Sometimes the best outcome from a job interview can be that you don’t end up getting the job. It’s better not be hired at all than it is to sign on with a toxic workplace and only realize it once you’re on the job.
A bad working relationship with your employer can take its toll on your career. Whether you end up quitting or are fired because of it, the situation can be emotionally painful, can harm your professional reputation, and puts a short stint on your resume.
So, as a cautionary tale, here is the true story of the worst job interview I ever experienced. In one meeting, this company displayed countless red flags of being a terrible place to work.
Major warning signs that you are interviewing for a bad job
They’re late for the interview and unapologetic. The interview was for a travel marketing company that had a small office with lobby. You came out of the elevators right up to a reception desk that was in front of an open concept workspace. I arrived five minutes early, and killed time looking at the pictures on the wall. They seemed to all be of the owner/founder of the company at various locations around the world.
After about fifteen minutes of standing there trying not to look awkward, a woman breezed by me without slowing down and said, “She’ll be with you in a moment.” It was at least another ten minutes before my actual interviewer emerged and greeted me without even a token nod to the fact that I’d been standing in a hallway for half an hour and led me to a meeting room.
That was a bad sign. It’s just rude.
They haven’t prepared for the interview. When we sat down at the conference table, the woman picked up my resume and began to read it, apparently for the first time. Red flag. To break the ice, I attempted some small talk. She held up her hand and said without looking up, “Just a minute.” She continued to read. So, I sat there in silence.
Now, I have researched this company, come up with a few creative ideas of how I could make it more successful, dressed up, and crossed town full of enthusiasm. I’ve been in your office for nearly forty minutes, we haven’t yet spoken, and I already hate you.
They assume you’d be just desperate to work there. When she finally lowered the resume and looked at me it was to say, “I’m meeting with many people about this position, so we’ll have to make this quick. Tell me five reasons why you want this job.”
Of course, at this point I wanted to say, “I can’t even think of one.” But I am a professional and that would have reflected poorly on me. I gave some standard answers about believing in the product, liking the brand, seeing areas where I could make a significant contribution.
She didn’t look satisfied – or even as though she was assessing the relevance of my response. She was counting. She said: “That’s only three.” Bad sign.
It’s a cult. “What about [Founder’s Name]? Everyone wants the opportunity to work for him. We turn down requests for unpaid internships weekly.”
I had a flashback to the framed picture of [Founder’s Name] up and down the hallways. Red flag. “Yes,” I said. “He seems like a well-travelled and inspirational leader.” I had never heard of the guy except in the About Us page of the company’s website when boning up for the interview.
“So, it’s travel. Of course, everyone wants to work in travel,” she said looking down at her phone and scrolling the screen.
Okay, that’s twice now in less than a minute that I’ve been accused of being just another anonymous candidate wanting what “everyone wants.” What I haven’t been asked is anything about those contributions I mentioned that I felt I could make, my past accomplishments, experience, skills or ideas. Bad sign.
You walk out with a huge negative feeling. The excitement and enthusiasm I had started out with that morning was gone. Job interviews can be nerve wracking, but they usually create an adrenaline rush for the potential of a fresh start, new challenges. This left me feeling deflated.
I can’t even remember if we discussed next steps in the hiring process. I just wanted to get out and never come back. The wait for the elevator back down was the longest of my life. I asked a guy passing me in the hallway if there were stairs I could use. He glanced at me startled, but didn’t slow down or respond.
I don’t know what that’s about, but it seems like another huge red flag. I was not offered the job, and if I had been, I wouldn’t have taken it. I needed a paycheque, because being broke is a major drag. This would have been worse.