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Monday, August 23, 2010

more danger signs when you're interviewing for a job

A reader writes:

Can you give some advice to first-time job-seekers on how to verify the legitimacy of companies posting job opportunities?

I recently was blindsided by being hired into a company that lacked any sort of professionalism or integrity. Although I've gracefully dealt with an entry-level customer service position for two years, I walked out of this job in tears after six hours. In hindsight, there were many red flags -- the job description was minimal, the interviewer didn't ask me any personality-based questions, there was no "about us" section or mission statement on their website. When I went in to work, they made me do telemarketing with only 20 minutes of training, treated me with disdain and fired me on the first day for not understanding a system no one had taught me.

Are there other potential "red flags" that new job seekers should be aware of during the application and interviewing process? I'm just glad I had given two weeks' notice at my first job and was able to get my position back. Those before me might not have been so lucky.

If there are obvious warning signs job seekers like me should be aware of, let us know! Too many people are so desperate for jobs these days that we'll take anything, even if our gut instinct is telling us something's wrong.

Listening to your gut is probably the most important one. But of course, when you're new to the work world, it can be hard for your gut to know if something is off or not.

I've written before about danger signs when you're interviewing for a job. In that post we covered flakiness, taking forever to get back to you, not bothering to tell you when a timeline changes (although that one's alarmingly common), high turnover, and zero turnover. Let's add to that list:

* Are they rude or inconsiderate? Do they treat you like you're an unwelcome interruption? Do they ask you to do inconvenient things, such as interviewing on just a few hours notice, without acknowledging or apologizing for the inconvenience?

* Do they seem totally uninterested in making sure you get to know them and that you have a solid understanding of what the job entails? 

* Are they unfriendly? If they don't seem like people you'd want to work with, pay attention to that. 

* Do you feel like they're trying to sell you something? Are they painting a picture of a job that sounds way too good to be true? Smart employers will be honest not just about the upsides of a job, but also about the downsides. Employers who try to downplay the less attractive aspects of the job—such as boring work or long hours—end up with employees who don't want to be there. Look for truth in advertising.

* Are they resistant or vague when you ask questions about the details of the job offer, such as precisely what their pay structure is or how training will work?

* What are others saying about them on the Internet? Search for their company name plus the word "scam" or "complaints" and see what you find.

What would you guys add to this list?


TheLabRat said...

This is necessarily bad but be wary of SOME companies that have no web presence at all. It's the sort of thing you have to take into consideration with other things on AAM's list (seriously, googling scam with the company name or job scam is a big one). Plenty of mom and pop shops have no web site but you can usually at least find a reference to them on yelp or google maps or something. If a google search turns up zero relevant results, I just don't bother.

TheLabRat said...

Arg...isn't necessarily bad, much like proofreading is always good. Bad mousie.

Leslie said...

Once I interviewed at one of those companies that I'm pretty sure is a scam, and there were a few warning signs:

-Frequent job postings. Sure, some places hire a lot, but when the same company posts on every job category possible on craigslist almost every day? Something's not right.

-An office space that doesn't look "lived in" or like anyone put any thought into it. It wasn't a new office or anything like that, it was clearly just warehouse space filled with second hand office furniture. There were no decorations, no messy desks with pictures of kids and Dilbert cartoons, absolutely nothing that indicates that people work there 40 hours a week.

-The interviewer seemed to only care if I was able to form a complete sentence or not. He wasn't trying to get to know me at all and didn't talk about the job or the company very much.

The dealbreaker was when I received an email from the receptionist later that same day, asking that I come in the next day for an 8 hour informational interview.

I know that there are positions and professions that require intense interview processes, but to have an interviewer barely notice that I was there suddenly need to meet with me for 8 hours? Riiiight.

I strongly suspect that the "8 hour informational interview" was really just a way to get people to work for free.

greatquote said...

Companies that sugar-coat the job responsibilities are a flag but so are interviewers that try to scare you with the realities of the job. If they are asking you a lot of questions about how you handle stress or making statements about the workload or late hours required, this may also be a concern. I would ask a lot more questions before accepting that job.

Erica Friedman said...

There's an even harder thing to watch out for - a shared delusion. I've interviewed with companies that had a completely delusional idea of what they did and how they did it. In every case, they were professional, poised, had a good backstory and in every case were completely, utterly delusional about what they were hiring for.

There are no warning signs, there is no way to know that multiple people have bought into the delusion.

Unfortunately, I've seen that more and more often these days.

Class factotum said...

If they are asking you a lot of questions about how you handle stress or making statements about the workload or late hours required

In the phone interview, I was asked how I felt about "long hours and tight deadlines." In the on-site interview, I was warned that there would be many, many all-night weekends required.

I did not try very hard to impress them.

Anonymous said...

I was conned into a similar situation early in my career. I applied for and was given a position at a "publishing company" which sold pricey parenting self help books that had the same effects as a placebo. It was essentially a huge scam and the "publishing company" was a call center. Some red flags to look for in the future: Are they ALWAYS hiring? Do they seem a little too pushy about hiring you? Do they make you pay for your own training or for manuals? Do they change their company name frequently? Do their ads focus on how much you "could" make? If you say yes to any of these questions, look for employment elsewhere!

Anonymous said...

I would add - going through the interview process and never meeting/interviewing/speaking with the person who will be managing you is a bad sign.

Anonymous said...

How much of a timeline change should be worrisome? I interviewed with a company that has a great reputation almost four weeks ago. They said they'd get back to me within a week and a half about next steps. After 2 weeks without hearing anything I emailed a cheery follow up (I already did a thank you 20 hours after the interview) and haven't heard anything since.
What makes me confused is that when I applied for a job with them before, they were nice enough to email me to say they were already in final interviews but would keep my resume on file--and then still actually had the resume when I applied for the position this time around. I'm assuming a second follow up would be bad form?

Anonymous said...

Here are a few warning signs from my experience:
- Giving canned answers to questions about the roles, responsibilities and expectations
- Unable (or unwilling) to answer questions about the company's goals and where this position fits in
- You go into an interview with 2 people, and you're told "pretend that s/he is not here". Translation: The "not here" person is actually being considered for the job, but we're just going through the motions and interviewing you just to make the government happy.
- Interviewers who are rude or otherwise being confrontational
- For phone screens, anyone who calls 5 minutes late. I understand that people are probably getting out of meetings and what not before calling me, but I expect people to honor their commitment.
- Managers who forget to call you when doing a phone screen. I've had this happen more times that I can remember.
- Anytime when someone mentions working weekends or 50+ hour weeks

Anonymous said...

During my last round of job hunting I went on an interview where the two interviewers spent maybe 15 minutes asking me generic questions and the other 45 minutes bitching about how crappy their job was (no joke).

And this was at a company that consistently makes it on all "best companies to work for" lists in the area!

Ask a Manager said...

Anonymous at 12:13 PM: You might try a phone call at this point, as one last attempt, since you did interview with them. Since this company does have a good track record of responding, it's not crazy to think that someone might just be on vacation.

Andy Lester said...

Interviewers often ask questions like "Tell me about a time you had a problem with a co-worker" to see if the candidate will bad-mouth a prior colleague.

Candidates should use the same approach. "How does the team get along?" "Are the members of the team pretty much all of equal skill level?" etc. These sorts of questions are interesting in themselves, and can lead to answers like "Yeah, although we've got one guy, Steve, who doesn't pull his weight all the time." If he's willing to badmouth someone on his team during an interview, then he's likely to badmouth you when you're on board.

Brian said...

I like this one:,-and-More.aspx

A bunch of the stuff listed in the "Tales from the Interview" section would be good examples of what to watch out for.

smithy said...

I'm confused by all this (I am trying to keep up !!) What do the adverts for these jobs ask for? I mean - there must be a job title mustn't there? And who does actually work for them? - are you saying that the people who do the interviews are crooks?

Anonymous said...

- The "rank and file" give canned or generic answers to questions you ask them.

My senior year of college, I was selected for an on-campus interview with a non-profit. A couple of nights before the interviews began, the organization had a meet-and-greet on campus with alums from my college who were currently or previously with the organization.

I deployed my favorite question, "What's the best part about working here?" To a man/woman, the current employees said something close to "The chance to touch so many young lives is amazing, I feel so privileged." Every single one of the former employees said precisely "It was a really great experience" -- and nothing else.

I canceled my interview.

Kimberlee Stiens said...

I don't know if it will be helpful to ya'll, but I wrote a post on my blog about how to spot a fake job from a posting. These are generally the ones that require you to run your own "credit check" before you come in to interview, but its still helpful to know!

Ask a Manager said...

Kimberlee, that example email you included in your post is outrageous!

Kimberlee Stiens said...

I know, right? And I used to get at least one or two a week. Once I started looking for fake ads, it went down, but there are still some out there that are surprisingly convincing.

What I'm wondering is if its a real or "real" credit report website drumming up business, or if its a complete scam to get SSN's. Either way, I hope not too many people out there are falling for it!

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm not clear on the difference between "scam" and simply "crappy place to work". I mean, aside from the ploy of asking you to pay for training, or the one poster who suspects the 8-hour interview was a cover for a day of unpaid work, how are these places scamming you, exactly? I mean, re: the woman who was fired 6 hours into the job: obviously that sucks and they're terrible, but how is that a 'scam'? How did they benefit at her expense?

Anonymous said...

In my line of work one scam you see on Craig's List is what appears to be a real job, but when you enquire it's a college student who wants you to do their homework for them. At $5/ hour.

Jamie said...

As Andy Lester said it's a huge red flag if they will badmouth current employees. I have also come across interviewers which have been very insulting when describing the person whom they are trying to replace.

The lack of professionalism in that is a huge red flag for me.

Brian is right - Tales from the Interview on thedailywtf are awesome. Hilarious red flags.

The OP said...

Hey all, OP here. Lots of great advice from both AAM and the wider community, thanks! I will definitely be more discerning about job postings, asking more in-depth questions and analyzing the responses in interviews more carefully in the future.

Andy Lester: That's a great question to ask. I actually did ask about the compatibility of the team during the interview, and was told there was "No drama. Everyone here gets along." Like AAM said, it should also be a red flag when the interviewer makes the job sound rosy and flawless.

Anon, August 26 @ 11:15: My original post might have been a little unclear; I was looking for advice not only about checking for scams, but also looking out for just unprofessional/poisonous environments to work in. The company I was at seems to be "legitimate." However, I do think they benefited at my expense: they never gave me a copy of any paperwork I signed. I don't believe I'll be seeing the paycheck from that day's work.

Other red flags/unacceptable actions I would add, from this particular experience:

--No mention of company values in the interview
--Doesn't elaborate on specifics of job duties when asked (in fact, gets frustrated when asked)
--HR manager says she's "forbidden to contract anyone except the chosen candidate" after the interview
--HR manager flat-out refuses to give you a written offer, on the grounds of it being "unnecessary."
--Not giving you a copy of your signed contract, the only documented proof you ever worked there... (I have the feeling it's been shredded by now.)
--3 new job postings in one week (for a small company with 10-15 employees)