8 Signs You Might Not Want to Take the Job

Pauline Millard

interview red flagsSure, 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.

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  • Christine Tarlecki

    oh so much truth to this story!!!!! I interviewed for a job years ago, and i immediately felt awful vibes from the woman who was to be my boss. she was late, ate during the interview and bad mouthed the person i was replacing. I got and took the job, yet i hated every second. After 9 months i was outta there!

  • robin

    I once had a scheduled appointment with a hiring manager. When I arrived, she could not be immediately located and the receptionist, instead, decided to waltz me into the office of the company’s owner. I guess the receptionist, who had already seen my resume, was impressed with it and thought the owner should meet me. Still, he was not expecting me and was just finishing up his lunch (smacking lips, slurping on a beverage from a take-out cup). He was clearly unprepared this impromptu interview and had never even seen my resume. He then wanted me to fill out a paper application while he asked me questions from my resume. There really was no way to bounce back from that debacle of an interview and the company’s unpreparedness was off-putting.

  • kgal1298

    I’ve had a couple bosses like this. Because I don’t play nice though most of them ended up letting me go in the process of massive layoffs which in itself is a sign of a bad company culture. All I know is be thankful you got out alive or without going nuts.

  • B.

    My boyfriend has worked in the film industry for a few years now here in Hollywood, where we live. Apparently it’s pretty common for the higher-ups in that field to be just like the woman Nihad described – rude, demanding, etc. Not saying it’s right, just that many people enter that field expecting to work with and for difficult people.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other fields like that – probably the most competitive ones, as people trying to get their foot in the door without connections generally can’t afford to turn down offers just because they don’t feel warm and fuzzy about the boss.

    Makes for a stressful life though!

    • fourmore

      Advertising and marketing.

  • goddessd

    A prospective employer flew me to their office, said all the right things although I perceived the words to be somewhat hollow, had a family emergency (or something — who knows) the second day of my trip and I was on my own, and I still took the job. I relocated, showed up, and quit exactly 525,600 minutes later after a year of alternating abuse and neglect. My gut had said don’t go, but I needed a change. It was a change, all right.

  • fourmore

    Yep to everyone of these….the only one I haven’t personally experienced is the last one…which could be replaced by a manager who has “no vision”…closely related to the manager who can’t describe the job.

  • fourmore

    Another common ploy is to interview candidates with no intention of hiring them…the job has essentially been offered to an internal candidate, but for whatever reasons…they haul a bunch of people in, put them through the grind of preparing for an interview, the stress of the experience and then a few days later call to let you know the job was offered to someone within the organization. Is that a bad hiring manager or a bad culture? Either way, a dodged bullet.

    • Emily

      Sometimes they do that to have someone to compare the internal candidate with so there aren’t any issues raised at a later date. So most likely you’re a competitive candidate and are likely to be hired somewhere, just not there. It’s really crappy, but happens a lot more often than people think.

      • fourmore

        I heard they do it because they are required to post it as evidence that they are not discriminating against race, age, gender, etc. I’m sure I fit one or more of those categories. It is maddening…and unethical, imho.

      • Marie

        How horribly unfair to the candidates, especially those who may not even have a job at all, or who are desperate to work in that particular industry.

        I know it’s probably not practical but my view is if the job is meant for an internal candidate, it should be internal candidates only – some places do this!

  • Don Knotts

    I completely agree with every one of these. There are others that everyone here should think about as well:
    1. Your boss tells you that if you take the job, you’ll have to manage someone who you didn’t hire yourself, especially a former colleague or a friend of your boss. If your boss does that to you, s/he’s telling you that you are being watched not just from above but from below as well. 2. Your boss tells you that you will manage a team – but everyone in that team is in another timezone. It’s hard enough to manage people who report to you locally – imagine the hell you’ll have to endure with dealing with people elsewhere. This means you have to work your hours and their hours, make sure that they are on track (and if they aren’t, it’s YOUR fault, not theirs)
    3. Your boss claims s/he is hiring you for your domain expertise, but proceeds to tell you how to do your job. This is worse than being micromanaged, this is being picomanaged – you are dealing with a knowitall who doesn’t know anything but you have to take her/his lead and if you don’t, you’re history.


    I interviewed for an administrator position. I was asked in for a third interview to meet more of the team. They told me I was asked for another interview because some of the management team thought I would not be assertive enough. All the team asked me questions. The Maintenance director said to me you remind of our last administrator. She delegated and never followed through. He then said she was lazy and did not want to do anything. I was totally insulted. He did not even know me how could he come to that conclusion? He said this in front of 10 managers. I was highly insulted and when they called me to offer me the job I declined. If he could insult me during the interview it shows how horrible I would be treated after I worked there.