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Interview Red Flags: How to Spot Bad Employers

Everyone has an evil boss story. But most people with nasty employer tales are unwilling to admit that they saw signs of trouble when they first interviewed for the job–and took it anyway. Whether you accept the job for the salary it offers, the career bullet it can put on your resume, or the convenient location, you may live to regret your decision. After all, it’s your own fault if you spot tell-tale signs of a crummy corporate culture or supervisors from hell at your interview, yet you don’t walk away.

Signs You’re about to Take the “Job from Hell”
If you don’t know what interview red flags are by now, below are some of the reddest. Rack up several of these, and your new job will make you want to hang yourself from the rafters by your dressy scarf or necktie:

You’d be surprised to discover how many job aspirants choose to overlook these signs of disaster because they’re too preoccupied with their desire to look good and get hired. But realize this: if your interview feels uncomfortable beyond the customary jitters of selling your skills to someone who writes paychecks, chances are great that you’ll feel uncomfortable if you accept the job.

Rude Now, Rude Always
For many employers the word “etiquette” is a foreign expression, according to Wall Street Journal writer Joann S. Lublin. When Philadelphia lawyer Terry Reilly interviewed for a position with a renowned securities firm, he was made to wait six hours in the waiting room, only to have his appointment rescheduled. He was left waiting more than an hour the second time, and then no one would return his calls.

The consumer-products executive who interviewed Mitzi Chollampe continually toyed with his Blackberry device during their interview and even spent time on the phone talking dinner plans with his wife.

International marketing manager Melissa Dantz says it’s imperative to never let financial pressures “dictate the necessity of accepting any job offer.” Dantz once accepted a position from a boss who expected her to back up his lies about the number of clients his firm represented, a ploy to attract more business. The notion that you face scarce career options in your profession can cloud your thinking. Be realistic, so you don’t find yourself taking an unreasonable risk with a company that flies more red flags than a Chinese May Day parade.

After all, dealing with a bad boss can not only sap your ability to work for a company, but it can seep into your family life and tax your physical and emotional health. The Boston Globe reports that if you haven’t had a bad boss yet, you will. Most so-called “bad boss” experiences, the paper says, are caused by managerial bullies who can’t juggle their own lives, have communication problems, and are poor at offering constructive performance feedback.

Weigh Your Job and Career Options Wisely
Here are some solid ways to get a better angle on your prospective employer before you sign on the bottom line of any job offer. If you have access to other employees, here are some questions you should be asking them:

Horror stories are legion. One worker, with the promise of anonymity, told LabMice.net that, “The technology company I worked for interviewed me in a nice modern office that is occupied by their HR department. On my first day, I was taken to my workspace–a 4×4 foot cubicle in an old building that hadn’t been updated since the 1930’s. The place stunk from the old carpet, the “sea-green” paint was peeling, the plaster from the ceiling was crumbling onto the desks below, and the air conditioning didn’t work. To make it worse, the building was infested with cockroaches, which would often crawl across my keyboard while I was working.”

Another told the story of a worker at a “prestigious ‘Big 8′ consulting firm that required all of its employees to dress ‘two levels higher than the client.’” In order to fit in, he spent a small fortune on new suits, which left with him very little money for day to day expenses. On his first day, he brought a bag lunch but was told by one of his peers that eating at your desk was frowned upon at the company. The next day, he went to a local fast food restaurant and was told, “We don’t do fast food.” Then he was told flat out that the corporate culture ‘required’ him to eat at a sit down restaurant, and never be seen ‘going cheap.’

The bottom line: you need to enter your interviews with your eyes wide open. You need to be prepared to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ depending on what you learn. If you agree to a job after a series of conversations where your gut tells you to run away, you’ll only have yourself to blame if your boss turn out to be the Boss from Hell.

Publish date: June 28, 2008