by Guest Author, Beth Ann Mayer
Remember: You’re interviewing the employer as much as they’re interviewing you
The job market has been wild for the last few years. Pandemic layoffs and the Great Resignation led to staff shortages, led to hiring booms, led to layoffs.
After tons of layoffs, particularly in tech and media, many people may be in a situation where they’re hunting for their next adventure. Or, you may be ready to move on from your current gig, so you’re sending off resumes off-hours. Whatever the reason you’re applying for jobs, experts share that you’re not the only one who has to prove something during the interview process. And as the applicant, there are some job interview red flags you should be aware of while you’re going through the interview process.
“Many people approach an interview with a single focus: getting the job,” says Andrew McCaskill, LinkedIn career expert. “But in addition to doing your research on the company in advance and showing the value you offer, you should use the interview to ask questions to find out if the position and the company are a good fit for you.”
That means looking out for red flags, including one in particular.
What’s the Biggest Red Flag During a Job Interview?
Their values and culture don’t seem quite right.
“One thing that’s top of mind for professionals today is a company’s values, how they’re bringing them to life, and how they align to their own,” says McCaskill. “A company’s culture and values are something you should pay attention to in a job interview.”
It sounds obvious, but separating smoke and mirrors from authenticity can be challenging during the interview process. More than two-thirds of Americans reported that it’s a deal breaker if a company’s values don’t align with theirs, according to a LinkedIn survey from February 2023.
“One-quarter say the biggest challenge in finding a job at a company that’s committed to the culture or values they care about is knowing whether the company is truly committed or if it’s performative,” McCaskill says.
Experts share that looking for red flags within a red flag can help you suss out which companies are genuine.
“Work-life balance and career growth are the top values workers are prioritizing now,” says McCaskill. “So, to better determine whether a company is a good match during the interview process, make sure you create a list of questions to ask in advance based on what you value in your career, and that really gets to the heart of an organization’s core values.”
They may also be sketchy about compensation.
“When an interviewer over-emphasizes perks like free food and drinks, products and casual dress during a conversation about compensation, this can be a sign that they’re trying to distract from a salary offer or benefits package that leaves something to be desired,” says Emily Crowley, a career advisor and staff writer at Resume Genius.
Why Is Culture and Value Ambiguity a Massive Red Flag?
Put simply, it’s a flag that something could be massively off and that, if possible, waiting it out for a better fit is better long-term than the instant paycheck.
“Not getting clear answers during an interview around a company’s values and commitments may be a sign that their company values and your values are misaligned—or at least not a top priority,” says McCaskill.
Companies that lean too hard into office ping-pong tables and nap pods may especially be trying to hide something about what they value.
“Perks are great and may add to the overall appeal of working for a company, but thriving companies demonstrate that they truly value the well-being of their employees through fair compensation,” Crowley says.
How To Notice This Red Flag
McCaskill says applicants often struggle to ascertain a company’s true values and culture during an interview. But he empowers job candidates to act as interviewers too.
“It’s always a good idea to come prepared for an interview with questions,” McCaskill says. “That way, you can get a better feel for the company’s values, clarify any open questions you might have or bring up points that might not have been already touched upon. Some questions you could ask include, ‘I saw on your company’s LinkedIn page that you support sustainability. What efforts has the company taken in the last three years to decrease their carbon footprint?'”
From there, consider following up with the hiring manager post-interview, or ask if you can talk to other team members who weren’t part of the panel.
“This would give you time to think of anything else you’d like them to address and help them go over anything they may have missed,” McCaskill says.
Finally, scoot over to the company’s LinkedIn page to see if you can find potential connections already in your network who work for the company. McCaskill says that makes it easier to ask for intel. He suggests asking questions like: ‘What is it like to work at this company? Do you feel like they live their values? Is it more something they pay lip service to or how does it show up day-to-day? Have you found their commitment to work-life balance rings true?’
Other Red Flags During the Job Interview Process
Hiring managers and other panelists are busy. But your time is just as valuable as theirs (especially if you’re taking interviews during a lunch break).
“You, as the applicant, have worked hard to get to this point, are ready to put your best foot forward and have made yourself available to chat with a hiring manager,” McCaskill says. “So, if a company reaches out to schedule an interview but then has to reschedule multiple times or isn’t prepared for when the actual interview comes, you might want to consider looking into company reviews or reaching out to a current employee there to get a better understanding of how the company operates.”
A career coach agrees.
“Don’t ignore how the interviewers and hiring manager make you feel when you talk to them.,” says Mandy Steinhardt, a career coach. “Companies that have a culture of respect and integrity work hard to ensure that their recruitment process is conducted fairly and respectfully.”
They ask about your off-hour availability
Employees may value work-life balance, but that doesn’t mean every company is currently on board. Steinhardt says that if questions about working outside of normal hours come up frequently, it’s likely an expectation that you’ll be available during them.
Ignorance — Blatant or Subtle
Ignorance is not bliss during a job interview or while working somewhere. It can be obvious, such as illegal and discriminatory questions about your family plans. But it could be a bit sneakier.
“A lack of diversity in the interviewing panel, peers and leadership team [is a flag],” Steinhardt says.
You Leave the Interview Confused
“Another flag could be that, even after the interview is over, you still don’t have a solid idea of how the company works or what the position will entail,” McCaskill says.
You can try to avoid this ambiguity with pointed questions. But not all interviewers will play ball.
“If the hiring manager continues to provide vague responses, you may want to do some more research or follow up for more information,” McCaskill says.
Need more job search advice?
For more insights and a community of like-minded professionals join our LinkedIn group Resume Help and Advice for Professionals and Executives
About the author: Beth Ann Mayer New York-based writer and brand strategist. She is the co-founder of the content agency Lemonseed Creative.