Sure, job interviews are nerve-racking—especially if it’s a role you really want.
But when you’re in the throes of printing out résumés, rehearsing answers and making sure your interview outfit is culturally on-cue, don’t forget to observe what you can about the company, and your interviewer too.
Because there’s one little-heralded truth about job interviews: They’re a two-way street, and paying attention as you go through the process can show you a lot about what working there might really be like.
Recent college grad Nihad Peavler, 23, thought she’d found the perfect job when she heard about a role assisting a film producer on a major project. It seemed so glamorous!
Then, in the interview, her would-be boss swore like a trooper, and couldn’t get Nihad’s name right, saying it “was too ethnic.” Despite her misgivings, Peavler took the position. She lasted all of four months. And it turned out those first few clues were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
“She was like the boss in ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ except not as important,” she now says, wryly.
And, if you keep your wits about you, you can determine a lot about the job you’re gunning for by reading between the lines. Of course, job number-one is to impress your interviewer and make them want you—you can always decline the offer if it doesn’t feel like a fit. But don’t forget to take stock while you’re busy knocking their socks off.
“An interview should be an employer’s best day,” says Dana Manciagli, a career expert and consultant in Seattle, “so candidates should pay close attention to anything that seems amiss. If things aren’t right at the interview, it can only go downhill from there, and you’ll likely end up looking for another job.”
Here are eight red flags to pay attention to before you sign on the dotted line.
1. Your interviewer is very late.
“Not respecting someone’s time isn’t just rude, it’s bad for business,” says Manciagli. Sure, scheduling mishaps happen, but she points out that interviews are often scheduled with plenty of lead time, and most hiring managers should give themselves at least 15 minutes of prep before someone comes in. For your interviewer to sidle in considerably later than you agreed on, without an ounce of contrition, is a major red flag. “If they’re this rude at the interview, imagine how they would be as a manager,” she notes.
2. She badmouths the person you’d be replacing.
While it’s appropriate for your interviewer to talk about current roles in the department, or how it’s structured, be wary of any hiring manager who badmouths someone who just left the company, or the boss she currently works for.
“No hiring manager should ever speak ill about the person they are replacing. That shows poor character and judgment and also speaks poorly of the organization,” says Melissa Gentile, a recruiter in New York City.
3. The hiring manager hasn’t reviewed your résumé.
If you’re one of many candidates coming in that day, it’s entirely possible that the hiring manager may not have spent a lot of quality time with your résumé, but they also shouldn’t react as if you just dropped in from Mars.
While this realization may (rightly) give you pause, it’s also an opportunity you can use to your advantage: Manciagli suggests using your interviewer’s lack of preparation, as off-putting as it may be, to package yourself as best as possible for the position: “When they open with, ‘Tell me about yourself,’ you can control which parts of your career to highlight,” she says.
As for whether this is truly a deal-breaker, first consider who didn’t do her homework: If it’s a recruiter who meets with hundreds of candidates a day, file it away, but don’t be overly concerned. If it’s the person who would be your manager, pay closer attention and keep your eyes open for clues during the rest of the interview. She may just have been rushed that day, or it could signal a more serious issue.