Alarm Bells: 15 Warning Signs You’re Interviewing at a Toxic Workplace

Job interviews are the perfect way for employers to review their applicants' abilities, conduct, and suitability as team players. However, interviews are also an excellent tool for job candidates to get a measure of their potential future employers. Here are 15 red flags that show interviewees a potentially toxic working environment.

1. Political Answers

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When Congress or the Senate is haranguing subjects on the stand, you know they are unwilling to cooperate when their first response is, “Thank you for the question, senator.” This stalling tactic is also common with certain hiring managers, who like to speak around the question but not answer it — especially regarding salary and benefits.

2. A Lack of Flair

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Creative-minded individuals may feel discouraged when the company focuses only on your technical ability and the likelihood of you fitting into the company's way. If your interviewer only focuses on academic records or working experiences, they may foster an atmosphere of coercion and not creativity.

3. Playing Favorites

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If you are in the waiting room and the interviewing candidate leaves the room in an overtly friendly manner, you may be walking into the wrong place. My wife once interviewed for a sports teacher position, only for the recruitment manager to usher the prior interviewer from the office, arm over his shoulder, laughing about ice hockey. Suffice it to say, the hockey fan got the job, but my wife was spared a potentially male-dominated scenario.

4. A Gossiping Hiring Manager

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When the interviewer jokes about the person whose position you are filling, you can rest assured that you will also be the target of their jokes. Moreover, suppose the hirer is candid about the difficulties working for the company, or they blame the company for their problems. In that case, you may reconsider who you want to join. Good companies keep everything business-related and don't let personal preferences cloud their discourse.

5. Pro Bono Is a No-No

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In the film or arts industries, free work is a sacrifice up-and-coming production assistants, directors, and camera operators make. However, building a film reel or portfolio takes a few years of free work before you become unionized and can earn. If your interview for a commercial bank involves free time, you must ask why. Furthermore, businesses ask interviewers for work samples, though they might keep these for their benefit — a short article, some code, or a presentation.

6. Bonuses Mentioned Before Salary

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If a company is not forthcoming with its salary policies, you can guarantee their bonus schemes will be weak. Some bosses love to boast about their company benefits (such as medical insurance, which is standard anyway) and raise potential before they mention your basic remuneration. A sure sign of a poorly run business is how little it values the basics, such as base salary.

7. Aren't You the Lucky One?

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As with finding a potential romantic partner, a new job is a relationship. So, just imagine the hubris needed when job candidates hear how lucky they are to have an interview with this esteemed business. When people preface their ability or personality with such narcissism, we naturally run a mile — unless we enjoy that kind of personality trait. Over-inflating one's greatness shows how little a company values its subordinates.

8. Vacations: Who Needs Them?

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American workers are famous for their dedication to business hours, with a recent study showing that less than half take their allotted vacation time. However, mental health is essential for any employee, especially those with young children. So, when a hiring manager asks about your vacation preferences, they are saying: “We frown upon those who dare spend time off.”

9. The Flexibility Paradigm

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Some businesses entrap interview candidates without sharing the hours, waiting until the interview to do so. They then reveal that the hours are flexible, meaning “you will be working unsociable hours.” Work-life balance is essential to maintaining physical and mental health; this is unfair if you are expected to work around the clock or at least be in contact.

10. Bad Blood in the Reviews

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Before applying to any new job, one must conduct minor research into the working environment. A sure sign of work-based woe is the company's star-rated score (anything below a four is not good), and if that is good, try to read some reviews on websites like Trustpilot or Glassdoor to see what people say about their experiences.

11. What's the Mood in the Building?

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Failing all the other checks and balances for establishing your employers' merits, you can glean much from how employees interact. Firstly, are they cheerful? Next, do they seem tired or buoyant? Finally, if you can speak to them, how do they refer to their workplace? If employees seem reluctant to share their thoughts, they are usually nervous or have little positive to say.

12. A Lack of Diversity

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A 2022 British report claimed that only 20% of employers consider diversity a crucial part of the business model. This surprising figure means specific individuals may find their potential workplace uncomfortable, which is fascinating. A diverse workplace can mean unique shared perspectives and methodologies — when people think similarly, this can't be good for innovation.

13. A Work-Hard, Play-Hard Mentality

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In Norah Vincent's book about life as an undercover male, she depicts a group of sales executives who use the initialism of “JUICE.” as a mantra for how they drive themselves to be the best salesmen they can. JUICE stands for “join us in creating excitement.” If such a mnemonic ever appears in a job interview, be warned — you could be joining a Wolf of Wall Street-style setting.

14. Turnover of the Bad Kind

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If you are lucky enough to enter any office space or warehouse where you interview, it might be worth taking more than a glance at the workers. The first telltale sign of a bad company is one rife with young workers and lacking middle-aged employees. This imbalance may suggest poor pay or conditions, something mid-career workers avoid. Seeing only youngsters betrays a high employee turnover and an environment not conducive to job security.

15. Too Many Questions About Your Current or Old Job

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Sometimes, interviewers are not interested in the candidate's credentials but are obsessed with their employment record. In the event this happens, there is a possibility they interview you merely to spy on a rival company. In contrast, when an interviewer asks you about your life, family, and interests, they want to understand the person better — which is a good sign.