As many people are making job changes these days, it is important to not make a bad decision. In fact, this is a great time to expand your role in your current seat because so many people are leaving. If you are generally happy where you work in terms of mission, culture, leadership, your peers, and your manager, your role, responsibilities, and compensation, potentially, can be up for negotiation right now.
If you are deciding to look around and interview for new roles, whether casually or seriously, you may leave an interview wondering if the role is a good fit — good enough to leave your current job. The good news about having a job while looking for one is you can compare what you are hearing in interviews to your current role. This can be a slightly unbalanced comparison as you truly don’t know what it is Iike to work with a new organization and you know exactly what it is like to work where you are. So, comparisons may not be 100 percent accurate.
We all have our interview war stories. I remember one time I interviewed for a management position and I was told that senior leadership walked around to see that everyone was at their desk at 7:30 am and didn’t leave until 5 pm. By the way, this wasn’t 20 years ago but only about five. Wow. I can’t believe that tidbit was shared in an interview but I was glad it was. That was a dealbreaker. To have zero flexibility in life was not in alignment with my values. For me, this was a huge red flag.
On the flip side, I was interviewing someone for a consultant role on my team, and we had a 10 am in-person interview. This individual lived in the suburbs and had to take the train to Chicago to interview at our headquarters. I did this commute myself every day at the time. He showed up 20 minutes late. I asked if everything was okay or did he have an emergency. He said he would have had to take an early train to time the 10 am interview perfectly so he grabbed a later train to avoid having any idle time before the interview. I am all for flexibility but that left a very sour impression. Take the early train and grab a cup of coffee somewhere. Don’t show up late because the interview didn’t quite fit your schedule. If 10 am didn’t work for him, he should have asked for a different time upfront. Incidentally, he did not get the job.
Our values and deal points have changed a lot in the last 18 months. People are not too keen to go into an office 5 days a week, and for some, even at all. I am generally in the Hybrid Club. I enjoy being in an office sometimes but not 5 days a week. Knowing what matters to you is important to write down before your interview and ask questions to uncover whether there is alignment. Again, having a job while interviewing for another one is a great position to be in.
So, what are the main red flags to look for in an interview? Honestly, any answer that doesn't sync with your values or desires in your career can be a red flag. No job or organization is perfect, of course, but there are some red flags that should give anyone pause.
This is my favorite red flag because I hear people are facing this challenge a lot these days. You ask about strategic goals and you receive a general answer about growth. You ask about culture and you hear: “We are collaborative and fast-paced.” Okay….how does this show up? By the way, I have asked that follow-up question; sometimes that helps clarify the vagueness and sometimes not. You ask about the job and the details of what you will be doing aren’t concrete enough for you to picture yourself doing the job. These vague answers should raise red flags as to why they are looking for this person in the first place. Try to ask follow-up questions to get specifics.
Too many hints at micromanagement.
This is not a flag that pops up all the time but I have experienced it firsthand. If you hear the hiring manager say things that indicate they could be a micromanager, run out the door. Well, not literally, but certainly ask questions about their style. I have heard a hiring manager say they like detailed updates about everything all the time. Hmmm….I have heard a hiring manager say they jump in and take over when someone doesn’t do their job to their standard. Double hmmm…I have heard direct reports of hiring managers stating that the hiring manager needs to be managed. Triple hmmm….If being micromanaged is one of the worst situations for you (my hand is raised), then ask questions and look for answers that raise this red flag.
Now more than ever, flexibility is at the top of the list for many of us. It may not have been 2-3 years ago but it matters a lot now. You certainly should ask about flexibility in when and where you work. If people dodge the question or give a vague answer, that tells you they either haven’t figured it out, which they should have some position on this by now, or they have a strict policy they are avoiding. Today, there is no reason for a knowledge worker not to have some flexibility. Now, if you want to be in an office 5 days a week, this may not matter to you. But, even if you want to commute every day, you may need time for a doctor’s appointment or need to cut out early for your daughter’s dance recital. Be sure to ask questions to see if there is flexibility for you. Some organizations are experimenting with 4-day work weeks and unlimited PTO (Paid Time Off). I love these experiments and think that is a good sign of a progressive and healthy culture.
Too many “I don’t know” answers.
Unlike vague answers where you hear a bunch of buzzwords and receive non-answers, too many “I don’t know” responses are just as concerning. If the hiring manager can’t describe the job, can’t articulate the culture, can’t share their flex-time policy, can’t comment on your possible career path, or can’t talk about the mission or goals of the organization, that is not a good sign. It shows a few things: 1) Maybe they were not prepared for the interview 2) Maybe they haven’t thought through important components of this job 3) Maybe they aren’t connected to the big picture of the organization 3) Maybe they are hiding something. In any of these cases, re-consider this “opportunity”.
This red flag may be more apparent in person but, even virtually, you can tell if people aren’t prepared for you. Examples include: the technology isn’t set up appropriately; there is more than one interviewer on the call and they are surprised to see each other; the interviewer is running late or has to cut the time short; they shuffle papers, and look or act distracted; they don’t have questions prepared for you. These are all huge red flags. Especially today, this is an important time for both parties. You need to find good talent as the interviewer; as the interviewee, you are considering a job change — a big life decision. If any of these foibles happen, take a pause. Everyone has a bad day, of course, but if this becomes a theme, take another pause.
Too fast or too slow.
I have experienced both paces. I have worked with an organization that took 6 months from when I started interviewing to an offer. This was not because I was saddled with dozens of interviews; they simply took a long time and this was not a priority. That spoke volumes to me. When you take this long, you risk losing your candidates. I also have worked with an organization where I was made an offer after two interviews. I didn’t feel I had all of my questions answered so I asked for another conversation with the hiring manager. I ended up taking the position because they took extra time to help me understand what I needed to know. The pace is tough today because people are leaving at such rapid rates. If you take even a few weeks to reach a decision, you may lose your candidate. But from a candidate's perspective, too quick should be a red flag. I have no idea how you can be so sure about a job after two 30-minute interviews. If this is you, ask for another meeting. That is okay. If you are truly their candidate, they will make time.
Recruiting and interviewing processes are moving faster than ever. Be sure to know what matters to you and prepare questions to get at those answers you need to make a decision. Watch out for these red flags. Don’t run away from your current job if you don’t know enough about the new opportunity. It is okay to go slow and make a good decision.