As the Great Resignation continues, talent has all the leverage these days. If you're hunting for a new job, you're evaluating the company as much as they're evaluating you. Today, Modern Mentor highlights some common red flags—and what to watch for before you decide to accept an offer.
My friend Emma recently interviewed for a position with a company she’s always admired from afar. She showed up (virtually) excited, well-prepped, and hoping for the best.
She called me right after the interview to debrief. But there was flatness where the excitement should’ve been. She sounded way more “meh” than “woohoo.”
“I’m still not sure what just happened,” she said. “They want me to meet with an executive panel next, but something about the experience is making me hesitate.”
Right now, we’re living in a buyers’ market—meaning companies are having to work twice as hard to attract talent, and if you indeed are a talent, you’ve got all the leverage. So if you’re on the hunt for your next gig, you can—and absolutely should—be very choosy.
Of course, there’s a lot you won’t know about a company until you’re already inside it. But there are some signals you can keep an eye out for during the interview process. And if, like my friend, you feel your spidey sense tingling… definitely give it a listen.
Here are some red flags worth watching out for.
1. Interviewer energy is “off”
Whoever is interviewing you—regardless of their level or title—should be showing up as an ambassador of the company’s brand.
People express energy in different ways—I’m not suggesting that you expect choreography and jazz hands. But I am saying that you deserve to feel like the interviewer wants to be there and is fully engaged in your conversation.
Have they shown up—whether in person or on-screen—calmly, with smiles, seeming to have time for you? Or do they seem anxious, frantic, racing around, or exhausted?
Even in a virtual interview, you can watch for signals of focus, eye contact, and how calmly they're breathing. One frantic person may be an exception. But if it seems like the norm, be wary.
Emma told me her interviewer seemed distracted and anxious—and was not-so-discreetly multi-tasking. Which left Emma feeling like a to-do needing to be handled rather than a talent to be courted. Not a good look for that company.
2. Interview questions feel like “gotcha” traps
When I graduated from college, certain big companies were infamous for asking questions like “How many dog hairs are there in the world?” or “How long would a piece of string need to be in order to circle the earth twice?”
Crazy, right? Granted, answering these questions well didn’t mean answering correctly. Because who could possibly know? These questions were designed to give the interviewer a glimpse into your thought process.
But also, let’s be honest: they were a little bit designed to make you sweat, to show the interviewer how you showed up under pressure.
The good news is that you don’t have to put up with that line of inquiry anymore. An interview should challenge you for sure, but also create a space in which you feel safe and can leave feeling good about yourself.
Pay attention to the nature of the questions you’re being asked. Do the questions feel designed to trip you up, or are they coming from a place of curiosity about your experience, your point of view, and your interests?
Be wary of a company that seems like it’s testing you rather than getting to know you.
3. Your curiosity isn’t welcome
In this day and age especially, an interview should feel like a dialog—you should have questions to answer, but also an invitation to pose your own.
Great companies understand this is your opportunity to get to know them as much as theirs to know you. So pay attention to how much time the interviewer leaves for you to ask questions of them.
Emma told me that with two minutes left in their hour, her interviewer said “well, we’re just about out of time, but if you have a really quick question I can try to answer it.”
You deserve to join a company that wants to know what’s on your mind as much as what value you can offer them. And candidly, if they’re a great employer, they should want every opportunity to showcase that.
Hold out for an interviewer that wants all of your questions about their culture, their leadership, their participation in the community, their employee affinity groups, and whatever else you prioritize.
These are great signals of a great experience to come.
Emma had a lot of questions! And this was a huge missed opportunity for the company.
4. They are comfortable criticizing colleagues
When an interviewer references a colleague or a leader within, do they speak well or poorly of them? What kind of signals or body language do they give off?
Every company is filled with flawed people. But a willingness to highlight these flaws in an interview designed to attract you may signal a culture of disrespect or unhealthy competition.
Emma caught a couple of eye rolls as her interviewer touched on the work one of her colleagues was leading, and it was really off-putting to her.
You deserve to lean into a culture that is collaborative and collegial. Your colleagues will have flaws—but those should be yours to discover in time.
5. There is no failure to speak of
Don't trust a company that won't admit failure—whether individual or collective.
A company without failures to speak of is a company lacking either in honesty, or in creativity, risk tolerance, and a willingness to innovate. And we should all be looking for places that will grow, challenge, and ready us for the next-next thing.
So be sure you ask about a failure they’ve survived, big or small. They should be able to share an example. And it's important to listen to how they describe it. Are they pointing fingers or embarrassed? Or can they highlight a lesson learned and a teamwork approach to righting the wrong?
If you’re on the hunt for your next professional move, remember that first impressions are critical. Make a great one yourself, but hold any company to the same standard. You deserve to land in a place that will delight you.