How large a part your job plays in your identity or affects your self-esteem varies widely from person to person, of course. I know I always get very invested in my work. Some (my wife) would say too invested. Regardless, the working environment, the commute, and the culture of where you work will have an impact on your quality of life.

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 is going to make you miserable.

It’s not normal or okay to dread getting out of bed in the morning. That’s why it is important to evaluate your potential employer as much as they are evaluating you during the job interview.

Everyone’s priorities and preferences are different, so keep in mind what matters most to you. However, from my experience here are some red flags of a bad opportunity that you should reconsider signing on for.

Sings that the job will ruin your life

The new boss is a tool

You be first approached by a recruiter or an HR person, but at some point during the hiring process you will almost certainly meet with the hiring manager. This is the person who will be supervising you. Does he or she seem positive, interested, and interesting? Beware of interviewers who seem rude or distracted, or who seem to be looking at your resume for the first time in the interview.

If they’re passive aggressive, constantly cut you off, check their phone while you’re talking, or machine gun you with a barrage of aggressive questions, get out. These are all real-world examples.

The number one reason people leave their jobs is because of their relationship with their manager. Ask about their management style. I once had a hiring manager tell me, “You’ll find me a very ‘hands-on’ manager…” That should have been a red flag.

Another time, while discussing my previous job, the interviewer asked, “Do you know if they’re hiring?” Red flag.

The working environment sucks

Where will you actually be working? Does it seem like a place where you could enjoy spending hours at a time? Some people thrive in open concept areas and are inspired by teamwork and banter. Others need a private space to concentrate.

Try to get a look around the work area. Do your potential new coworkers seem engaged and happy. If everyone seem dreary and miserable, watch out. Half-empty spaces where it looks like people used to work can be a sign of a sinking ship. Ask about the situation.

If you can, get a look a people’s work stations. Have they decorated them with photos and personal items? Do they look ‘lived in’ or austere. The difference being that people are much more likely to personalize a workplace where they are happy and feel secure. If they are looking to jump ship or suspect they may be let go with little notice, they’ll clear the clutter so that they’re able to exit on short notice.

A crowd of people huddled outside the front door grumbling and smoking can also be a bad sign.

Your commute would be a twice daily ordeal

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.

The commute will have a huge impact on your quality of life. Keep it in mind when sizing up an opportunity.


I’ve been in the wrong job a couple of times, and while the experiences weren’t always pleasant, they did serve as stepping stones towards the jobs I’ve held that I have loved.

Sometimes you have to take a bad gig in order to obtain the skills, experience, or connections you need to get to a good one. At least if you know the signs to watch for of an incompetent manager or a poisonous environment, you can calculate at the outset whether or not it’s worth the time and torment to take a job that sucks.


– Follow Workopolis on Twitter

– Sign up for the Workopolis Weekly newsletter

– Listen to Safe for Work, the Workopolis podcast