6 red flags a company isn't what it seems — and you probably shouldn't take the job
- Several experts told Insider what red flags indicate a company may not be great to work for.
- If they ask you to do a test early in the process, they may be trying to get free work out of you.
When you're interviewing for a new job — especially if it's with a company you've long admired — it's easy to overlook a few bumps in the road in favor of getting an offer. But employers should be trying to woo you just as much as you should be wooing them. And if a hiring manager exhibits certain bad behaviors during the recruiting process, you're likely going to find yourself working for a bad boss or under a terrible company culture if you accept the role.
No matter how appealing a job sounds on paper, if you come across these six red flags when interviewing at a company, it might be best to pass it over for a better opportunity.
1. They're unreliable in their communication or timetable
Lars Schmidt, the founder of Amplify Academy, a community for HR leaders, told Insider it's a red flag if a hiring manager or HR team seems to dismiss you or blow you off — or worse, sets an expectation around the timeline of the recruiting process, then completely blows that up and institutes a new timeline with no explanation. If they do that to someone they're trying to recruit, think of how uncertain the employee experience might be, with ever-changing timelines and inconsistent communication.
Another not-so-great sign? Radio silence from a recruiter you've been in touch with before.
Dani Monaghan, the vice president of global cloud recruiting at Google, said the best way to suss out whether poor communication or confusing directions is a one-time fluke or a sign of a bigger issue is to ask yourself questions such as:
- Are they constantly rescheduling interviews?
- Do the recruiters or hiring managers rarely show up on time?
- How responsive are they to emails, and how quickly do they usually get back to you?
- Is the interview well organized, or did your interviewer show up unprepared?
- Do they provide updates when they say they will?
2. You're asked to complete a test or project early on in the process
In some industries, it's normal for employers to require applicants to complete steps beyond an interview, such as completing a coding test, creating a slide deck, or writing something according to the job's specifications. This can be a valid way to assess a candidate's skills, but if an employer is requiring it early on in the recruiting process, it could also signal that the company doesn't respect your time or might be using this step to collect free work.
Skills tests or assignments should happen later, after you've completed at least one interview and gotten a good sense of whether the company is interested in you and would be a good fit, Schmidt said.
3. The job description is vague
Even for a brand-new role, the hiring manager should have a clear picture of what it entails. Otherwise, the company might be setting you up to fail.
"If the description says, 'You'll wear a lot of hats,' make sure you know what those hats are and if you think they'll support your goals," Monaghan said. "If the interview questions are ambiguous, applicants should always clarify."
4. They're being cagey or defensive around compensation
The last thing any job seeker wants is to interview multiple times for a job without knowing if the pay meets their expectations. Fortunately, several states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Washington, now require pay transparency, either in the job listing or when a candidate asks.
Even if you aren't in one of those states, the market is trending toward pay transparency. Janine Yancey, the CEO of Emtrain, a tech platform that uses data and analytics to identify toxic workplace issues, told Insider it's reasonable to ask the pay band on a role early on in the process. If they don't have the pay band yet, they should at least say, "That's a good question, let me get back right to you," she said. That question shouldn't elicit a negative reaction.
5. They're being evasive around negative events
If you've done your homework before an interview, you'll know if a company has negative Glassdoor reviews or recently faced some bad press — and you'll probably want to know more about it before making your decision to accept the job. "If you ask questions about perhaps negative press or even Glassdoor and that gets brushed off and dismissed, that can be a red flag," Schmidt said.
On the other hand, if they acknowledge it and explain how they're working to improve company culture or recover from a scandal, that could be a more positive sign of growth.
6. You're not able to access other team members
Don't just talk to your potential supervisor — talking to as many current employees as possible, including people you'll be managing or peers you'll be working with regularly, can help you feel out the company culture. "If a company won't accommodate, that's also a red flag," Monaghan said. By brushing off such a request, a hiring manager may be trying to cover up high turnover or low morale on the team.
"If an applicant speaks with several people who seem unhappy, listless, disgruntled, then it could be indicative of a negative work environment," Monaghan added.
While everyone has days when they're off their game or say the wrong thing, looking at the sum of interactions can clue you into a company's culture. "If they don't have really talented individuals at the leading edge of the organization, I think that's also an indicator of what you can expect in their people team and their HR team," Yancey said.
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