Don’t Ignore These 5 Red Flags When Interviewing for Tech Jobs

Sometimes, job interviews go well… but something just doesn’t feel right. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you’re not sure you want to accept an offer from this employer if it comes your way. If this is you, you probably missed some common interviewing red flags for tech jobs.

The interview process for tech jobs can be quite drawn out, which gives you plenty of time to pay attention to all aspects of the job and company. False flags exist. An eager recruiter isn’t necessarily a red flag; they might just be trying to move you into the interview room as fast as possible so the role gets filled (they need to meet their metrics, after all).

But over-enthusiasm can also be indicative of a company with high turnover, which is a huge problem. Even if the job pays well, you may not want to waste your time on a six-month gig.

With all that in mind, here are some real red flags to watch for:

Disinterested Interviewers

Whether via phone, video, or in-person, pay attention to the person (or people) interviewing you. Are they engaged in the discussion? Do they show interest in you and your skillset?

If the person interviewing you isn’t engaged in the conversation, it’s a sign they’re not viewing you as a potential long-term hire. They might only want to hire you to handle whatever short-term goal they have, for instance. It could also be a sign that the company culture is difficult or toxic, especially if the interviewer is aloof or asks questions that don’t really reflect your skills or background.

If you’re being interviewed by a panel, identify who is and isn’t interested in the conversation. Also, take the time to identify your potential future manager. If two of five interviewers are engaged and excited, will you be working with/for one or both of them? That could prove key to your decision over whether to take the job.

Sometimes, companies simply have people sit in on interviews so a consensus can be reached; if you won’t really interact with someone who isn’t excited to be talking to you, don’t worry too much. But if your future manager seems to be having trouble staying awake, that’s a big warning sign.

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A Weird Walk to the Interview Room

Did the person escorting you to the interview room show you around? Were staff glaring at you as you walked through the building? Was the place a gray cubicle farm that made you want to set your jacket on fire as a distraction while you ran from the building screaming?

Pay attention to small things as you enter the building for an on-site interview. Hard looks from staff can tell you a lot about company culture. If people at their desks look worn down, it’s a sign they’re overworked (and you will be, too).

Most times, the people you walk past won’t know who you are or why you’re there, which makes their body language all the more telling. If you’re just some random person to them, why are they so aggressive or dismissive? It’s not welcoming. Similarly, how staff behave at their desks is the clearest look you’ll have at what it’s like to actually work at the company. Pay attention.

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You Win at Buzzword Bingo!

During the interview, did you hear something like this?:

We need a self-starter who can really get in there and be a rockstar. We don’t want to micro-manage you, and we need someone who pushes hard to see results.

Yeah, so, that’s all corporate BS for “you won’t have any guidance, we’re not sure what we really need, and we expect you to meet impossible deadlines.” Don’t let your ego get the best of you: You may think you’re awesome, and the allure of not being micro-managed is exciting, but flashy phrasing suggests substantial disconnect. At best, they don’t really understand what you actually do; at worst, they’re trying to find someone to use and abuse before that person gets fed up and leaves.

Red Flags During Interview Homework

By ‘interview homework,’ we don’t mean take-home coding tests; that’s a totally different kind of homework. We’re talking about homework on the company and those interviewing you.

LinkedIn is ubiquitous, and everyone feels compelled to update their professional online presence to reflect their work history. Poke around the site and find people you interviewed with. How long have they worked at the company?

Does the firm have a blog explaining its culture, like Stripe? Are they posting technical blogs or think-pieces on Medium?

Glassdoor is not the most grounded ranking system because many who leave reviews are likely disgruntled, but a high ranking at least tells you many are happy with the company and enjoy working there.

If you’re going to run into red flags, it’s during this homework stage, so prepare accordingly.

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No You’re Interviewing for Culture!

You should walk into an interview with questions ready. If you know what you’ll be working on, you should absolutely ask questions about the project. Even if you don’t, interview your interviewers to decipher the company’s true culture.

Ask what a normal work day and week are like. Ask how often you may be expected to work long days/weeks to meet a deadline. Are there company “hackathons” you’ll be expected to work tirelessly through? How often do people take time off?

Ask probing questions and gauge the responses. If you ask what a normal week is like and how often people take vacations, and your interviewer says something glib like, “We are a goal-oriented team, and we take vacations as project timelines allow,” take a moment to consider that statement. If a manager or team lead can’t tell you their staff have a solid work-life balance, is the job worth it? Studies show a solid work-life balance is critical for your well-being and happiness, so don’t overlook something like that.

Remember: You’re Always in Charge

We’re only providing guidance; your instincts are the truest barometer of whether a job is worth pursuing. If you think working 70-hour weeks with little time off is worth it so you can have a well-known company on your CV, that’s your choice. Just know it’ll likely burn you out, and it’s not always a sure bet the flashy company name can outshine a short-term stay when your next employer looks at your application materials.

The bottom line is, if you don’t think you’ll like the job, you probably won’t. Whatever red flags you notice, don’t dismiss them for a paycheck.

27 Responses to “Don’t Ignore These 5 Red Flags When Interviewing for Tech Jobs”

  1. Nathan

    The author makes good points, but they are idealistic. I’ve been in the IT field for 18 years and I’ve never had a potential employer say, “we’re going to micro manage you, everyone works long hours, and we can’t approve time off because we’re too short staffed”. And the buzzword bingo is all part of the process. Most of those buzzwords (self starter, results oriented, team player) are even in the written job descriptions. If you start asking probing questions about work hours and time off, you get flagged as “may not be willing to do the work”. The goal of an interview is to get an offer. The bottom line is that the interview process is broken. You can’t gauge a company or candidate in a 1 hour interview.

    • Could not disagree more, Nathan, that the interview goal is to get a job offer. That may be true if you are desperate for work and will take anything. The interview is a two-way meeting and exploration for possible fit, for professionals.

      • Nathan

        If you’re interviewing, you’re looking for something that your current job doesn’t have…pay, responsibility, location,etc. During the interview, if you get a bad feeling, you don’t have to accept the position. But, the goal of the interview is to get an offer. I don’t take time out of my week to research a company, prepare for an interview, and attend and interview just for the fun of it.

  2. Robert Jones

    My most annoying interview red flag is when the interviewer’s first question is, “I haven’t had time to look at your resume, so tell me about yourself”.

  3. I experienced 4 of 5 issues first hand. I had an interview arranged via recruiter, did my research, “dressed in Sunday best” (I kid you not). After three hours, the HR interviewer did not show up. I received a detailed factory tour, found the job was not nearly was I was told, but due to the culture was still interested. I never heard about salary, benefits, union status etc. Two months later, the job is still open. I recently had FOUR interviews at a major bank for a professional technical finance role. HR: Great! Prospective Manager: Great! Team: GREAT!!!! Then on the fourth, we were all there, discussing the future, I was feeling I was home, and we hear an “Ah Hem”. A woman dressed in a 1980’s suit is standing in the doorway, looking at me: “I have one question.” (Me thinking: do I have kids, when can I start…”) She says, “How do you feel taking a job from a Millennial (honest!) that could build a career on it? ” I said, “Well, you are looking for 10 years experience and I was the top analyst at my employer for several years in a row. But only you can judge personal fit.” At another bank, I was asked: “We have an entry level team here; do you think you can communicate with them?” I wanted to say, why, do they speak Vulcan? Thinking I had it, I said “Well, Guardians of the Galaxy are what I love; the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles WILL save us in the end, and I know all the words to “Uptown Funk”. They did not laugh.

    I’ve had interviewers show without my resume; tell me they don’t have time to talk and dismiss me; one CEO kept me waiting and stopped in the doorway, looked at me and left; one interview in the reception area, standing up; one actually fell asleep while looking at my resume–I had a paperback in my purse and read for 40 minutes till she woke up (the office staff that could see us were laughing).

    One interviewer was so disinterested in me, sitting me behind his computer screen (I moved the chair) and stopping to slowly read my resume, then asked me a lot of odd ethical questions but not discussing the company or job that (learning now) I said, “I’m really not feeling the love, thank you for your time.” and left. Later research shows that the company was linked to offshore hinky telephone scams, was NOT US/minority owned as on its website, and more.

    I do look at Glassdoor and other sites: You need to throw out the breathy wonderfulness of the top reviews and read the negatives with an open mind. A lot of employees are ASKED to file positive reviews–there is one employer in CT that tracks them by job title and duration–he told me so. The truth is in there. Use the information to be well-informed. And don’t give up.

    • Marla F Worsham

      I said “Well, Guardians of the Galaxy are what I love; the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles WILL save us in the end, and I know all the words to “Uptown Funk”. They did not laugh.

      THIS made me literally LOL.

      I’ve had to just walk out of interviews a few times. Other times, I should have.

      Lately, just getting past the phone interviews is the issue. Where the interviewer gives lame excuses for passing onto someone else. If your excuse for passing on me was not even discussed and I clearly have the experience (if you would read my resume), how can that be? Stop the lying… be honest why you are passing… maybe I remind you of your mother (because I probably could be). But you are passing on decades of experience that will save your arse if you could just get past your pride.

    • “They did not laugh” – Don’t work for a company without humor. One company I worked for had Fun as one of their top priorities along with the usual Integrity, Accountability, etc. Another company I worked for merged with a larger company and our CEO of our company went to an executive meeting with beanie cap with the propeller on it. He said no one at the meeting laughed, it was the 1st clue as to what was to come. 40 of us came over in the merger, 39 of us left. That company later got sued by its shareholders, investigated by the SEC and its pieces sold to other companies. If the entire interview is dry and no one laughs or jokes at anything, find another place to work.

  4. Doug Elwell

    Yes, interviewing is a two-way street. Like Joe said, you need to interview them as well. Sadly, companies are no longer as professional as they once were, so you could be sucked into a career-destroying emotional thresher if you are not careful. Be selective and keep your standards high as regards the corporate culture and professionalism of your interviewers.

  5. > If the person interviewing you isn’t engaged in the conversation, … It could also be a sign that the company culture is difficult or toxic, especially if the interviewer is aloof or asks questions that don’t really reflect your skills or background.

    Been there. I once had an interviewer who couldn’t seem to block out the needed time to be a part of the phone interview. Continual interruptions and eventually, it became obvious that he was placing his phone on mute and forgetting about it. That interview was a joke. And this was the interview that he actually showed up for–the previous interview he was a complete no show. I’m not sure allowing interruptions to ruin an interview was much better. It certainly didn’t make the company look good.

    Another company’s interviewer was hostile right out of the chute. Asking weird questions and later giving feedback to the recruiter that didn’t reflect what was actually discussed during the interview. It’s not surprising (to me, anyway) that this company is advertising the same position every six months or so. I am contacted by recruiters every time the position opens up. Whenever I see the first email from recruiters for this position–I can spot it a mile away–I know I’m going to be inundated with emails and calls about it. I have to politely tell recruiters that I’m in no way interested in working for the company. Life’s too short to be treated shabbily by company interviewers who don’t know how to treat potential employees.

    • Ahuehuete

      “Another company’s interviewer was hostile right out of the chute.”

      Sometimes, I think that the interview process has been turned upside down. Rather than finding someone suitable for the position, it seems like they are looking for a reason, however minor, to reject an otherwise acceptable candidate. Then they complain that there is no one to hire.

      I have been on interview teams where this has happened, and have confronted the hiring manager, telling him/her that there was nothing wrong with the candidate. In many cases the req was eventually cancelled because we couldn’t fill it. Go figure.

  6. Wm Smith

    I’m gonna retire sometime in the next two years. When I do, just for entertainment, I may set up some interviews just so I can get to the stupidest part, sit there and stare at them for 20 seconds or so, and then walk out and go have a nice lunch.

  7. As for Glassdoor, this silly app is a lifeline for many startups. Be weary when a company has only glowing reviews.
    Are employees incentivized to leave reviews? Of course! Are former employees barred from leaving negative reviews upon departure? Happens all the time.
    Don’t let keg-o-rators, wine, snacks and video games be the lure. Visiting the workplace and interviewing in person is difficult these days, but necessary to truly get a sense of workplace tenor and culture.

  8. joel slayter

    After fifty years in the workforce and having working in military contracts and the oil industry in Mexico, China, Europe, and the Middle East. I say this simply with a light note. Think of interviews as a blind date set up by friends or relatives. READ BETWEEN the lines, be observant, I have found out that the job will be directly proportional to your ability to see thru the smoke and mirrors. No understanding of what’s happening in the interview will be very similar to your understanding of the position you seek to fill. “I am here being honest with you, I only ask for you to be honest with me.” This usually cuts thru a lot of crap for both sides.

    • Anna S

      Hate this so much! And if you don’t ask anything it’s being perceived as lack of preparation or lack of interest.

      One question I always ask, “What happened to a person who did this job before me?” “Why was this position opened up?”
      My least favorite is when startup hires for a role that “didn’t exist before”, if this isn’t a cut and dry type of role (like HR manager or Accountant) they are looking for someone to close multiple gaps, and those gaps are much bigger in reality.

  9. Simple things, are the lights are fully fixed, none busted. Remember, broken glass theory. If the company cannot furnish the smallest things, they might not be in a position to pay you either. Is the bathroom clean and fully stocked?

  10. First off it’s called bullshit bingo. And it is nothing new. That’s been like that for over twenty five years or more.

    And quite frankly lots of times you can read in between the lines in the online job ad postings. For example all of the companies that tell you that you must be good at dealing with difficult customers and that you must be good at dealing with constantly shifting and conflicting priorities. e g we can’t manage our company and keep our shit together. Really!!??

    As for Glassdoor it generally has two kinds of reviewers, mindless shills who wouldn’t know if anything was wrong even if the building was on fire and then there are lots of disgruntled former employees who have legitimate reasons for being so. By the way Indeed has lots of the same type of reviews by employees also. Most of the time they corroborate each other.

  11. Cameron

    Good article, I think my favorite was Buzzword Bingo. I’ve seen this BS over and over in my career, just another sign to poor management and communication skills. The interview process should always be a two-way street. I’ve walked away from offers because they didn’t pass my interview.

  12. Anna S

    Red flag is when in the end of the interview they didn’t mention what is going to happen next, in both senarios. When should you expect to hear back and who is going to be your main point of contact.

    Another red flag is when they don’t send invite to the interview or set interview time/date without your final confirmation. (Seems obvious)

    I got a call from a HR manager recently from a company I applied for a role, telling me I’m 15 minutes late to my zoom interview with a hiring manager.
    I didn’t check my email for a 2 days (was sick with fever), so I didn’t see/respond to her email with proposed time/date. HR manager set it up without confirming with me. No calendar invite was sent/shared with me either.

    This sucks because it negativly effects relationship with hiring manager first, and second shows that they really don’t care much about you in general and you certainly aren’t their top candidate.

  13. Denis

    Next Monday, I’ll have been unemployed for two full years, I just turned 70. I’ve had worthless interviews (the spokesperson had a heavy accent, the connection was sporadic, one look at me – age – was enough for them, meaningless questions about why did I leave a previous employer or what do I think about buzzwords and acronyms, etc.) and I’ve received no benefits (after 44 years of dedicated and appreciated service, this is a disgrace, and my state cannot cough up a pandemic relief). If this is all the country can muster, stuff it!

  14. David

    Good article, thoroughly enjoyed it and the comments (shared experiences with most of them).Why legitimate companies put up with these types of behaviors baffles me?? I guess the bottom line is that many just don’t care about people anymore (even though they should).

    I had an interview with a VP recently who was late over an hour, they asked me if I wanted to wait or reschedule. It was raining cats and dogs outside, so I said no that I would be happy to wait on him. I figured he might as well get wet too, and he was when he finally showed up and gave me a 10 minute unprepared worst interview ever.

    I’d already made up my mind about these guys, but made a point of calling him out on his tardiness, when he questioned me about my dedication if I was hired. I told him that I’m never late (always early), and if I was late something terrible had happened (they could start dragging the rivers and lakes for a body – he had missed 2 prior interviews where I had met with his partners and why I was here today in the pouring rain for my final interview).

    I said being late was a sign of poor leadership. It sets a bad example for the company, their associates, and showed poor time management skills. I could tell as he glared at me on the way out that he got the point!!