Workplace abuse, toxic bosses, and underpaying jobs have increasingly entered the public conversation in the past year, as many return to jobs or offices after lockdowns and start realizing that there's a lotttt of stuff they really shouldn't have to put up with.
This has been exacerbated by rising inflation and financial instability, which has often not been matched by rising salaries. It's a tough time to be a worker, and even tougher if you're currently looking for a new job in the face of a likely recession.
Still, you don't want to end up in yet another toxic job. Luckily, there are some red flags that a workplace might be toxic that you can catch even in your job interview. Reddit user u/SwagYoloThiccChilFam asked, "What's an immediate red flag to hear from HR during a job interview?" and the responses...well, you might want to bookmark these.
Here are 37 red flags that will let you know you should run, not walk, out of the interview room:
1."'What would be the lowest salary you would work for? Absolute minimum that you can tolerate?' What a nice way to make a possible new employee feel appreciated."
2."I interviewed for a job recently with a small startup, and they asked me if I had any questions. I told them work-life balance is important to me and asked what a typical workday looks like for their employees. They told me that was a risky thing to say in an interview and most startups would consider that question a red flag. I said I didn't need to work for that kind of company."
"I had a recruiter reach out to me about a job months ago. I went through the process, and when I got to the last interview I asked the VP about the work-life balance, since I’m very happy with my current company’s position in that regard. The recruiter reached out to me a few days after and told me that one question, which took two minutes, 'put them off,' and they decided to go a different direction. ... Bullet dodged, no doubt."
3."'Work hard, play hard' (Translation): Prepare to be worked so hard that your only options will be to quit or become a high-functioning alcoholic."
That, 'We’re extremely understaffed for the workload, but we order cheap pizza once a month.'”
4."'We expect flexibility with regard to schedules from our employees. In addition to your regular weekday hours, the need may arise for you to work evenings and occasionally on weekends. So, always be prepared to accommodate staffing demands.'"
"For some jobs, overtime is understood as a necessary evil at times: manufacturing, medical, law enforcement, etc. For retail jobs, however, when they start talking about 'flexibility in scheduling' you should be wary, since that often means 'whenever the fuck we tell you to be here you better be here,' and those jobs don't pay NEARLY ENOUGH for that shit. Talking about your weekends? Gone. Called you up on your day off? Be here in an hour. Worked you to midnight? You're scheduled to open the next day."
5."Expected to be on call 24/7. Literally from a job description for Universal Studios. Unless you're a brain surgeon, firefighter, etc. FUCK THAT."
"I work in IT, and that’s been every job I’ve ever had for the last 25 years. Some have a rotation; some just expect you to be reachable. Some blatantly abuse it, some don’t, but it’s all abusive in as much as it takes advantage of salaried workers (expecting you to be available to work hours for which you won’t be paid)."
6."'We expect this position to be your priority.' Do not expect consistent hours that will allow for you to plan for another job outside of this one, and fuck you, we won't pay you more so you don't have to do that."
"Or if they require full-time availability for a part-time job paying minimum wage."
7."If the word 'family' is used."
"I heard 'we’re a family' for years from an employer who later fired me under sketchy circumstances, with no warning or improvement plan (would have been hard since nobody ever actually told me anything I needed to improve), a few days after I told my boss my husband and I were starting the process to adopt.
Now I work at a place where some of my team members genuinely feel like family, but nobody feels the need to say it 20 times a day because a company that actually treats its employees well doesn’t need to resort to guilt trips in order to motivate you."
"'Family' or 'culture' means you’re supposed to conform [and] never challenge the way things are done."
8."Also, if actual family members work there. Never again. Sisters, kids, wife...majorly toxic."
9."You need to buy X to start training."
"Or sign a contract that will charge you for training if you do not work there for so many years and a non-compete clause to force you into a different line of work if you leave. I believe some of these have been outlawed in some places now."
10."That the job would probably not pay as much as I was asking for but it had great training opportunities!"
11."'You'll wear a lot of hats'=We're going to make you do the work of three people but only pay you for one."
"Heard this exact phrase in one of my first jobs in VFX. It actually meant this: 'Four people just quit, and their jobs are now yours, and we don't have time to train you properly.' I became the fifth person to quit three weeks later."
12."'We have a hard time keeping people in this role'=People realize this job sucks and bail out quick."
13.Or..."'We’ve had a hard time finding the right person for this position.'"
"Either they're too picky, or they don't pay market value for the job."
14."Not always, but I've discovered there's usually a reason — and it's not your resume — when they seem overly eager to recruit you. Ask specifically about the turnover rate."
"I went to an 'interview' for an assisted living place. The manager didn't ask me a single question, just described the job and the shifts I would work and said, 'You're hired if you want it.' I had no previous experience with that kind of job, I had worked at a gas station my whole life, and all of a sudden I'm on my own taking care of dementia patients."
15."A lot of restaurants through the years' 'Can you start tonight?' means they are super understaffed. One time he asked if I can start now. Like, 'Interview's over; hop on the line.'"
"Interview for produce clerk at a grocery store:
Manager: 'You got the job! Can you start this afternoon?'
Me: 'Uhh, I’ve got this other commitment.'
Manager: 'You’ve only been here 30 seconds, and you’re already making excuses to get out of your shifts. FINE! You can start tomorrow.'
16."Anything that changes [from the job description]. Job title, pay, manager, interviewers, work location (a lot are saying hybrid and then want you in every day), etc."
"On two occasions I got a job offer, but the official salary was different than what was in the job listing. Each time I was told it was because 'listing a higher salary attracts more qualified candidates.' Declined both offers right there on the spot."
17.And along those lines, "'The position being filled today is a bit different from the one you applied for.' It’s always an entry-level POS job nobody would ever apply for and guaranteed nowhere near the money stated in the advertisement for the job. Get up, walk out, and ghost them."
18."Speaking with you as if you already owe them. And a lot. And for centuries."
19."'We're no longer a startup, but still have the startup culture.' This really means 80 hour weeks and low pay even if the company is doing well."
"Or, 'We're a startup that's been in business for 10+ years.' No, you're a business and that equity you're offering is worthless."
"The whole 'startup' tag is suspect. I did a job reference for a friend who was applying at an 11-year startup. If you are still hunting for investors after 11 years, you have to wonder about your business model. It seems to be a buzzword for cool, cutting edge, and a culture of overwork."
"We don't offer bonuses or raises, but we do have a pool table."
20."Pretending the firm isn’t about making money, but actually making the world a better place or something. Means they will pretend the company 'mission' is partly a payment in itself to be a part of."
21."'Do not discuss your compensation with other team members.' Somebody, probably the most senior person there, is getting screwed, and they can't afford to lose their experience. It will some day be your turn to get screwed."
22.“'We are looking for employees that have a passion for their job and aren’t concerned as much about a paycheck.'”
23."Umm yeah, we'll need you to come in for four more interviews, and then we'll discuss the salary."
"The other is 'It's dependent on the candidate.' If they are interviewing for a position, they know what it pays."
24."'If you leave before one year, you owe us $10,000 that we had to pay the recruiter.' This actually happened. No, I did not continue the interview process."
25."Sign this document saying you won’t file an EEOC compliant… (True story.)"
26."Any restaurant that charges the cooks to eat."
"If they can't feed employees, it means they are failing."
27."They are interviewing for a position that is currently held by another person. HR asks for discretion since they have not told the employee they are being let go yet."
28."They can’t describe how an ordinary workweek will look. Either it’s because it’s so dull that they won’t share it, or because they haven’t really planned out this position well."
29."I once had a potential employer who wanted me to take a day off of the current job I had at the time, and go work for free for a whole day for her, and then only if she liked me was she going to hire me."
30.“'You give us 90 days at $ and we will give you $$.' The trades are infamous for offers like that, and they rarely work out."
"But then it’s contingent on a 90-day review and the manager responsible for the review is impossible to track down. Yup, been there."
31."'We want someone who is willing to go the extra mile' = nice way of saying they're gonna break your balls."
32.“'The strongest stay at our company'=very high turnover, so they sugar coat it with different labels in hopes of finding more suckers to work for them."
33."When they tell you that your profile is overqualified, you know that they are gonna pay you shit."
34."'Rapidly shifting priorities' is code for 'Management doesn't know what the eff they want.'"
35."'Big personalities.' I just quit a job after two years with nothing else lined up because the 'big personalities' were killing me."
"'You'll be working for X. They are super passionate and a genius in what we do. They can be demanding, but if you meet expectations they are great to learn from.' Met the guy, and all his questions were aimed at how quickly I could figure things out and stop asking him questions. Easy decline."
36."When they don’t allow you to ask questions, or you ask questions and their responses seem vague or deceptive. Interviews are a conversation, and so many people are horrible at conducting interviews. It’s 99% them grilling a candidate."
37."Having you take personality tests like Myers Briggs or other pseudoscience BS."
"I'm a therapist, and nothing pisses me off more than when employers try to use personality inventories on their employees. It's fucking predatory and manipulative in my opinion."
"I’m in HR. Those tests are unreliable AF. Thankfully people are starting to phase it out."
And finally, I'll leave you with some tips...
"While waiting for an interview, look at other employees. How do they look? What do they do? What do they speak about? Do they look happy (well, content), friendly, or run as if a wasp nest is behind them? Ask a question at reception, like, 'Where is a toilet?' and see how they respond."
"Also, see what the toilets look like. It they are careful with their employees well-being, the toilets will be clean and comfortable (I know because the washroom is where I spend most of my time at work)."
"Ask about how they handled the COVID pandemic. No matter your viewpoints on that topic, how they answer will give you good insight on how they treat people."
“'What’s your salary expectation?' Never, ever answer that. And as an insider, let me tell you they will ask several times in several ways, and they will pretend to be angry, hurt, offended, puzzled… They might even insult you…but never ever answer that question. If they aren’t telling you what they expect to pay, there’s a reason. Small or big companies, all are the same on this."
"In trade school, they always told us to put [salary range] as 'Negotiable,' and if they ask us in person make sure to keep it consistent and say that you're open to consideration and to keep the ball in their court. Until they're willing to give you an idea of what you're worth or could be worth to them, there's no reason to give them serious consideration."
Good luck. It's rough out there.
Submissions have been edited for length/clarity.