5 Ways to Spot a Bad Environment During the Hiring Process

Recognizing a bad work environment before you accept a job offer can save you time, frustration and the repercussions of making a wrong career move. Fortunately, there are many red flags during the hiring process; you can learn to spot a negative culture, toxic teammates, or unreasonable bosses before it’s too late.

Everyone You Meet is New

If everyone you meet during the interview process has been employed at the company for a year or less, that’s a troubling sign that warrants further investigation, explained Jennifer Bland, senior software engineer with Stanley Black & Decker.

“High turnover often results from poor working conditions, such as 80-hour work weeks coupled with the lack of growth and promotional opportunities,” Bland said. What’s more, a revolving door puts additional pressure on the remaining team members to maintain current projects and systems.

During the interviews, ask about the history of the position and why it’s vacant; also touch on the expectations of your future boss and teammates to see if they’re reasonable, Bland advised. If the company has received a fair amount of negative criticism from current and former employees on sites such as Glassdoor, that’s another indication that this may not be the right organization for you.

The Hiring Manager Can’t Provide Clear Direction

If the hiring manager can’t articulate specific priorities and goals for the team over the next six, 12 and 18 months, you may want to think twice before accepting an offer.

Rudderless leadership often leads to goal-altering changes during a sprint, releases that are scrapped at the last minute, and frustration because you can never finish what you start, Bland warned. She urges fellow tech pros to proceed with caution if the hiring manager seems unable to establish clear expectations regarding budget, schedules and priorities.

The Employer Requires 24/7 On-Call Status

If a potential employer expects you to answer emails and respond to broken code at all hours of the day and night, it could be the sign of a controlling manager. Weak managers often resort to draconian control to keep their team on track; some even refuse to consider telecommuting or remote work because they want to keep their eye on you. Be aware that controlling managers have a knack for sapping creativity and killing morale.

The Hiring Manager Dominates the Conversation

Watch out for the toxic narcissist, warned Zsolt Nagy, founder of Dev Career Mastery and a software engineer. It’s easy to spot one during the hiring process because they make a job interview all about them. In addition, they ignore your questions or concerns; if you listen closely, you might hear them make statements that are inconsistent or don’t add up.

“Colleagues or managers with strong narcissistic tendencies may violate boundaries,” Nagy explained. “For instance, he or she may commit to a deadline for a major initiative without consulting the rest of the team or the project schedule.”

When things go wrong, they don’t take responsibility for their actions, and usually blame others for their mistakes. Once problems with communication, honesty and trust permeate the culture, they create stress and tension for everyone else.

The Company Values Processes Over People

If the job expects you to execute the same vintage, drawn-out processes over and over again without questioning why or trying to find a more efficient solution, you could be joining a company where processes are more highly valued than people (or results).

Be wary of teams or technical environments that rely on lengthy processes to perform tasks such as onboarding clients, fixing code or deploying patches… even in an emergency. To avoid a career misstep, ask how long it takes to perform tasks related to your position or the procedures for handling emergency situations, Nagy advised.

After all, it can be demoralizing to work in an environment where you can’t suggest improvements or work at your highest capacity. Fortunately, the job-interview process can give you all the clues you need about what to expect.

3 Responses to “5 Ways to Spot a Bad Environment During the Hiring Process”

  1. Been there and witnessed it

    I would have to add a callous HR department as well as being denied time off and/or constant issues with payroll. Glassdoor does have very detailed reviews on what is wrong with a company but I have yet to see any such issues addressed, let alone corrected. Bad work environments drive good people away and the ones who stay tend to be part of the problem.

  2. “some even refuse to consider telecommuting or remote work because they want to keep their eye on you”

    It is amazing when companies make it painfully clear during an interview that telecommuting isn’t on the table. These same companies are in the heart of Seattle yet won’t pay you a wage necessary for dealing with Seattle traffic every single day.

    Thanks. I’ll pass.