Detecting the Warning Signs: How to Identify 10 Critical Interview Red Flags

finding a job interviewing Jan 21, 2024
red flags during a job interview

The goal of any interview process is for you and a potential employer to find a match. 

Let me say that again.

The goal of any interview process is to FIND. A. GOOD. MATCH.

It’s not just to charm your way into a job.

Sure, you’ll want to make a good impression on the hiring manager, or whoever else is making the decisions. But most people think interviews are ONLY about impressing people with more power than you so you can land an offer.

Truth is, you actually hold more power in the hiring process than you think. 

In order to find a good match, an employer needs to choose you, and you need to choose the employer right back. And interview red flags are going to directly hinder this process!

Interview red flags are any indicator of a work, leaders, culture, or environment that does not align with your personal needs and values. In other words, the match is a bad one. 

In this post, I’m sharing 10 interview red flags that you should watch for. These indicators help make the decision for you, steering you away from unhealthy work conditions and toward a workplace that aligns with your values. 

10 Critical Interview Red flags 

Part of your job search strategy is knowing when to walk away. I’d argue that withdrawing from consideration for a mismatched opportunity is one of the biggest moss moves you can make

And when one (or many!) of these interview red flags pop up, it’s a good idea to consider your options. 

Here are 10 red flags that should give you pause when finding a job:

1. Too many interviews in the hiring process

I’ve heard stories of candidates being asked to 9,10,11 interviews! This is an absurd amount for almost any position and is a good indicator that a company is indecisive. 

Sure, the right amount of interviews can be role or level-dependent. If you’re early in your career, your limit may max out at just 2 or 3. 

If you’re interviewing for the C-Suite, you’ll likely expect more interviews for more responsibilities. But even these positions should have limits. In a research study several years ago, Google found that the optimal number of interviews for their hiring process was 4.  As a result, they reduced their number of interviews drastically. 

My take? If Google can figure out who is a fit in 4 interviews, the company you are interviewing with probably doesn’t need 9. 

Be cautious about the never-ending interview cycle and know when to call it – if a company is uncertain about you, it’s hard to be certain about the company in return! 

2. Too few interviews

Too few interviews can also be a major red flag. 

If you find the interview process is unusually fast, it could mean that the company is having trouble filling roles or keeping employees. This points to unhappy employees and a possible toxic work culture. 

There are exceptions. If a company is in a really high-growth stage, this isn't as big of a concern. In fact, it can be a good sign, showing that they’re decisive about the kind of people they want in these roles. 

But unless there is hard evidence of new funding or clients driving fast growth, you’re right to be concerned about quick and spare interviews. 

3. No time to ask questions

If a hiring manager doesn’t offer you the chance to ask questions of your own, this is a major interview red flag. 

This could mean that they’re simply not interested in you as a candidate, or it could show a distinct lack of interviewing knowledge. 

An interview should go both ways, with both the candidate and employer asking and answering questions. If you don’t have an opportunity to ask questions, the interviewer assumes all of the power, simply picking the candidate of their choice rather than coming to a mutual agreement. 

If you run out of time for your questions during an interview, it is A-OK for you to ask the interviewer or recruiter what the best way to continue the conversation is. 

4. Lengthy, unpaid homework assignments

Interview “homework” is a hot topic for a number of creative fields including writing, marketing, and coding. Several industries have made unpaid assignments industry standard. And in many cases, it’s straight-up exploitation. 

Everyone has a different definition of what’s acceptable.

My rule is that if an unpaid homework assignment takes more than 1-2 hours of your time, is due in less than a week, or could be used by the company without compensating you, it is exploitative and I won’t do it.  

Do not be afraid to walk away from these tasks as they only point to further exploitation down the line. 

5. Unable to articulate success 

One of the most common questions that a candidate will ask a potential employer is, “What does success look like in this role?”

If the interviewer or recruiter is unable to articulate a clear picture of success, be VERY afraid. It’s one of the biggest red flags. Because it shows they aren’t clear about what they want in the role.

In most cases, this leads to a lack of boundaries and frustration on all sides. 

For low and mid-level roles, your employer should be able to get extremely concrete in what the expectations are. 

The exception for this is if they are creating a brand new role that they want you to co-create with them. But even then, the interviewer should be able to share key outcomes they expect from the new position.

6. Conflicting company values

There are almost always some stated company values, either in writing on a job posting and company website, or being touted verbally by recruiters. 

If you recognize a disconnect between these values and your treatment during the interview process, run. 

For example, a company may claim to highly respect and value its individual employees. If the interview process makes you feel disrespected, disregarded, or otherwise undervalued through the hiring process, that’s a disconnect you should not ignore.

Always trust how people treat you. It means a lot more than a general company statement. 

In addition, this extends to your personal values. Determine if there are any gaps between your values and your treatment through the hiring process. If there are, it’s time to explore other avenues. 

7. Pressure interviews

While not as common as they once were, pressure interviews are still a thing.

A pressure interview is when a hiring manager is deliberately mean or confrontational to put a candidate under pressure in the interview; the goal is to see how the employee responds to high-pressure situations. 

These interviews are never respectful, productive, or necessary. There are much better ways to understand how a candidate will handle pressure than to artificially create it. 

This practice also has a nasty habit of pitting candidates against each other which speaks volumes about the company culture. 

8. Obstructing a good decision

One of the more telling interview red flags is when you can’t get the information you need to make a good decision.  

When you’re finding a job, you want to seek out the full picture of a possible new employer. If a recruiter or hiring manager is anything but supportive about getting you the information you need to make the best decision for you, this is a bad omen. 

For example, if you are interviewing for a project management role and decide you’d like to talk to the engineering leader you’ll be working with most before you decide whether to take an offer, it’s a huge problem if the company won’t facilitate that conversation.

You are entitled to understand exactly what you’re getting into in a new role. And the idea that some information is off-limits most likely points to some skeletons in the company closet. 

10. Your gut

Perhaps the most important aspect of identifying interview red flags – trust your gut. 

When all else fails, you can rely on your gut to tell you if an interview or offer is bad news. Even when something looks great on paper, your gut may be screaming at you to say no!

If your gut is yelling at you, logic aside, I say listen to it. Your gut instinct is your most valuable tool in decision-making. 

Final Thoughts From a No BS Career Coach on Identifying Critical Interview Red Flags

When you’re on the job hunt, it can be hard to recognize red flags, specifically when you’re surviving a layoff or under a time crunch. 

But these critical interview red flags tell you when it’s time to walk away for your well-being!

Through your job search strategy, remember these red flags throughout the interview process; they will help you avoid bad offers and toxic work environments while freeing you up for better opportunities down the road. 

If you’re interested in working with a coach to sort out the best job search strategy for you, you may be a great candidate for one of my coaching programs. To learn more, book an intro call today