10 Warning Signs the Job You’re Interviewing for is Toxic

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Workplaces don’t have to be heaven, but they shouldn’t be a place of torment.
Updated Feb. 20, 2023
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boss screaming at employees in office

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We’ve all had run-ins with toxicity at some point in our lives. Most of us do our best to avoid being around negative behavior such as bullying, hostility, and manipulation.

But sometimes, that’s easier said than done. A toxic workplace can be especially nasty since it is a place we spend so many of our waking hours.

If you’ve landed a job interview, it’s easy to let excitement blind you. That is especially true if the job pays well and promises to help you stop living paycheck to paycheck.

But it's important to remain on alert for red flags about the company like these that might indicate a toxic culture.

Bosses are nowhere to be seen

Krakenimages.com/Adobe middle-aged business workers working at the office

Most workers want their bosses to be visible in the workplace from time to time. The company executives don’t have to give rousing, motivational speeches on the floor, but they should be present.

If a company’s managers and supervisors are cloistered away from the workplace or nowhere to be found during the interview process, it could be a red flag.

There are communication issues

Chanelle Malambo/peopleimages.com/Adobe businesswoman reading email while scratching her head

Communication is a bedrock of good business. How clearly and effectively a company communicates should be apparent to you right off the bat.

When you’re asked to come in for an interview, the organization should spell out precisely when you’re meeting, with whom, and what the position is all about.

If such information is lacking, be wary: That’s indicative of a company that isn’t communicating very well.

You sense a conflict of values

fizkes/Adobe diverse businesspeople sitting in office

The values of a business and what it asks its employees to do tell you a lot about the company's ethics. Know what the company’s values are and be sure they align with your own.

At a healthy job, those values will be out in the open and freely discussed. Asking about them shouldn’t be an issue or raise any eyebrows. If it does, consider that a warning sign.

Someone asks illegal interview questions

gpointstudio/Adobe managers looking at job applicant's resume

U.S. employers are forbidden by law from asking certain questions during an interview. They can't ask about your age, marital status, or religion, among other things.

Any other invasive, personal questions are off the table as well. Your private life is none of their business.

Educate yourself about which questions are illegal. If they come up during your interview, that’s a significant red flag.

Pro tip: If you need money now, look for part-time work, a side hustle, or other legitimate ways to make money that can tide you over until you find the right full-time job.

The interviewer badmouths their coworkers

Kzenon/Adobe two employees gossiping about a female employee

Endlessly gossiping and badmouthing colleagues is one sure sign of a bad employee. The same goes for the person you’re interviewing with, regardless of their status as a gatekeeper.

It’s one thing to get along well with the interviewer. That’s a plus. But the rapport between you shouldn’t be based on dishing about company employees, past or present.

Remember, you’re not part of the team yet. If the interviewer airs dirty laundry to you, imagine what they might say about you at some point. Steer clear.

The interview is short

fizkes/Adobe hr manager shaking female job candidate hand

Good interviewers take time to get to know you and make sure you’re a good fit. They are patient and thorough.

So an interview that wraps quickly might spell trouble. If you feel like they’re rushing the process, or they’re curt and rude, it’s a bad sign.

There’s no enthusiasm

yurolaitsalbert/Adobe tired employee at a business meeting in the office

The energy level in an office is a good indicator of the work culture. So look around and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do the employees seem bored?
  • Are workers eagerly chatting with each other, or are they avoiding interaction?
  • Do your potential future colleagues look miserable?

If there’s no enthusiasm in the workplace — if it looks like workers are physically dragging themselves into the office and down the hall to their desks — that’s a sign it’s toxic.

They use the term ‘family’

Lumos sp/Adobe business teamwork hug together support cooperation group colleague

If the person interviewing you refers to the company team as “a family,” that’s a huge red flag. Maybe it’s designed to put you at ease, but it should have the opposite effect.

The company is not your family. The office is not your home. There needs to be established boundaries between your real family and the job.

Few things are more toxic than a company that doesn’t respect the time you want to spend with your actual family.

You have unanswered questions

fizkes/Adobe businesswoman with skeptical facial expression holding contract

Interviews are supposed to be genuine conversations. The company gets to know you, and you get to know the company. As such, there should be a healthy amount of back-and-forth questioning.

If the person you’re interviewing with won’t answer your questions, that’s a major concern. You can’t make an informed decision about a new career opportunity if the company isn’t forthcoming with details.

The job description is vague

Lena Ivanova/Adobe unhappy confused female distressed with laptop troubles

If you’ve been asked to come in for an interview, it’s safe to assume you’re already familiar with the language of the job post to which you applied.

However, that doesn't mean you’re intimately aware of the precise responsibilities. Learning about these tasks is one goal of the interview. 

Not being able to get that information is a huge problem. After all, how can you be expected to do your job if you don’t know what it is?

Bottom line

Drobot Dean/Adobe employers sitting in office and shaking hand of young woman

Don’t subject yourself to a toxic workplace just because there’s a paycheck involved. You deserve better. 

The misery that comes with a nightmare of a job can quickly outweigh the opportunity to boost your bank account.

In the end, if you’ve got a bad feeling about a job, trust your gut and think twice about accepting the offer.

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Author Details

Will Vitka Will Vitka is a D.C. area reporter and writer. He previously worked for WTOP, The New York Post, Stuff Magazine, and CBS News.

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