Six red flags for candidates about companies

We’ve talked about red flags about candidates for companies that are hiring, but what about the other side of the coin? There can be red flags for candidates regarding companies as well. Here are a few that stand out to us:


1. Not living up to set expectations during the interview

The biggest red flag we see is when companies set expectations for the interviewing and hiring process and don’t live up to them. For example, they tell you the interview will be a four-step process but after three interviews they want to book three more with you before they make a decision. This lack of planning can be a sign of operational inexperience.

However, it is sometimes true that things change during the interview process and you need to allow room for things to develop. For example, if you’re interviewing for a director position, then things change and they need to hire a VP instead, they may want you to jump through a few more interview hoops (e.g., with the CEO, leadership team, or the board) or they may say you aren’t a good fit for the new role. As long as they are up front and tell you about the changes, you should be ok.

When things do change, the important thing is how the company handles the situation. Are things changing because the organization is learning and integrating new data or is it because they never had a plan in the first place? You can tell based on the way they explain the change to you. While the company should be clear about the changes, don’t expect or demand full transparency regarding the reason. Perhaps the VP of sales was fired during the course of your interview process and they can’t tell you about it because of privacy laws. The red flag is companies that can’t reach a decision and/or that don’t navigate the changes in a clear way.


2. Monopolizing the interview process

If the interviewer doesn’t create space fairly early and often for the candidate’s questions, that’s a red flag. As a candidate, you understand the need to sell yourself and let the company ask questions, but there has to be reciprocity. If they spend all their time quizzing you and don’t let you quiz them back, look twice.

Sometimes there isn’t time for this during the first interview as initial qualifications are being discovered, but if you move into a deeper interview process and aren’t given a chance to ask questions and get a sense of the company culture or the objectives of the job, that’s the red flag. At a bare minimum, it shows that the company treats hiring decisions as one-sided, which they never are. It could also indicate deeper cultural issues regarding how the company values and treats employees and their opinions. Work is a relationship just like romance – if you go on three dates and haven’t been able to ask questions of your potential partner before diving into something long-term, that’s not a good sign.


3. Expectations out of whack with the market

If there’s a mismatch between the interview questions and the stated position description, that’s a red flag. For example, if you’re interviewing for a Director of Marketing role and all of the questions seem more geared towards a VP-level position, dig deeper. If they haven’t explicitly stated that their needs have changed (see #1 above), that’s a bad sign. In this example, if you’re interviewing for a director-level position and they ask you about owning P&L (which isn’t normally a director-level task), you should push back. “I didn’t realize that owning P&L would be part of this position. Has that changed?”

This may also be an indication that you would be expected to do higher-level work than you would be compensated for.


4. Narcissistic tendencies

If you get the vibe that the interviewer is the type who feels the need to be the smartest person in the room and tends to put down others, that’s a sign of a toxic company culture or at least a toxic manager relationship. Make sure that individual isn’t representative of the whole company (although a good hiring manager should be, culture-wise). If they are, it’s a big red flag.


5. Too many disgruntled employees

In the same vein, too many complaints from former (and current) employees can be a red flag. Why were/are people unhappy? There’s a lot more grace here with startups, whose nature is much more chaotic. As we mentioned before, while Glassdoor, Google, and LinkedIn can be good resources, don’t just listen to the complainers. Try to get an overall picture of the company, its culture, and the way it treats its employees.


6. Lack of consensus about the role

If you talk to multiple different members of the leadership team and they all have a different perspective on the position regarding responsibilities and the nature of the role, that’s a big red flag. If the VP of Sales sees the role one way, the VP of Marketing another, and the CEO yet another, they don’t have their ducks in a row. This is especially common in startups. While it’s fine to brainstorm different ideas about a role while whiteboarding, they should have a clear picture of what they want before beginning interviews. Consensus should be easy to achieve in an interview process. If it’s not evident, that’s a big red flag that could indicate future conflict and/or lack of planning within the organization.


As we said in our post about red flags for interviewers and recruiters, red flags aren’t dealbreakers, but they are reasons to dig deeper and get the full story. Make sure you know what you’re getting into.

We hope you find a company that’s a perfect fit for you and would love to help – give us a call at 877-HIRE-EDU!

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