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6 “Toxic Culture” Red Flags To Look Out For In A Job Interview

7 mins

Before a job interview, there are many things you may do to make sure you're presenting your...

Before a job interview, there are many things you may do to make sure you're presenting yourself to the interviewer in the best possible way. It’s why you wear smart clothes, prepare your answers, research the company, act confident. You do the preparation because you know that the interviewer is going to be looking for any red flags that will convince them not to hire you.

But have you considered that your interviewer should be doing the same? 

Job interviews are never really one-sided, and you should always use them as an opportunity to decide if this is a place you really want to work. Company culture is one of the most important factors that determine people’s job satisfaction and how long they’ll stay at a business, so understanding it early on is vital for making the right decision for you. 

Fortunately, the interviewer is unlikely to have prepared their side in quite as much detail as you will have prepared yours, which means if there are any red flags, they should be easy to spot - as long as you know what to look out for. Here’s how to identify the most common ones:

They don’t value your time

Still waiting in reception at 9.20 for an interview that was due to start at 9? That’s a sign of two things: either they’re keeping you waiting deliberately or they’re too unorganised to start on time. Either way, it’s a problem because it shows they don’t value your time as much as their own - and that’s unlikely to change if they hire you. 

Of course there are always unforeseen circumstances and you should be considerate of any reasons given for delaying your start time (particularly if they come with an apology); but you also have to judge if those reasons are likely to be recurring. Because if something else was considered more important than you for this - it’s always going to be that way. 

Time management is an essential skill in every job. Not demonstrating that in a basic way in the interview points to a chaotic company culture, and you have to decide if you want to be part of that. 

They can’t make a decision

Getting called back in for another interview is a great, exciting sign. Getting called back for your fourth or fifth interview starts getting excessive. How many more of these will you have to go through before they decide whether to give you the job? 

Unfortunately, some companies do like to drag out the interview process over several weeks, getting you to answer the same sorts of questions with more senior managers or people from different departments. And most of the time it’s not the fault of any one interviewer, it’s just part of the process put in place across the business. 

But you do have to ask yourself if you want to be part of a business that is either so indecisive or so beholden to unnecessary rules that they force you through multiple rounds of interviews? Not to mention, as above, bringing you back again and again without an answer disrespects your time.

They get free work out of you

A presentation, a sample, a task - there are many things you may be asked to do in addition to a conversation-led interview and most of the time that’s absolutely fine. It is of course important to demonstrate that you have the knowledge and capability required of the job, rather than just talking about it. 

But sometimes the requests go too far and you find yourself being asked to generate solutions for their current clients or give detailed methodologies of your approach to an engineering issue, or generate content that they can publish themselves. 

If it seems like they’re asking for anything more than what they would reasonably need to determine your skills, politely ask the purpose of the task and explain your concerns. Then find somewhere that will wait to hire you before getting work from you.

They're not transparent

Most interviewers will give you the opportunity to ask your own questions at the end, but the best interviews are more-discussion based, allowing you to ask questions throughout in a more natural way. This also lets you see if there are any topics the interviewer shies away from, whether they change the subject or straight up refuse to answer. 

Ask yourself why it might be that they didn’t want to talk about that particular subject, and how that reflects on the company culture. If their tone changes when you talk about pay, or progression opportunities or diversity metrics - it may be a sign that these aren’t areas they want to be open about as a business. 

And if it’s not something they want to talk about in an interview, it’s not likely to be an important part of their culture when they hire you. So if it’s important to you or your values, it might be time to find somewhere that will talk about it. 

They don’t seem excited about their own business

Take it with a pinch of salt, because some people are more introverted than others, but if the interviewer (or anyone else you see or talk to within the business) seems very downbeat or unenthusiastic about the company or role, that can be a big sign that they are not dealing with a positive workplace culture. 

More importantly, if they seem stressed, anxious, distracted - that could be a major sign of a chaotic workplace that’s putting a lot of demands on people and not giving them enough well-being support. 

Not everyone’s going to be bouncy and chipper all the time, but you get a sense from the way they talk about the business when discussing your role. Joining somewhere should be an exciting time and if they can’t demonstrate any level of enthusiasm themselves at this stage, you could soon be feeling the same way they do. 

They don't mention ED&I

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is the biggest topic for all workplaces right now, and most organisations should be talking about their approach to it all the time (we certainly do). 

So if you haven’t seen anything publicly about a company’s ED&I commitments, an interview is the perfect time to ask. If they dodge the question or don’t have an answer about their strategy - or if their answer is very vague - it suggests they’re not serious about creating a fair and equitable workplace. 

At which point you can ask yourself if this company’s values align with your own? Do you want to be part of a company that doesn’t put in the work to treat all its employees fairly? 

Find the best company culture

At Amoria Bond we’re proud of our inclusive, positive and fun culture that’s led by our own employees through various internal committees. We strive to create a working environment that everyone can enjoy, that gives people the opportunity and clear structure to progress their own careers. 

Learn more about our culture #InsideAmoria and how you can be a part of making us the best recruitment company to work for.