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Interview Warning Signs of a Toxic Workplace

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

If you experience these red flags during the interview process, you may want to reconsider.

You're a little nervous, but ready to give it all you've got. You have extra printed copies of your resume neatly tucked into a padfolio. You're wearing your best pressed outfit. You just chugged a mug of coffee and have a lucky penny snug in your pocket. You check your reflection as you walk into the doors of your possible future employer; you want to make the best impression during their interview process.

You did your homework on the company and everything checks out. Their website promises core values and displays beaming headshots of their "team" all of whom seem to have prestigious backgrounds, certifications and/or degrees. Everything seems to be perfect, but underneath your nerves and the pressure to impress, you may have experienced some gut instinctual messages that you willfully ignored. If you choose to look past the red flags and accept the job offer, you may be finding yourself in an unhappy work situation.

No company is perfect, but some companies are miserable and some of the most miserable of workplaces know how to put on a good interview. They know exactly what to say to make the company look great on the surface. Below are some of the most common warning signs to watch for during an interview process.


Ill-prepared: Did your interviewer take the time to look over your resume? You may be able to tell if they are asking you questions that they could simply get from your resume or if they seem to be reading your resume for the first time during the interview. Remember that an interview is a two-way street: just as you did your due diligence on the company, the company should have done their due diligence on you. If a company truly cares about the character and fit of the employees they hire, they will care to take the time to know who they're bringing through their doors to interview. If they aren't selective about culture fit, then they may be hiring people that don't meet the requirements of the positions in which they're filling (possibly because they just need bodies to fill positions due to high turnover). This leads to issues down the road and tension amongst the staff.


They're late: You arrived ten minutes early. Someone greets you at the front desk and offers you water or coffee, "It'll be just a few moments, something came up," they say. Forty minutes later you're staring at the wall wondering if something really came up or if the interview isn't a priority for the interviewing manager. Yes, things come up, but it's a red flag if you're sitting in the lobby or a conference room alone for more than ten minutes. Unless the company is run by a sole-proprietor, someone else should be there to cover until the interviewer arrives; it's common courtesy. An administrative assistant could take you on a tour around the office or one of the other staff could make conversation about the company. Leaving an interview candidate stranded and wasting their time is inconsiderate. If they're inconsiderate about your time during the interview process, they'll be inconsiderate of your time after you've become an employee.


They talked the whole time: Did the interview feel more like a sales pitch? Did you walk out of the interview wondering if the interviewer even knows who you are? If the interviewer spends the majority of the time talking about the company and who they are, this is a warning sign. In Episode 3 of Toxic Workplace, Brooke's boss talked for the entire interview and after Brooke became an employee she realized her boss never listened to anyone. An interview should be a conversation filled with questions that help both the interviewer and interviewee understand the working relationship and the expectations from both sides. If they didn't take the time to understand who you are in the interview, don't expect them to try to get to know you after you've become an employee.


You didn't get a feel for the culture: If you didn't get a tour of the office and didn't get to meet the rest of the staff, this could be a red flag. Granted, working from home has increasingly been part of work protocol, but if you are left wondering what kind of work culture a company has, then they are probably covering up for something. If their responses about work culture are kept short and generic, this is a red flag.


Microaggressions: Microaggressions are little clues that signify big underlying issues. They may intentionally or unintentionally come out in conversation and foreshadow discriminatory perceptions or hostility. For example, in Episode 8, Maria's boss asked her if she planned on having babies and then assured her that the company loved pregnant women because they are loyal. Her boss ended up being a chauvinist who was highly controlling and constantly made sexist remarks about women. Microaggressions are subtle and can be hard to notice because they're not outright, blatant offenses and can be masked with a smile or a laugh.


Someone warns you: This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes no one can change your mind when you're blinded by an opportunity. If you get a warning from an employee on the inside telling you to run the other way, you shouldn't take it with a grain of salt. For instance in Episode 5, a manager told Walter during the interview process that the job he was applying for wasn't what the company was painting it to be. In Episode 9, Gwen's future supervisor told her the president made her cry when she was interviewing and not to be discouraged if he does the same to Gwen. These are waving red flags that indicate a company's true intentions.


They make a lowball offer: Assuming you told them your expected salary and it was within a reasonable range for your market and geographic location, if an employer makes you an offer that you feel is below an exceptional range, then they're not willing to pay for your value. In Episode 1, both Michelle and Jen received offers well below what they asked for in their interviews. Lowballing an initial salary is a tactic to dangle a carrot over someone's head in order to string them along and keep them working at the company. Know your worth and do not settle for less.


Gut instinct: Maybe the interview went well: the interviewer said all the right things; the building and facilities were exceptional; everyone was friendly; the compensation they offer is generous; but you have a gut feeling that something is off. Something about the interview or the people isn't sitting well with you. This takes some serious intuition and trust of gut instinct, but usually if your gut says something is amiss, it usually is. Learn to trust your gut.



It's hard to see red flags when you're eager to make a career move, but try to be mindful of possible warning signs and feel free to clarify with the interviewer if you pick up on any. Clear communication and transparency is key to a positive work experience and good companies know this. Every Toxic Workplace story begins with an interview process. Listening to others' stories and experiences could help you in the decision process. Good luck and happy interviewing!


By Carleigh J. M.

Questions or comments? Email me at Carleigh@toxicworkplacepodcast.com