Job interview 101: how to spot bad employers

Sometimes the job just isn't worth your sanity.


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When you go for a job interview, it's tempting to be meek and mild and so super keen for the job you don't ask anything that could rock the boat.

But job interviews are as much for you to decide if this really is the job, the company and the team for you. So stop being afraid to put the pressure on, and be on the look out for signs that this job - that looks too good to be true - really might be just that.

Here are some very red flags that should make you run for the hills! (Or at least read your contract very carefully.)

  1. 1 They're cagey about the company's finances

    If the company's accounts aren't public, it can be difficult to work out if its a stable place to take your salary requirements. And talking about money can just isn't the British way.

    But ask them some specific questions about how the company is planning to grow and you can get a pretty good idea.

    For example, if the response to: "What plans for investment does the company have over the next year?" is broad and waffly, rather than structured, it suggests either they aren't in a position to invest, or they don't have a clear plan for growth.

    Or reference the tough economic climate, asking how the company has weathered recent years.

    You're not looking for a glowing financial report per se, you're looking for a confident and well-explained response that shows they appreciate the question and aren't trying to hide anything. If they get shirty or can't give you a detailed answer, you should be concerned.

  2. 2 They respond uncomfortably to questions about culture

    Ideally you'll be interviewed by more than one person, so make sure you ask what the culture's like and compare responses. If it's only one person, press them to describe things like how often the company socialises, if there are any small perks such as discounts, or even bake sales.

    Though it can be hard to know what culture you'd like to work in, and stock responses (work hard, play hard!) mean absolutely nothing, some gems about company socialising, the hours employees keep or recent events can give you some clues.

    For example, if your interviewer admits that people do tend to stay a bit late because they're passionate about their projects, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Passion is good! But if they suggest everyone's expected to work late regularly, it might not be something you're happy to do.

    If possible, speak to other employees and ask for their honest opinions. Everyone has their work gripes but if current workers say it's alright, it probably is.

  3. 3 They can't give you a clear view of a day in the job

    If it's a new role, they should know how they want it to work. And if it's not, they should know how the previous person in it operated.

    Ask them about hours, how much time you'll be expected to spend in meetings, what sorts of targets you'll be expected to meet and what kind of support you'll be given.

    It's also perfectly fine to ask why the person who did the job previously left and where they've gone to. If there's any discomfort or embarrassment in the response, or any hint of bad blood, you might just want to track down that person. Twitter's great for that.

  4. 4 They aren't specific about benefits (big and small)

    Employee benefits are a major reason to join one company rather than another. At first it can seem that the job alone is all but when you're comparing your no pension to your mate's company-matching one you're going to come away feeling very unloved (and convinced you'll be working until you're 100).

    Small companies often only offer the statutory - i.e. the minimum that the government requires them to do by law - when it comes to holiday days, sick pay, maternity pay. If they do, bring it up. It might be that they're a start up and really can't afford to offer these big monetary perks at the current time, but they make up for it in other ways.

    Or it might be that they're cheap and don't understand the need to invest money in their staff to help them live and work better and be more creative and productive.

    Ask about small perks too - is there a coffee machine? Are there occasional company lunches?

  5. 5 They don't have a clear plan for the future

    If the company seems to have big, ambitious goals but no specifics, start worrying. Why don't they have a plan? Are they expecting you to provide the plan? Is that the job you're going for?

    Ambition is good, but if it's unrealistic and demoralising, you'll be fed up and frustrated very quickly.

  6. 6 They rush you to make a decision

    Getting a new job is a big deal. We spend a lot of time at work. It's important that it doesn't make us miserable.

    Good employers know this, and however keen they are to get you officially on board, they'll respect that you need a bit of time to make the decision, to read through your contact, to discuss your options with your family.

    Being keen is fine, but if they slip into uncomfortably pushing, be concerned. If they really want you, they'll wait a day or two. And you want them to want you, not just any mug who walks in off the street. You deserve that.

  7. 7 They're hard to find out about

    Can't find them online? Not on LinkedIn? Don't seem to have heard of Glassdoor? If you can't find out about them, ask them if this is a policy and what's behind it. Are they trying to hide something or is it simply that it's unnecessary for their industry? Track the individuals down on Twitter and LinkedIn too, you want to see how they represent themselves. Do they seem like people you want to work with?

  8. 8 Your manager doesn't have experience with your role

    Your manager's in sales but has decided the team needs a designer. It's a common experience and doesn't mean you shouldn't take the role. But ask for more details on what will be expected from you and who will judge your productivity and success.

    Are there other people in the company doing similar roles to you? Are you happy to be the only one with your expertise in the company? Are you capable? Does that leave you any room for career progression?

    Again, the way the interviewer answer this will help you feel comfortable about taking on the role (or not). And hopefully they will have ideas in place already on this.

  9. 9 They don't have values you agree with

    This is key. Ask what the company's core values are and how it demonstrates them both professionally and internally with staff.

    If you're all about da money, a non-profit attitude might not be the one for you. Similarly, if you in a creative industry, being in a heavily sales environment might be difficult.

  10. 10 They can't give examples of recent employee training

    Most employers will say, when asked in an interview, that they offer training and development. But can they say exactly what? If they can't give examples of specific training that's happened in the last six months, they probably don't have a regular policy of training their staff.

    External training by experts is important, and helps all staff stay up to date and able to keep the company and its projects modern and successful. Without it, you won't grow at this company.

  11. 11 They don't grill you enough

    No one likes to be raked through the coals in an interview, but if you feel that they didn't really push you to explain yourself or your ideas, didn't seem to be very interested in why you wanted the job, or hadn't read your CV very well, it might mean they're desperate to fill the role with anyone.

    Some jobs have higher turnover than others, but you want to feel that they've at least put in a little time to deciding that it's you they want.

    Ultimately, no company is perfect. There will be frustrations, and there will be things that you didn't ask that surprise you when you start. But try to remember that, however desperate you are for a job, getting the right one is super important. And if that means turning down these wheeler dealers, then so be it.

    Good luck!

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    Feature image: iStock