A dysfunctional workplace is like an unhealthy relationship.
At first, you’re excited about all the possibilities: a name brand company, a higher salary, a more prestigious title. Those perks make you happy for a while, but eventually, the shine wears off and you start to question the bigger picture. You’re forced to admit the company culture is a bad fit for you. In hindsight, you realize that the warning signs were probably there from the beginning—you just didn’t want to see them.
Think about an interview like a first date. You and your potential new company are evaluating each other to see if there’s a fit. Here’s how to spot the red flags before accepting a job offer (and long before you’re settled at your new desk).
Email and phone communications are confusing
In our experience, the way a company handles the beginning stages with a new employee is 100 percent indicative of the company culture. A company with strong values makes sure that those values are reflected in every aspect of the business. If clarity, promptness, and organization are important, they’ll make sure you see that side of them throughout the interview process.
If you’re confused about what time to show up, where to show up, who you’re meeting with, or what the position is, take note. If your point person’s email is poorly written or their email etiquette seems off, it’s okay to use that as a data point.
Your interviewer gossips about previous employees
In some cases, you might be interviewing for a position that someone left hastily or unprofessionally, leaving the department scrambling to find a new candidate to fill it. While that’s frustrating for the organization, it’s not something that the interviewer needs to share with you.
In fact, the interviewer shouldn’t share much about the previous employee during the interview at all, except to explain the details of her role. Hearing your interviewer say things like, “She really wasn’t very detail-oriented,” or “She asked for too much vacation,” means that the workplace culture doesn’t discourage gossip.
It’s also a warning sign that the team might compare you to the “old you” frequently. Even if it feels good to hear you’re doing a better job than she did, isn’t it better to know that everyone’s performance was evaluated privately and appropriately?
The interview seems really short
When you’re interviewing at a company for the first time, there’s a lot to take in. You’re trying to absorb what the office looks, feels, and even smells like, while also trying to seem both professional and relatable. Plus trying to get some information about the position. So yeah—a lot.
A good interviewer, one who cares about connecting with the candidate and who values being patient and thorough, won’t allow her anxiety about the rest of her day to rush you through the interview. She’ll be a direct reflection of the company culture you’re looking for.
If you end up getting offered the position, in many cases, you’re going to spend more time with each other during the week than your own families and friends. It’s in everyone’s interest to spend some time making sure it’s a good fit. If you’re not given that opportunity, that’s a red flag.
HR is non-existent or isn’t respected
The lucky thing about going through an interview process is that you’re immediately confronted with the department that’s in charge of policing personnel issues and culture—human resources.
Right off the bat, how HR interacts with you and how the employees interact with HR should give you plenty of insight into what the company culture is like.
Some questions to keep in mind: does the company’s HR department consist of one ancient, overworked employee who can’t keep the new hires’ names straight? Is it a corporate behemoth that’s so bogged down by business jargon that they’ve failed to connect with the employees at all? Is the department more interested in flashy perks and attracting top talent than communicating in a helpful, human way?
If the people you’d be working with roll their eyes at HR, or if you email with them and get a weird response, chances are that HR won’t be your best ally if tricky situations arise.