Often it can seem like just landing a job interview can be a challenge in itself, and in this economy walking away from a potential opportunity may be a risky move. But you might just be better off staying on the market than taking a position that makes you miserable.

That’s why it is important to evaluate your potential employer as much as they are evaluating you during the job interview process. There are some give-away signs of a toxic work environment to look out for.

Red flags to watch for:

They leave you hanging  

Some employers wait a really long time after the initial interview before getting in touch with you about next steps or a decision. This is extremely discourteous to candidates who generally have a lot riding on the outcome of a job interview. This can be an anxious and emotional period for many people. Leaving candidates hanging without a word for weeks after an interview is disrespectful. You can take a clue as to how a company treats their employees by how they treat their prospective employees.

It’s like visiting the set of a zombie movie

Try to get a look around the office when you’re in for the interview. Do the people look happy? Are they talking with each other at all? A quiet work environment can be good for concentration, but if you’re going to be joining this team, you want to know that people are friendly and that they get along. If everyone seem dreary and miserable, watch out.

Also take a look at the work stations. Some people like shared open concept tables, other people need a more private work space. Make sure that you can see yourself actually working there.

Your life would become a casualty of the commute

I once borrowed a car for a job interview. I drove up there in the midmorning for the interview. It took twenty minutes to get there.

This didn’t prepare me for the reality of what the rush hour, public transit commute was really going to be like once I got the job. It required taking the subway to the end of the line, then a bus ride into an industrial park area and then walking a pedestrian bridge across highways and into what was basically a wasteland of office spaces, warehouses and parking lots. It took over an hour and a half each way. And there was nowhere around the office to go for lunch – or even buy a pack of gum. Around noon each day a ‘snack truck’ would pull up in the parking lot and honk its horn. Although I lasted a year out there, I was never so happy as when I landed my next role with an easy commute in a cool city neighbourhood with nearby cafes, shops and atmosphere.

Okay, the commute is not necessarily a part of the company culture, but where they choose to locate says something about an organization’s values, and it will have a huge impact on your quality of life. Keep it in mind when sizing up an opportunity.

The interview is way too short

We’d all like to get snapped up and hired quickly, but when a company offers you a job without bothering to find out anything about you, it likely means that they’re desperate. This can indicate that the position has a very high turnover rate. There’s usually a reason for that. (And it’s usually not good.)

A very short interview can also mean that the employer has already decided on another candidate and is just going through the motions with you. In that case you also shouldn’t get your hopes up for this job.

On the other hand, when the process is ridiculously long and you have to jump through countless hoops, it can indicate that a company has many layers of bureaucracy behind everything they do. This can be an indicator of a frustrating place to work.

No one seems to want to work there for very long

If the person interviewing you and everyone you meet have only been with the company for a very short period of time, it can indicate an unpleasant work environment that people leave as soon as they can. Like I said, be wary of high turnover rates.

Of course it could also be a sign of growth. The company may have been on a recent hiring spree. Do some research. Find out if they’ve been expanding and what their reputation is amongst former employees. Google them. Look them up on Glassdoor.

If it turns out that people are anxious to jump ship, you might be better off not signing on in the first place.

It’s all done surreptitiously

Sometimes it happens that you’re being hired for a role where the person you’re replacing doesn’t know they’re being replaced. This causes several problems. Walking in the door Monday morning to take the place of someone who was given the axe on Friday afternoon can lead to resentment among your new team as you are seen as responsible for their former coworker’s downfall. (This despite the fact you’ve never even met the person.)

Also, when you’re hired on in such a hush hush way, you don’t get to meet anyone on the team. Sometimes the interviews themselves take place in coffee shops and other locations to keep the person being replaced in the dark. This means you don’t have the opportunity to see the working environment or get a look at how happy the people seem to be. (So you may be missing some of the red flags.)

Plus, once you’ve seen the company treat your predecessor this way, it can make you a little paranoid that they may be lining up your replacement behind the scenes at any time too.

It’s important to work and to have a job, of course. There are bills to pay. But being in a toxic environment can take a huge toll on your mental and even physical health. The quality if your work will suffer and your own personal brand can be tainted by association. You need a paycheque, sure, but you that’s not all that you need. Steer clear of noxious workplaces if you can.


See also: 

Interview tips from the Toronto Academy of Acting

The 5 most common interview questions (and how to answer them like a boss)


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