Let’s just agree that a job interview is one of those situations that will always be at least a little bit uncomfortable. Even if you are extremely well-prepared, meeting a bunch of new people, convincing them that you’re the best fit for the job, and negotiating a great salary (all within a few minutes) is not exactly relaxing.
But sometimes, how you feel at a job interview could be more than just nerves. You may be feeling uncomfortable because your gut is telling you that something about the way the interview is going is not quite right. Some signs are obvious, and you may pick up on them right away. Others are more subtle and may not even feel wrong until you’ve had a chance to think about them later.
If you notice any of these signs in your next job interview, it’s worth taking note of them — and taking them to heart.
1. You feel bullied
You go in feeling confident, excited, and well-prepared; you come out angry, insecure, and feeling terrible about yourself. What just happened?
Some companies deliberately create stressful situations during an interview to see how candidates handle them. A questionable hiring practice at best, this sometimes veers into downright unprofessional territories. They may keep cutting you off, undermining all your achievements, and trying to trip you up at every turn. A friend of mine was once told that none of her prior experience would “count” because she had been working in a different city (she was applying for a digital role that had nothing to do with her physical location).
Red flag alert! They could be trying to break your confidence so you’d settle for lower pay or agree to unreasonable terms. Or bullying could simply be a part of their work culture — in which case you should seriously reconsider working there.
2. They make you jump through hoops unnecessarily
It’s common to have several rounds of interviews, especially if you’re applying for a senior role. But if these rounds start feeling endless and pointless, that’s not a good sign.
You shouldn’t have to meet every person at the firm and answer the same questions every time. You shouldn’t have to rush to show up for interviews at short notice, especially if they take ages to get back to you after each round. And you definitely should not have to work on their ongoing projects for free to “prove yourself.” These are all signs of disorganization and disrespect — and if you’re feeling frustrated now, imagine how you’ll feel once you actually start working there!
3. The questions get too personal
I was once interviewed by a person who asked me if I intended to get married anytime soon. He followed it up by saying that women often take up new jobs and then quit once they get married, and he needed to be sure I wouldn’t do that.
While interviewers may try to get to know you better by asking about your interests and hobbies outside of work, probing personal questions like this are never okay. After all, they are still perfect strangers, so you shouldn’t have to tell them about your financial situation, your sexual orientation, or your intention to start a family. Nor should you have to make vague promises about not taking time off during religious festivals or family emergencies.
Not only do such questions raise a huge red flag, but they are also actually illegal in some places. Know that you are not obliged to answer these questions — and if you feel like you are being pressured to do so, you are well within your rights to tell them that you would prefer not to discuss your personal life. Questions like this are indicative of discriminatory practices and policies within the organization, so even if you manage to sidestep the issue right then in the interview, consider whether you’d want to work for that company in the first place.
4. It’s way too easy
When you come out feeling really positive about an interview, it can be difficult to look at the situation critically. But it’s important to consider why the interview felt so easy. If it was because the interviewer put you at ease, asked great questions, and their requirements were right within your field of expertise, then congratulations — you have a great gig on your hands!
But, did it feel easy because the person rushed through the process, didn’t really care to test your skills, or asked generic questions that anybody could have answered? If so, it could indicate that the company is in a hurry to fill the position, and they’ll hire anyone. Or it could be that the person interviewing you was not familiar with your job role, didn’t know to ask the right questions, and will not appreciate you in the future either.
5. They glorify being overworked
This one’s tricky too because it’s often portrayed as cool or aspirational. Watch out for phrases like “We like getting things done, no matter the time” or “We’re passionate about what we do, so we don’t mind dropping by the office on weekends.”
This usually means that you’ll be required to sacrifice your work-life balance, and they’re making it difficult for you to say no right at the outset. Ask follow-up questions about their overtime policy, weekend schedules, and their expectations about your availability after hours. Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into before you think about accepting.
Don’t forget, a job interview is not just a chance for you to convince a potential employer about your abilities — it is also a great opportunity for you to scope out the company before you join. Being able to spot and assess these red flags may help you avoid organizations that are not the right fit for you, and thus make better career decisions!