that they had their guidelines regarding salaries and weren’t exactly willing to break those (red flag). Since I wasn’t keen on having to pay for having a a job (seriously, I would’ve LOST money every hour at work), we both decided I didn’t fit in.

    And I once had an interview at an agency where the wall decor in the conference room were “comics”, presumably produced by the agency. They were sexist as hell, had racist undertones and a suble coating of anti-semitism to complete a trifecta of fail. The next day I sent in my travel receipts for reimbursement and withdrew my application without bothering to wait for their reaction to the interview.

    1. Re: The comics, when I took the job at the PR agency where everyone I met had a framed photo of the time they met Ronald Reagan in their office, I committed an error.

      (quit 6 weeks later)

      1. The lesson I learned from this: if possible, not only look at the offices and bathrooms. Have a good look at the reception area, conference rooms or the like – this is where a company’s culture is reflected to the outside. If they are fine having borderline pornographic comics up in this room where possible new clients, employees etc. will have to notice them – what will things be like when there’s no “outsider” around?

  94. Know your legal position. Over here, sexist questions are illegal.
    (I deeply regret not responding to an interviewers question of “We’re a small firm, just 5 men, can you cope with 5 men?” with “1 bloke each working day? No problem!”. No, they didn’t hire me, I was “too qualified”, which is a daft reason, given they saw my CV before they called me to interview.)
    I’ve been asked if I’m married and/or have kids. If the firm isn’t following legal requirements in the interview questions, expect them not to be exactly modern in other areas.

  95. I just remembered one that maybe has only very specific applications, but it’s worth recapping. If the company you’re applying to is unionized, labor-management relations are shaky, and you would be on some kind of probationary status for the first X amount of time of your employment (and therefore not fully eligible for union membership) — ask both management and any union reps you may meet in the interview process to TELL YOU STRAIGHT UP what their expectations of you would be in the event of a labor action during that probationary time period. And if there is any, um, disagreement there, think seriously about whether you want to get in the middle of that.

    I once turned down a job at a paper I liked a lot, had a good two-day interview process there, etc, because the union had set a deadline to possibly go out on strike that would have been only a couple of weeks after my start date. When I asked management if I would be allowed to walk out, they said no, that’d just be considered me not showing up for work. When I asked the union rep who I happened to meet in the newsroom whether I’d be expected to walk out, he said yes, abso-bleeping-lutely. So my choice, if the strike happened, would have been a)get fired or b)be considered a scab for the rest of my career — and in this business, that stuff FOLLOWS YOU. (The strike didn’t happen, but they came close.)

  96. This wasn’t horrible, but shocker of shockers, the woman who asked me a question and then interrupted my answer with, “So, you really don’t know anything about [topic,]” continued to be interrupty, condescending, unnecessarily accusing and generally pretty awful over the course of the year. Fortunately, she left within a year.

    To be a little fair, other people reported having a positive relationship with her, claiming she was a “bark is worse than her bite” sort of person, and that, if her employees where in trouble, she did a good job of standing up for them. I was never in trouble with anybody but her, so I can’t speak to that side, but I have little patience for people who justify treating you badly to your face with the claim that they speak nicely about you behind your back.

  97. I don’t know how relevant this question would be outside of the software industry, but if it’s at all applicable I thoroughly recommend asking how your prospective employers would handle it if they had a project that was behind schedule with no way to change the deadline. I’ve worked with as many project managers as I ever care to who think the way to handle a late project is to make everyone work more hours.

    Also worth asking: if they had a project that failed or was delivered late, what did they learn from that? An absolutely shocking number of project managers do the exact same thing every time and then act surprised when every single release goes out late. Not that I’m bitter.

  98. I’m job-hunting now, so this is very timely!

    Something I’ve found to be true in my work history is: What they talk a lot about, they’re anxious about.

    For instance, I apply for a job with a company whose website talks a lot about how much they value “work-life balance.” So I go up to to read reviews by employees, and what’s the one overriding complaint? “The hours are too long; it’s impossible to work here and still have a life.”

    Translation: “We are anxious about [how you might perceive] our work-life balance.”

    Maybe this means they’re lying; maybe it just means they’re aware it is (or has been) a problem and are very serious about trying to address it. Either way, something to keep my eyes open about.

    Once I interviewed at a newspaper, and the editor told me, “We like to encourage an atmosphere of creative risk-taking.” (Translation: “I am anxious about [how you might perceive] our freedom to make choices that are a little bit edgy.”) I took the job, and quickly discovered that certain colors could not be used in page design because the publisher’s wife didn’t like them.

  99. Further advice that I didn’t see: Don’t undersell yourself!

    I’ve done this most of my life. My last job, which was pretty bad, was spent, in addition to the job I was supposed to perform as buyer/salesperson, also acting as administration, taking care of tons of things that would never otherwise get done (admin and other), correcting the other buyer’s mistakes, etc. I spend vast amounts of time doing the things *everyone* should have been doing because they needed to get done and no one else was handling them.

    The benefit of which is that I realized my worth. I held a lot of things together, because I was good at it. When I started applying for other jobs, I asked for more money than I had before instead of starting with what I expected to get paid. When I interviewed for the new position I just started, I told the general manager that I was absolutely manager material. I wasn’t hired in as a manager, but I have more responsibility than many new hires do, will be considered acting manager when my store manager is off, and am pretty sure they will be impressed with me shortly and will promote me to management when a position opens up for me there.

    All of which is a long-winded way of saying: Don’t underestimate yourself, and don’t be afraid to tell your prospective employers 1) what you’re worth, and 2) that you know what you’re worth. Anyone who will actually empower their employees to do their jobs and advance if they show themselves capable, will appreciate that sort of assertiveness and confidence.

  100. When I was doing office temp work, I was offered a temp to perm job once. The person who had been doing the job I was offered was now in AP in an office situated somewhere behind my desk.
    Things were going ok, and the data entry stuff that I was started on was going by quickly, but, the screensaver on the computer that I was using was set to the very shortest time, and was a pic of a skateboarder. Since I knew how to change the timing, and the image, I did so.
    Then the person who had supposedly moved on to AP made a huge fuss about me removing her boyfriend’s picture from my(my? Her former?) computer, and I changed the picture back to end the fuss.
    After the day was over, though, I went back to the temp agency who had told me that this was temp to perm. I told them that just maybe they should check to see if the permanent part was actually true, because my gut said no. I also told them that they were going to have to find someone else to finish out the assignment, because I wasn’t going to be yelled at for changing the screensaver on the computer that was supposedly going to be mine, nor was I willing to stare at a picture of the other woman’s boyfriend on my computer every time the screensaver kicked in.

  101. Some nonprofit red flags:

    – organizations that are cults of personality. they are identifiable by how much the founder/ED is talked about on the website and in the interview, how much people seem to kowtow to them when they are in the room, and how much air time they expect when you get to have a conversation with them.

    – organizations that are spinning their wheels. it’s helpful to ask, say, an antipoverty organization or a literacy organization how their strategy has shifted and adapted to the community/issues over the years.

    – organizations that have crappy divisions of labor. literally, i have been in organizations that expect people to do their jobs, PLUS all of the administrative and cleaning and HR aspects associated with their jobs, without acknowledgement or time to do it. a helpful question is to ask people in associated positions what their days/weeks look like, or time breakdowns for how much they spend doing tasks that are not specific to their jobs.

    1. Ooh, good ones. The thing to watch out for with founders/EDs (or any bigwig, this was also the case when I interned at ABC) is a weird little pause before staffers say the name of the boss. “Oh, you’ll be meeting with…Jennifer…soon.” “…Jennifer…doesn’t like it when people eat at their desks.” It can be very subtle, but I’ve learned to listen for it. It’s not a dealbreaker but it tells me that the person has a huge ego and can be difficult to work for.

      For all of you who have had interviews where the person just talks about themselves & the organization and doesn’t ask you anything, I have a tip.

      Do you want the job? I mean, this person might be a little much to take, but do you want/need the job? Great. Then do not interrupt this person’s flow. Just be the greatest, most interested listener this person has ever met. When they stop for breath or to ask you if you have questions, ask them to keep expounding on what they were talking about before. Don’t turn the conversation back to yourself. Ask them things like – How did you come to work here? How has the job/organization changed since you started? What is the best part about working here?

      They will leave the interview deciding you are a great fit and an awesome team member. :-p

      1. I’ve heard another suggestion for dealing with those kinds of situations. When they pause for breath, say, “That sounds great. How do you envision me helping with that?” In all likelihood they will come out of their trance, remember they’re doing a job interview, and let you talk for a while about how awesome you are.

        In my experience, some people come out doing well when the other person talks the whole time, but other people never get called back.

        1. The genius thing about that is if everything goes just right they talk themselves into hiring you.

      2. OMG, the pause. I scared away a prospective editorial assistant in part because of the way I said something about “… Mr. Vader.” The pause was mostly because I hated having to call him by his last name, but it was still significant. And the would-be assistant didn’t cotton much to the last-name thing either.

      3. “Do you want the job? I mean, this person might be a little much to take, but do you want/need the job? Great. Then do not interrupt this person’s flow.”

        “If the nice man is talking, he is happy.” — My mum on such interviews.

  102. If they ever, ever, EVER admit to doing something illegal? GTFO as fast as you can. I had an interview for a job I didn’t get because of a physical issue (thought I could, overestimated my ability) but my roommate DID get.

    We wish she hadn’t.

    During the interview the business owner mentioned that she didn’t give lunch breaks. Having once worked as a temp for the government in that area I informed her that in our state that was illegal. She made non-committal noises at me. Biggest red flag of ever, that.

    Roommate 1 deals with:
    ~No official lunch breaks
    ~Screaming from the boss/owner
    ~Being called “useless” if she doesn’t make unrealistic retail goals
    ~Has been taking extra fire because she’s standing between the two teenagers and the boss’s anger.
    ~A/C? Why should there be A/C? It’s only 110F in the store!
    ~Ditto heat in winter
    ~Roommate 1 is now the most long-term employee because every single person hired before her in the company’s 30 year history has quit. She’s been there about a year and a half.
    ~Boss/owner refuses to hire men based on them being men. She only wants women working for her.
    ~Constantly calling all the employees fat

    Both roommates are looking for new jobs, and Roommate 2 has said that if he gets one that is the same or greater money input than Roommate 1’s current he’s going to tell her to *quit*. (Roommates 1&2 and I are less “people who live together” and more “family without genetics or pantsfeelings”.) Roommate 2’s fiancee has said the same thing if she gets the job she just interviewed for (fingers crossed, please).

    Also, OSHA has gotten involved at this point because customers have been complaining. Boss has been trying to set up Roommate to the extent that OSHA lady told Roommate that if she gets fired for something other than a major fuck-up she is to call them.

  103. If you walk around the building, and the architecture/decor is a kind of hodgepodge of stuff that hasn’t been renovated since the 80’s and the Newest Shiny Thing (which does not match style-wise with the four other Newest Shiny Thing there), it may be a sign that the organization jumps in feet-first whenever a new project comes along without regard for whether it should be a priority right now, and then gets bored/broke halfway through and abandons it.

  104. I will say that sometimes, when a company tells you in the interviews that it is quirky or somesuch, that it may not be a red flag. It is definitely a flag of some color — it is a flag that the company is not Generic Company. A lot of the time it’ll be Broken Company, but sometimes it is actually Awesome Company.

    My current company has some bizarre quirks for its industry, and some of these quirks are frustrating, and some result in a drawn-out hiring process. However, these quirks also make the workplace extremely good for me and my mental health, and for other people here; turnover is super low.

    I think from now on, I will test the goodness of a quirky place by seeing if they can talk about the pros and cons of their particular oddness. If they can say that yes, they do it that way because X, and it costs them Y but it’s worth it because Z, then I’ll be more interested than if they say Yay Q! Rah Rah Q! or explain that it’s just the way it’s done or something. Thoughtfully quirky doesn’t mean it’s good, but at least you know somebody’s thought about it.

    It is very, very good to learn things about yourself so you can find out what kind of work environment you succeed in. That will teach you *your* red flags. Also, if you have the heart for it, do lots of interviews, so you get experience in the interviewing process. Especially if you’re not a natural. You might or might not get offers, and that is tough, but it is practice and learning and information. You can also learn what parts of your resume or presentation are good filters for you — an unusual line on your resume that fits your personality can show, by the interviewer’s reaction, whether it fits the company’s.

    It’s kind of like getting to peek into other people’s kitchens to see how they do things.

  105. Shit, I wish I’d known to ask some of these questions at my interview for my current job. I probably would’ve taken the job anyway because I was down to my last penny when I interviewed and it was a few months before I started getting enough to pay rent, but this is a list of flags from those early days, looking back:

    -My boss’s conversational style is very close to my mother’s. I don’t just mean in that way that all women of a certain age are, I mean very. She also used to be a teacher. And she sometimes over-explains things to me and talks over me.
    -She gave me a card with the names of all the managers. Most of them work the floor with me just like everyone else and not necessarily in a managerial capacity, because our workforce is so small. Time management is inefficient here and we could use at least one more person on the floor many nights to help out with everything that needs to be done, especially as corporate standards for tidiness have gotten more and more stringent during my time here.
    -When discussing my pay I took a relatively large pay cut because I really, really needed the job. She was able to negotiate for me a wage that’s a dime above minimum wage and she had to argue for it with the district manager. This is a man who later refused to close the store during a blizzard because he was in a different city and the weather was fine where he was. (Yes, he did cave, but only after an hour-long discussion with the store manager and paperwork.)
    -After I got the job, there was no formal training process. At all. I was working the floor from day one. To teach me how to use the cash register, the store manager put a register into training mode and handed me the manual, telling me to practice for a while.
    -Day to day operations are functional but highly disorganized, and the store is audited on a semi-regular basis. Usually there are not enough people on the floor to handle both how much foot traffic we get and keep things as tidy as our district manager wants and get all the paperwork done.
    -Yes, this place does have a “we’re all a family” vibe.

    So far, this job has still managed to work for me. The “we’re all a family” vibe is because most of the workers have worked closely with each other for at least five years, and for the most part everyone gets along very well. Most of the people in my workplace are easy to get along with and everyone has clear boundaries about what they can and can’t do that are respected. However, the hours are too variable for me to sustain myself with at that wage and I’ve had to heavily rely on my father’s help. I’m hoping to find an entry-level position at an office and actually make enough money in a week that I don’t consistently weigh the pros and cons of paying the electricity this month. Also corporate is both very cheap and very out of touch with its employees. I spent some time with google reading what former employees had to say and the cheapness is very much a systemic thing that isn’t going to go anywhere anytime soon.

  106. I have another one, from food service:

    During my first training shift at a family-owned restaurant, the very experienced server showing me around advised me to steal little bits of food from the prep station – pieces of chicken or cucumber, things like that. Why? Because our shifts started at 4 and ended between 11 and 12. The restaurant didn’t allow us to eat any food (we could buy it at a pretty pathetic discount), and if it was busy we didn’t get breaks. So we frequently had 7 hour shifts with not only no free food, but no time to eat food even if we had it. At a place that sold food. The servers would frequently break the rule by making appetizers and stashing them out of sight, but uhg, so stressful when you’re brand new and NEED to job.

    There were a bunch of gross things going on there (including the all-of-your-bosses-are-relatives dynamic discussed above). Also, they had us tip out based on a percentage of our total sales, not total tips, because they didn’t trust us to honestly report our cash tips. Which is ridiculous – 95%+ of people paid with a credit card (this was not an inexpensive place) so if people were hiding tips, it wouldn’t amount to much. But if you had a bad night, tip-wise, you lost a good chunk of what you made. And (actually, this is probably the worst part) what we tipped out just went right into the register – it didn’t get distributed to the hostess or kitchen. They claimed that they paid them a higher-than-typical wage to make up for it, but I doubt it was that much higher.

  107. A good thing to ask, or find out IMO is how much turnover there has been in the position being interviewed for. One of the worst jobs I’ve ever held, no fooling, had had 10 different people doing it in the past 3 years (including a board member or two when people were fired or walked out). I *wish* I had known that when I was being interviewed; I would have run screaming from the offer rather than put myself through 6 months of hell.

  108. if at any time for an interview for a position that has been presented as being something *entirely different* (office work, or going to companies to hold presentations on how benefits work, stuff like that) you are told “you will have to shell out a few hundred dollars to get a license to sell life insurance in this state and THEN maybe we’ll ask you back for a second interview” RUN LIKE THE WIND BULLSEYE

    And I’m looking right at you AFLAC. That was a dick move, duck.

  109. How timely! I am bookmarking this and sending it to friends who are job searching. Today was my first day at a new job (letter writer #449, yo) and this list has been on my mind. Already, I feel like there’s enough good things about the new job (THE COMMUTE IS SO MUCH SHORTER AND EASIER YOU GUYS I CAN’T EVEN) that they outweigh the bad things (gross salary is slightly less but I also might not get as many taxes taken out so…yay anyway?).
    This is one of my major red flag for jobs and job searches:
    -you’re applying for an internal position, because the hiring manager (same department, different team) approached your boss about you applying for this “better” gig. You know them, they know you. The application process involves individual interviews with four of the fundraising officers and team supervisor.
    –>Three of the four officers (including the supervisor) spend most of their interview time talking smack about the other team members, and the team’s admin assistant. It may be deserved in the case of the officers, but not in the case of the admin.
    —>Those same three officers later wind up being the primary cause of your depression and anxiety coming back tenfold
    Look, I knew (mostly) what I was getting into when I took that job, you know? That team had a Reputation and for 4/5 of the members, it was deserved. So I wasn’t overly surprised that my interviews consisted of Persons A, B, and C all complaining about A, B, C, and E. But I do remember thinking, “Um, guys? I’m an internal candidate, remember? [i]I work down the hall from all of you[/i]. I know who you’re all talking about! I hope to Hades you aren’t acting like this in front of external candidates too. Do you know what kind of message that says about our organization?”
    But of course they didn’t, because they were morons and not even the kind that could hide their moron-ness enough to fake being good employees.
    So yeah, hiring officers, [i]maybe[/i] don’t talk smack about your own team or even other teams [i]in front of job applicants, especially if they are well-acquainted with the department already???[/i] Like, really? Just try it a little bit?
    I have a mental list of Sh*t I Will Not Tolerate at a Job If I Don’t Have To that gets updated every so often. It includes:
    -yelling when there’s no legitimate emergency, like a fire in the building (similar to Jen’s example earlier). I am not your errant, primary school-age child and you are not my overworked, disenchanted mother/father: the yelling stops five minutes ago.
    -sharing a cubicle with someone else and there’s less than a foot of space between you two, with no divider whatsoever. Does anyone remember an episode of [i]Malcolm in the Middle[/i] where Hal is complaining about budget cuts at his workplace and they were making everyone have “desk buddies?” I don’t find it funny anymore, in a “Ha ha ha, no smart company would ever do something dumb like that” way. It’s not funny in a painful, “oh my god, the trauma” way. You can stick me in a windowless, doorless closet with a bucket for a chair so long as I’m the only one occupying it.
    -If there are several cubicles clustered together, is someone playing Yahoo Radio at a volume [i]slightly[/i] louder than acceptable WITHOUT headphones? Oh hell no.
    I know, some of this is really nit-picky and if you think I’m overreacting, you’re totally right. But I really hate Yahoo Radio after having to listen to it all day, every day, for the last year-plus, while having no personal space whatsover.

    God, I am so excited about this new job, I keep waiting to find out this has been a big coma sequence.

  110. Red flag: On the first day on the job, your boss walks into a room with you and your new coworkers for the first time and avoids all eye contact with you, does not introduce himself or make any acknowledgement of your existence, yet actively makes conversation with everyone else around you. Not even a welcome meeting is scheduled afterwards, no outline of expectations, NOTHING. So extremely rude. This happened at 2 totally different jobs with different bosses and both jobs had extremely dysfunctional workplaces. There was no leadership or direction, the boss had little to no interaction with employees, did not work to resolve issues or problems and let employees figure things out for themselves which led to unequal power dynamics. What I figured out later on is that these bosses had no idea what they were doing or what was expected of the job. They weren’t compentent to be in the position they were in so they didn’t know how to lead.

  111. A big flag for me is when the job that’s being discussed in the interview doesn’t really match the job description that you applied for. This has happened to me a couple of times, and it’s a particular issue if you are working with a recruiter/agency.

    The first time this happened to me, I was pitched a job as a powerpoint specialist working with C-level execs (it was billed as a position that was not design and not a stepping stone to a design position.) The person who interviewed me seemed to want a hotshot mid-level graphic designer. When I described the interview to the rep at my agency, she showed me the job description that was faxed over (it matched what she said.) She later told me that she received several different job descriptions over the course of trying to place someone, and that eventually the job order was cancelled completely. (Hmm…can’t decide what they want and might have some in-fighting among decision makers…good to know.)

    The second time, I was pitched a job as an in-house desktop publishing and graphic arts position with some minor marketing duties. About 15 minutes into the interview I figured out from context clues that the boss was looking for something completely different, but I couldn’t figure out what. I said, “I’m sorry. What you are describing sounds very different from the job I was pitched by the recruiter. Do you have a current job description that I could read?” They were basically looking for someone to run their marketing department (with accountability metrics tied to sales numbers). I explained what I was pitched and gave a candid breakdown of which duties I had experience in and which ones I didn’t. I managed to get asked back for a 2nd interview, but the feedback I got from the recruiter was weird. The recruiter basically parroted my break down, but phrased it as, “He got the sense that you don’t really have experience with XYZ, and he’s concerned about that. But the thinks you are a good fit for the company.” We went round and round about this.

    Under the right circumstances (i.e. with a longer ramp-up on the sales goals and proper mentorship), I might have continued to pursue the job. I’ve known other people who landed jobs that were a significant stretch–I know it can work in the right situation. The employer has to make some adjustments to their expectations about learning curve / performance goal ramp-up, and the employee has to be willing to bust ass to catch up. There also need to be clearly stated, realistic goals involved. (I knew a gal who landed a job that required a degree that she didn’t have. The company set a deadline for earning the degree and offered significant tuition reimbursement.) I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being set up to fail. It was a small company–I was interviewed by the owner. I got the distinct impression that he was trying to go with a gut feeling about me but wasn’t committed to the employer side of this kind of compromise. I started to get the feeling that I was being set up to fail. The employer seemed to really, really want to be right about his gut feeling about me, but I suspected that I wouldn’t get the support I needed and would get blamed for needing the help. I ended up cancelling the interview.

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