How to Identify Red Flags in Employers in a Job Interview

  • Job seekers are increasingly looking for employers who share their values and show empathy.
  • How you’re treated in a job interview is one early insight into a prospective employer’s culture.
  • These are the red flags you should watch for in a job interview.

With US employers scrambling to fill open positions, job seekers have the power right now.

The unusual trend is allowing job hunters to be selective about their employers and seek organizations that align with their political views and demonstrate empathy and flexibility.

In a study by Workplace from Facebook, which surveyed 1,330 UK employees, 63% of respondents said they sought empathetic leaders when selecting an employer. And 62% of respondents said they wanted to work for a company that shares their views on topics such as diversity, inclusion, and climate.

As job seekers become more selective, and the labor shortage continues, employers are offering flashy incentives such as sign-on bonuses and even iPhones to new employees who stay on for a certain amount of time. But a tempting initial perk doesn’t mean a job is overall right for you.

A job interview can be a crucial first insight into a company’s culture and the best chance to learn whether a company will really look after you.

Insider spoke with three career experts about the types of red flags job seekers should be on the lookout for.

1. Lack of preparation

You have probably spent hours preparing for your interview, from researching the company to practicing responses.

If an employer hasn’t shown you a similar courtesy, it isn’t a good sign.

Claire Harvey, a managing director at Reed, a recruitment agency, said: “Are they on time for your interview? Do they know your CV? Are they shuffling around and frantically trying to find your CV as you walk in, or do they have it ready and prepared and they’ve already brought questions in advance?”

Harvey said a good employer would take the time to engage with you during the interview. 

Lynn Williams, the author of “Ultimate Interview,” added: “The way that people treat you in the interview is the way that they’re going to treat you in a job. … The attitude of the interviewer is going to be the attitude of the company.” 

2. Disinterest in you beyond the role 

An interviewer who cares only about whether you can get the job done may not be interested in your career progression and prospects. 

Harvey said: “A lot of success really is about culture match, and it should be about how you can develop into that role in the future, not just a tick-box exercise and go in and do that job right now.”

Remi Olajoyegbe, a coach to C-suite leaders and their executive teams, said an employer should really be interested in the person beyond the job and what they’ve seen on a piece of paper or on LinkedIn.

She said: “Is there an interest in understanding on a deeper level, the types of people that are coming into the company culture? Because are you a cultural fit or a cultural add?”

Olajoyegbe added that it could be important for candidates from underrepresented backgrounds to see whether employers are welcoming and inclusive.

3. If the interviewer exhibits signs of stressed-out leadership

A stressed-out leader means stressed-out employees. 

To determine whether the company supports its employees, it is important to ask questions about work-life balance and take note of how they speak about it.

Leaders who encourage work-life balance will be more likely to be flexible, especially in areas such as working from home. Olajoyegbe said leaders who are flexible would also be a lot more open to innovation. 

She said: “If you’ve got a leader that’s quite set in their ways and thinks that actually they need to have a team that they can see, and look at the whites of their eyes in order to work out whether they’re being productive or not, then we have a problem.”

4. Failing to be open about weaknesses as well as strengths

As a job seeker, key questions to ask include the company’s values and how it is creating a more inclusive and welcoming culture.

Olajoyegbe said there was a real need for leaders to be “courageous” and honest about their faults and weaknesses and areas that they could improve on. 

She added that if an employer can say “we haven’t done brilliantly here, but we are seeking to do better, and this is how we’re thinking about it,” then that is a sign that they are serious and honest about improving their company culture and looking out for employee well-being. 

Trying to maintain that a company is perfect can be a red flag.

Williams said: “If somebody is just trying to sell you the job and doesn’t stop talking and tells you how wonderful it is, there’s something wrong there.”

Olajoyegbe added that honesty and courage sometimes means saying: “I don’t know.”

5. Talking about employees in a derogatory way

Harvey said that senior staff who are “derogatory about the people that work there” may show you that same disrespect in time.

How they discuss the people around them and their attitude toward other employees is an important reflection of their attitude toward you. 

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