We all know that job interviews are supposed to be an opportunity for you to interview your future employer too, but it’s easy to forget that when you’re actually in an interview. These meetings are stressful, whether they’re in person or on Zoom, so it’s easy for your nerves to get the better of you. You’re so busy telling the interviewer why you’re so great that you forget to pay attention to their body language and demeanor toward you, let alone any small and unusual comments they might make along the way.
But the truth is, it’s really important to pay attention to red flags because how your interviewers behave toward you (and anyone else in the room) tells you a lot about the company’s culture. Plus, the people interviewing you are usually going to be working with you if you get the job—one of them is probably your potential manager too. So if you don’t like them in the interview, you’re probably not going to like working with them. If you notice any of the below interview red flags during the hiring process for a new job, you might want to really consider if this is the right next step for you or if you should cut your losses and keep looking.
1. Your interviewer shows up late or unprepared
You’d never show up late to interview with them, so why are they showing up late for you? Is it because they’re overworked and overextended? Is there a manager who always keeps people five minutes past the end of meetings because they aren’t good at time management?
And if they’re unprepared, is it because the hiring manager is meeting with too many people to keep track of the applicants? Or do they simply not respect people in the workplace as a whole?
Obviously, we’re all late sometimes, so if your interviewer is late but is super apologetic, offers you an explanation of what happened, and is otherwise engaged in your interview afterward, it might be a genuine mistake. But tardiness could also be a sign of disrespect, especially if it happens more than once while you’re interviewing at the company.
2. They’re vague on the job description details
Usually, a good recruiter will start by explaining the responsibilities and duties of the job you’re applying for at the beginning of your meeting, including who you’ll be working with and reporting to as well as what you’ll actually be doing all day long. If these details aren’t clear, something might be up.
It could mean that they’re not totally sure what they want from the person they hire, which could set you up to disappoint them if they hire you because you can’t measure up to the expectations they don’t share.
If this happens, you’ll probably want to start asking specific questions to really figure out what the job is, such as, “What does the day-to-day for this role look like?” or “Does the company or team regularly hold goal-setting with employees and their manager?”
3. The hiring manager uses lots of buzzwords
Some companies love buzzwords and jargon because they can make a job sound fun and exciting—even when it isn’t. These buzzwords can also cover up real issues in the work culture.
For example, “self-starter” could be code for “we don’t have time to train you,” while “hungry” could mean they underpay. “All in” could mean they expect you to work whenever they need you, even if it’s after hours, on weekends, or on holidays. Similarly, “we wear many hats here” or “we kind of have a startup mentality here” (especially when they’re not a startup) could be code for “we’re understaffed and need people to do three jobs at once for low pay.”
So if you start noticing that your interviewer is using lots of these words, ask questions to try to get at their true meaning—you’ll be glad you did.
4. They’re proud of weird things that most companies don’t brag about
I once interviewed for a job where the founder was in the room and kept bragging that “because he had the money, he could tell people to do things his way.” This was a clear sign that he was a micromanager and didn’t really respect or have time for collaboration or other people’s ideas.
If your hiring manager talks admiringly about the long hours their team works, the late nights, the overzealous manager, the “give-it-your-all” attitude of their employees, or anything else like that, be wary.
5. They email you to schedule the interview during off-hours
Admittedly, there are valid reasons why someone might email you later than you expect in the era of remote work. For example, the recruiter could be based in California while you’re based in New York, meaning you get an email three hours after you’ve signed off for the day. However, sometimes recruiters or hiring managers email you super early in the morning or mega late at night because the company doesn’t respect work-life balance and may instead value working long hours, late nights, and also on weekends or holidays.
So if you get an email from anyone on the hiring team at midnight—and they’re not in a different time zone—consider looking for a different opening.
6. They pressure you to be available for the interview ASAP
I once had a recruiter email me 10 minutes after I finished the first interview (which was at 3 p.m. on a Friday) asking if I could meet with someone else in a half hour. When I said I couldn’t, they followed up again asking if I could meet at 6 p.m. This gave me a weird feeling, but I emailed back and said I wasn’t available that day but was available next week, and I shared my availability. But instead of being understanding that I had other commitments, they then ghosted me for a week, never scheduled another interview, and eventually told me they’d decided to go another direction.
Career coaches often tell applicants to try not to come off as too desperate for a job in an interview, but the same should be true for the hiring manager. If they’re overly desperate, it could be a sign of high turnover or lack of boundaries and respect for their people. It could mean they care less about getting the right applicant and more about just getting someone ASAP.
It’s true that you want your potential employer to be excited about you, so getting an email really quickly after an interview can be a great sign—maybe they really want to hire you and get you an offer quickly. But if they’re excited to the point of not respecting that you have other commitments, it could be a sign of what’s to come if you work there.
7. They speak badly or make jokes about other employees who aren’t in the room
Offhand comments about the person who had the role you’re applying for previously, people who have left the company, or other employees still working there can all be signs of a disrespectful and toxic workplace. Mean jokes are a bad sign too.
So if your interviewer makes comments about someone’s appearance, personality, or work ethic (think: “She’s kind of a slob, but she gets the work done” or “As long as you have a fun personality, you’re already doing better than the last person who had this job”), it might tell you a lot about the type of people that work at the company.
8. You notice microaggressions
This one might seem obvious, but sometimes we excuse weird or hurtful comments in an interview because we want the title, the salary, or the prestige that comes with a certain job. But microaggressions are rarely a one-off event.
If the hiring manager is saying inappropriate things related to your (or anyone else’s) gender identity, race, sexual orientation, or cultural background, there’s probably a lot more where that came from—and it will only get worse when they aren’t on their “best” behavior.
9. They aren’t listening to you
If your interviewer is typing away on their computer while you talk, looking at their phone, or just obviously not listening to what you’re actually saying, it either means that they are so overworked that they can’t sign off work long enough for your interview, they don’t really respect you, or they’re not really interested in talking to you as a serious job candidate.
True, a good interviewer might take notes, but they should also be showing you that they are actively listening by making eye contact when they can and responding to what you say. They’ll also usually be aware if they’ve had to take a longer break to write something down and will likely apologize for the pause.
10. They don’t answer your questions
If you ask a question, the hiring manager or HR contact should get you an answer. If they don’t know the answer on the spot, they should look it up and get back to you in a timely manner. I once went through three rounds of interviews and asked the same question each time (“Is this job remote-friendly?”) and was told they’d get back to me, but they never did.
Turned out, the job wasn’t remote-friendly and I had to turn it down, wasting my time and theirs.
11. They don’t really ask you any questions
Interviews should be about getting to know you and what you can do. If the person vetting you for the job doesn’t actually ask you anything, it’s not a good sign. The only questions shouldn’t be “tell me about yourself” and “do you have any questions for me?”—they should show up fully prepared and invested in figuring out if you’re the right candidate.
For example, if you’re applying for a management position, expect questions about your management style, how you motivate your employees, and how you might handle performance issues. If you’re switching industries, expect to answer questions like, “why are you making this change?” and “what skills from your previous role do you hope to bring to this new one?”
12. The interview process is super short
Kind of like an interviewer who doesn’t ask any questions, an interview process that is super short implies that the company isn’t really interested in finding the best candidate. They just want someone—and they’ll hire someone without really figuring out if it’s a good fit because they don’t care.
While there is no set interview schedule, you should expect to meet with more than one person. Usually, you’ll meet with at least an HR recruiter as well as your potential manager. Some places might also have you meet with senior leadership or some of your potential colleagues, but usually, there aren’t more than two to three rounds of interviews. Depending on the role, you might be asked to perform a short task to show your skills as well.
13. The interview process is unnecessarily long or difficult
Vetting you too much isn’t a great sign either. After all, you’re not getting paid to meet with a zillion different people. A company that values their employees values them before they’re hired too and doesn’t want to waste their time.
They also shouldn’t ask you to do a ton of free work to “evaluate” you. For example, it’s customary for writing and editing jobs to give applicants a short test, but unless they’re paying you to write stuff for them, that test shouldn’t be pages and pages long, nor should it ask you to do a bunch of work that they could easily “steal” and pass off as their own whenever they’re short on ideas.
14. They won’t provide a clear timeline of the hiring process
As is probably clear from the red flags we just mentioned, while you’re interviewing for a job, you should get a clear picture of how many interviews you should expect as well as how long the process should take. If they can’t tell you that, it might mean they’re not serious about filling the role.
For example, I once interviewed for a role and met with seven different people, each time being told I’d just have “one more round,” then the hiring manager disappeared for two weeks before telling me that they had decided they no longer needed someone in this role at all after some internal reshuffling.
15. The hiring process is disorganized or the recruiter keeps making careless mistakes
HR recruiters are human, which means they make mistakes. But if you get an email with the wrong applicant’s name on it (happened to me), invites for Zoom calls but no link, or an edit test that belongs to or was already completed by someone else (happened to my friend), it could be a sign that something’s up with the company, especially if it happens repeatedly.
Once, I showed up to an interview and the interviewer called me by the wrong name and started asking me questions related to a totally different job than the one I applied for. Turns out, HR had sent her someone else’s resume and job description.
Obviously, things happen, but if the hiring process is sloppy and disorganized in general, consider what this could be telling you about the company. Maybe HR is understaffed but the rest of the company is fine. Or maybe everyone is understaffed and overworked, so sloppiness is the norm.
16. No one you meet with has been with the team for long
Obviously, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Startups are often filled with newish employees. But even at startups, there should be at least a few people on the team who have been there from the beginning. And if the company has been around for a long time, look for team members who have been there for at least a year or two.
If everyone is new or recently hired, it could signal that the company has a retention problem or that they aren’t stable.
17. They make you a really lowball offer
Yes, it’s common for employers to come up with an offer on the lower end of their salary range, expecting the candidate to negotiate, but that offer shouldn’t be too low.
The company should want to convince you to work for them and they should pay you what you are worth, so if the offer is below market value or not comparable to your level of experience, it’s probably not worth it. Any company that prefers to save a few dollars over paying employees fairly could be a sign that they’ll never value you or pay you fairly.