Alarm Bells: 15 Warning Signs You’re Interviewing at a Toxic Workplace

Job inter­views are the per­fect way for employ­ers to review their appli­cants’ abil­i­ties, con­duct, and suit­abil­i­ty as team play­ers. How­ev­er, inter­views are also an excel­lent tool for job can­di­dates to get a mea­sure of their poten­tial future employ­ers. We have list­ed 15 of the biggest red that show inter­vie­wees a poten­tial­ly tox­ic work­ing envi­ron­ment.

1. Political Answers

Woman being interviewed for a jobWoman being interviewed for a job
Image cred­it: shut­ter­stock.

When Con­gress is harangu­ing sub­jects on the stand, you know they are unwill­ing to coop­er­ate when their first response is, “Thank you for the ques­tion, sen­a­tor.” This stalling tac­tic is also com­mon with cer­tain hir­ing man­agers, who like to speak around the ques­tion but not answer it — espe­cial­ly regard­ing salary and ben­e­fits.

2. A Lack of Flair

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Cre­ative-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als may feel dis­cour­aged when the com­pa­ny focus­es only on your tech­ni­cal abil­i­ty and the like­li­hood of you fit­ting into the com­pa­ny’s way. If your inter­view­er only focus­es on aca­d­e­m­ic records or work­ing expe­ri­ences, they may fos­ter an atmos­phere of coer­cion and not cre­ativ­i­ty.

3. Playing Favorites

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If you are in the wait­ing room and the can­di­date leaves the room in an overt­ly friend­ly man­ner, you may be walk­ing into the wrong place. My wife once inter­viewed for a sports teacher posi­tion, only for the recruit­ment man­ag­er to ush­er the pri­or inter­view­er from the office, arm over his shoul­der, laugh­ing about ice hock­ey. Suf­fice it to say, the hock­ey fan got the job, but my wife was spared a poten­tial­ly male-dom­i­nat­ed sce­nario.

4. A Gossiping Hiring Manager

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When the inter­view­er jokes about the per­son whose posi­tion you are fill­ing, you can rest assured that you will also be the tar­get of their jokes. More­over, sup­pose the hir­er is can­did about the dif­fi­cul­ties work­ing for the com­pa­ny, or they blame the com­pa­ny for their prob­lems. In that case, you may recon­sid­er who you want to join. Good com­pa­nies keep every­thing -relat­ed and don’t let per­son­al pref­er­ences cloud their dis­course.

5. Pro Bono Is a No-no

Confused man 2Confused man 2
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In the film or arts indus­tries, free is a sac­ri­fice up-and-com­ing pro­duc­tion assis­tants, direc­tors, and cam­era oper­a­tors make. How­ev­er, build­ing a film reel or port­fo­lio takes a few years of free work before you become union­ized and can earn. If your inter­view for a com­mer­cial involves free time, you ask why. Fur­ther­more, busi­ness­es ask inter­view­ers for work sam­ples, though they might keep these for their ben­e­fit — a short arti­cle, some code, or a pre­sen­ta­tion.

6. Bonuses Mentioned Before Salary

Job interviewJob interview
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If a com­pa­ny is not forth­com­ing with its salary poli­cies, you can guar­an­tee their bonus schemes will be weak. Some boss­es love to boast about their com­pa­ny ben­e­fits (such as med­ical insur­ance, which is stan­dard any­way) and raise poten­tial before they men­tion your remu­ner­a­tion. A sure sign of a poor­ly run busi­ness is how lit­tle it val­ues the basics, such as base salary.

7. Aren’t You the Lucky One?

Job candidatesJob candidates
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As with find­ing a poten­tial roman­tic part­ner, a new job is a rela­tion­ship. So, just imag­ine the hubris need­ed when job can­di­dates hear how lucky they are to have an inter­view with this esteemed busi­ness. When peo­ple pref­ace their abil­i­ty or per­son­al­i­ty with such nar­cis­sism, we nat­u­ral­ly run a mile — unless we enjoy that kind of per­son­al­i­ty trait. Over­in­flat­ing one’s great­ness shows how lit­tle a com­pa­ny val­ues its sub­or­di­nates.

8. Vacations: Who Needs Them?

Travel, vacation, trip, suitcase, luggage, womanTravel, vacation, trip, suitcase, luggage, woman
Image cred­it: shut­ter­stock.

Amer­i­can work­ers are famous for their ded­i­ca­tion to busi­ness hours, with a recent study show­ing that less than half take their allot­ted vaca­tion time. How­ev­er, men­tal health is essen­tial for any employ­ee, espe­cial­ly those with young chil­dren. So, when a hir­ing man­ag­er asks about your vaca­tion pref­er­ences, they are say­ing: “We frown upon those who dare spend time off.”

9. The Flexibility Paradigm

Woman frowningWoman frowning
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Some busi­ness­es entrap inter­view can­di­dates with­out shar­ing the hours, wait­ing until the inter­view to do so. They then reveal that the hours are flex­i­ble, mean­ing “you will be work­ing unso­cia­ble hours.” Work-life bal­ance is essen­tial to main­tain­ing phys­i­cal and men­tal health; this is unfair if you are expect­ed to work around the clock or at least be in con­tact.

10. Bad Blood in the Reviews

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Before apply­ing to any new job, one must con­duct minor research into the work­ing envi­ron­ment. A sure sign of work-based woe is the com­pa­ny’s star-rat­ed score (any­thing below a four is not good), and if that is good, try to read some reviews on web­sites like Trust­pi­lot or Glass­door to see what peo­ple say about their expe­ri­ences.

11. What’s the Mood in the Building?

WorkplaceWorkplace
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Fail­ing all the oth­er checks and bal­ances for estab­lish­ing your employ­ers’ mer­its, you can glean much from how employ­ees inter­act. First­ly, are they cheer­ful? Next, do they seem tired or buoy­ant? Final­ly, if you can speak to them, how do they refer to their work­place? If employ­ees seem reluc­tant to share their thoughts, they are usu­al­ly ner­vous or have lit­tle pos­i­tive to say.

12. A Lack of Diversity

Workplace lunchWorkplace lunch
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A 2022 British report claimed that only 20% of employ­ers con­sid­er diver­si­ty a cru­cial part of the busi­ness mod­el. This sur­pris­ing fig­ure means spe­cif­ic indi­vid­u­als may find their poten­tial work­place uncom­fort­able, which is fas­ci­nat­ing. A diverse work­place can mean unique shared per­spec­tives and method­olo­gies — when peo­ple think sim­i­lar­ly, this can’t be good for inno­va­tion.

13. A Work-Hard, Play-Hard Mentality

Shutterstock 2074932400Shutterstock 2074932400
Image cred­it: shut­ter­stock.

In Norah Vin­cen­t’s book about life as an under­cov­er male, she depicts a group of sales exec­u­tives who use the ini­tial­ism of “JUICE.” as a mantra for how they dri­ve them­selves to be the best sales­men they can. JUICE stands for “join us in cre­at­ing excite­ment.” If such a mnemon­ic ever appears in a job inter­view, be warned — you could be join­ing a Wolf of Wall Street-style set­ting.

14. Turnover of the Bad Kind

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If you are lucky enough to enter any office space or ware­house where you inter­view, it might be worth tak­ing more than a glance at the work­ers. The first tell­tale sign of a bad com­pa­ny is one rife with young work­ers and lack­ing mid­dle-aged employ­ees. This imbal­ance may sug­gest poor pay or con­di­tions, some­thing mid- work­ers avoid. See­ing only young­sters betrays a high employ­ee turnover and an envi­ron­ment not con­ducive to job secu­ri­ty.

15. Too Many Questions About Your Current or Old Job

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Image cred­it: shut­ter­stock.

Some­times, inter­view­ers are not inter­est­ed in the can­di­date’s cre­den­tials but are obsessed with their employ­ment . In the event this hap­pens, there is a pos­si­bil­i­ty they inter­view you mere­ly to spy on a rival com­pa­ny. In con­trast, when an inter­view­er asks you about your life, fam­i­ly, and inter­ests, they want to under­stand the per­son bet­ter — which is a good sign.


Ben selfieBen selfie

Raised in Eng­land and with a career in inter­na­tion­al edu­ca­tion, Ben now lives in South­ern Spain with his wife and son, hav­ing lived on three con­ti­nents, includ­ing Africa, Asia, and North Amer­i­ca. He has worked diverse jobs rang­ing from trav­el­ing film pro­jec­tion­ist to land­scape .

He offers a unique, well-trav­eled per­spec­tive on life, with sev­er­al spe­cial­ties relat­ed to his trav­els. Ben loves writ­ing about food, music, par­ent­ing, edu­ca­tion, cul­ture, and film, among many oth­er top­ics. His pas­sion is Gen‑X geek­ery, name­ly movies, music, and tele­vi­sion.

He has spent the last few years build­ing his writ­ing port­fo­lio, start­ing as a short fic­tion author for a Hong Kong pub­lish­er, then mov­ing into free­lance arti­cles and fea­tures, with bylines for var­i­ous online pub­li­ca­tions, such as Wealth of Geeks, Fan­sided, and Detour Mag­a­zine.


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