Career Advice / Job Search

Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview

. 9 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview

Kool Kanya brings you Ace the Race: Your guide to a successful job search.

Job interviews – they’re not fun. They can be nerve-wracking experiences for some people. I suffer from anxiety, and job interviews are my Kryptonite. But, as is with any matter related to adulting, one must suck it up and do it because it’s important. 

But not all job interviews are created the same. 

I’ve interviewed for many places where there was always something or the other that felt off, and in some cases, I decided to take up the opportunity despite having these feelings because I didn’t know any better. Let’s just say that I should have listened to my gut.

Considering the job market in current times, it may seem ridiculous to give up a job opportunity.

But the interview process in the organisation – from start to finish – can indicate whether you’re going to be happy and gain valuable experience.

As a potential employee, there is more than just your work experience that should matter to your potential employer. You should feel valued as a human being who will take the organisation forward.

That said, here are some red flags you shouldn’t ignore during the interview process.

There’s lack of information or negative information about the organisation online

Shilpa Karra had an eye-opening experience when applying for a job overseas. The interview process was fairly straightforward, and after 20 days of interview rounds, she was asked to send scans of her certificates, bank details, and other important documents. 

Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview
Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview

But she never heard from them. A month later, she read an article in the newspaper that the company had been guilty of duping at least 175 candidates over the last 6 months.

Several organisations have active social media handles, which can give you a good idea about the organisation’s outlook and work culture.

But if the organisation doesn’t have a great social media presence or you’ve read mostly negative opinions about them online, you should be sceptical.

Many former employees post anonymous reviews on websites such as Glassdoor, and one odd negative review shouldn’t change your perception. But it’s worth noting if you see multiple negative reviews that bring up the same issues. Similarly, if you find too many positive reviews that sound the same, they could be fake. Be sure to go through press releases, news pieces and employer profiles before you take that job.

Your interviewer doesn’t give you enough time and attention

You have been given a time slot for your interview, and you’re expected to be present at that time – the same goes for your interviewer.

Making you wait for a long time, speeding up the interview, being constantly distracted, and not listening intently can indicate that your organisation may have a high turnover rate – if your interview is that insignificant, there’s a chance they do this very often.

And that means their work culture isn’t good for employees, which is forcing them to leave.

Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview
Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview

Your interviewer is rude 

Sometimes, interviews can be tough. Difficult questions may be asked, and you may be grilled about your role and skills. But that’s different from the interviewer being rude and disrespectful.

If your interviewer snaps at you for asking a question, argues in a way that only puts you down, or criticizes you, you should reconsider taking the job.

They wouldn’t make for a good boss, and you’d most likely be miserable working there.

Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview
Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview

Your interviewer reschedules the meeting multiple times

It’s completely understandable if your interviewer changes the time or date of an interview owing to unforeseen circumstances; they may have a valid reason to give you. However, if they reschedule more than two or three times, it doesn’t reflect well on them. It indicates a lack of professionalism and that they don’t value your time.

This can easily translate into longer work hours or the lack of a work-life balance.

If you see this happen and with no explanation or apology, it’s best to look elsewhere.

Your interviewer gives vague responses to your questions

As a potential employee, you are entitled to ask questions regarding work timings, leaves, overtime, and company culture. What counts is how your interviewer answers these questions. If they say something like, “Work never sleeps” or “We want someone who puts work above everything else”, work timings in this organisation are nothing more than a concept; they would expect you to be available at all times.

If they don’t give you a proper response regarding leaves, or dodge questions regarding overtime pay, be assured that the organisation does not value work-life balance or your efforts as an employee.

If they make you feel guilty for asking valid questions, it’s advisable to let this job go.

Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview
Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview

Your interviewer seems stingy about your CTC

I once got a call from HR regarding my job application. Even though I was asking for a very reasonable salary hike, she tried to negotiate a lower salary. I firmly said no – the next thing I know, the company’s CEO gave me a call out of the blue and pressed me to settle for a lower salary! 

Negotiations aren’t always easy – it is known that you will have to negotiate your expected salary.

However, if your organisation is being particularly difficult about negotiations, especially when you know the ongoing market rate, it shows how little the organisation values labour.

You can choose to go for the CTC they are offering if you’re in dire need, but remember that in their eyes, you can be easily replaced by someone who is willing to settle for even less.

Another red flag is when your interviewer stresses more on your earning potential instead of your current salary – trying to sell you the position by telling you about their great appraisal system or the bonus and perks you’d get over your salary most likely means that you’re going to be underpaid.

The interview process seems a little too easy

I’ve had my share of bad interviews, but I once had a seemingly spectacular one – I wasn’t asked a lot of questions, I wasn’t given an assignment, and I was offered the job within an hour! As a fresher, I believed that it was because I did well in my previous job and had garnered a name on the internet; but I had a very strong gut feeling that something was off.

Divya Sebastian’s experience was similar to mine. An agency called her to ask if she was still looking for a job during her early days of job-hunting, and when she responded positively, the CEO called and welcomed her to the team – no interview; no discussions around her role or salary.

Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview
Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview

If your interviewer doesn’t ask you enough questions about your work or skills, doesn’t tell you about the organisation, and doesn’t even delve into your job role, run. They’re most likely hiding something or are in big trouble.

If you’re sure that the organisation isn’t in trouble, it’s most likely that they want to fulfil some kind of quota or that the HR is simply trying to meet their targets for the month/year.

Either way, you don’t want to work in a place where they couldn’t care less about your work.

The organisation is extending the interview process

Alternatively, if the organisation you’ve applied for is taking way too much time with your application, it’s indicative of the fact that you’re either not selected, or that they’re not doing a good job with keeping their candidates informed.

If you have already appeared for the interview, the organisation is obliged to keep you informed.

If they take their own sweet time and don’t apologise for the delay, take the job offer with a pinch of salt.

The organisation asks you to work for free 

Yes, this happens! In one of my early interview rounds with a reputed media house, I was asked to move to another city and do a one-month internship with the organisation before they could ‘decide’ if I was a good fit.

The interviewer can ask you to work on something as a part of your ‘assignment’ or just to ‘check’ if you’re a good fit.

An assignment or two is acceptable; however, if it continues to happen and you don’t get a concrete response after any, they’re most likely using your services and are not paying you for them.

You don’t want to work in an organisation that doesn’t value your labour. 

Your organisation keeps changing the job title or description

Being given a vague job description or a different job title at the end of an interview is another red flag. You may be a better fit for another job title, but if you haven’t been informed about it beforehand, it doesn’t reflect well. If this happens with you, ask more questions about the new job title. Ask if you can re-negotiate your salary for the new title.

If you keep getting vague answers or you’re getting paid less, it’s most likely that your organisation will give you all sorts of work with no specific agenda.

There needs to be clarity with regards to your role in the organisation.

Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview
Red Flags: How to Spot a Toxic Workplace During an Interview

Your interviewer makes you feel uncomfortable

Whether it’s in the way they look at you, the way they address you, or the questions they ask, any discomfort you feel is a red flag.

Along similar lines, if your interviewer asks you questions like, “When are you planning on getting married?” or “Are you planning on having children in the near future?”, they are doing so to gauge whether you’ll be able to give your time to the company and if you’re going to stick around.

These questions are mostly directed at women because of the sexist assumption that women would choose family over work ‘naturally’. Feel free to confront your interviewer regarding the sexist nature of these questions. Don’t hesitate to leave a company review on websites such as Glassdoor for others to see.

Your interviewer shows disrespect for your profession 

I once found myself in an interview where the head of the organisation told me that my writing did not have potential because I wrote more about ‘mass popular culture’, and they produced content around films. This only reflected an elitism from their end; needless to say, I didn’t go back to them.

You may encounter an interviewer who doesn’t view your previous work as significant, which is a huge red flag.

Your skills and work experience must have made a certain impression for them to call you in for an interview – criticizing your work or looking down on it is distasteful.

You may not be happy working there as your potential employer might harbour preconceived notions about your skills.

The interview process is a rollercoaster ride in some cases – you are likely to have many anecdote-worthy experiences in your professional journey. Keeping these tips in mind should help you weed out potentially harmful workplaces, and look for workplaces that value you and your work. What are some of your own personal red flags? Tell us in the comments below!

You’re invited! Join the Kool Kanya women-only career Community where you can network, ask questions, share your opinions, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. Join now.