6 things that should set off alarm bells in a job interview

6 things that should set off alarm bells in a job interview

It's a lot easier to be pickier about a job before you accept, rather than change jobs just because you can, only to realise you've switched to a job that's worse than your last one.

I've had some jobs where all the colleagues around me just kept quitting. On hindsight, there were always some clear warning signs during the interview, including the following:

  • Interviewer asked about my religion or whether I planned to have kids someday.
  • Interviewer badmouthed colleagues or other individuals in the profession.
  • Interviewer did not ask me any questions and practically forced me to take the job.
  • Interviewer came into the interview room carrying her dominatrix's whip.

But what if you don't know anyone in the company who can recce the place for you before you accept an offer? Here are 6 warning signs to look out for at the interview.

1. Boss is rude or an a**hole

Rudeness doesn't necessarily mean using the Lord's name in vain. It could just be boorish behaviour or a lack of consideration for others. Just as there are some people you can see yourself having a beer with, there are others who deserve the beer poured over their heads.

If your future boss is someone you find abrasive, inconsiderate or offensive, that's a big red flag right there, and you should ask yourself if this is someone you can be subordinate to each and every day for years.

You might think you can suck it up if you're paid enough, but believe me, when you're burnt out, irritable and sleep deprived, you're more likely to kick those balls than to carry them (excuse my French).

2. The employees seem unhappy

The atmosphere of an office is quite palpable, and if you have the chance try to take a walk around the area where all the cubicles are, or even better chat with one of the employees. If they seem stressed or unhappy, there's a good chance you will be too.

Low morale in an office spreads like wildfire, and unless you are Ronald McDonald and can keep that smile painted on while the people around you toil away miserably, take it as a warning. The biggest reasons employees are unhappy tend to be poor management or unrealistic workloads, and unless that's fine with you, beware.

3. The boss seems distracted

Have you ever attended an interview where the boss was too busy replying to emails on his phone to look you in the eye, or couldn't seem to remember anything about your resume despite the fact that he had a printed copy sitting right in front of it?

That's usually not a good thing, because a boss who can't be bothered to pay attention during an interview is not only impolite, but also probably a bad mentor who'll be too busy to show you the ropes. In careers like consulting and law, mentoring is very important for juniors, and with a bad mentor you'll be thrown in the deep end and left to beg seniors to help you. Ask yourself how important mentoring is to you before you accept.

4. The interviewer badmouths other people

When the interviewer badmouths people, that's a flag that's as red as the top half of the Singapore flag. 9 times out of 10, the problem lies with the boss and not the subordinates. The bosses who complain most about their employees are usually the ones everyone hates, and leaves-the main reason for mass departures is almost always a hated boss.

5. The interviewer makes bigoted or racist comments

Singaporeans might pride themselves on being a mutiracial nation, melting pot blah blah blah, but the reality is that racism, casual or not, happens at the workplace all the time. If your interviewer makes overtly bigoted or racist comments, you might want to think twice about whether you want to work there, even if you are not of a minority race.

I've learnt the hard way that bosses who are bigoted or racist, even casually so, tend to be more judgmental about their employees' personal lives, or generally more "old school" and conservative in their approach. If that's the case, you can generally expect a great emphasis on face time and a higher employee-employer power distance.

For instance, I've been called up for interviews by companies that (according to the recruiter I liaised with) insisted on only hiring Chinese females, despite the fact that the job did not require Mandarin skills and did not involve hawking Tiger Beer or posing with cars. I would think twice about working for such an employer.

6. You are hardly asked any questions

If the interviewer practically hands you the job on the spot, don't congratulate yourself for being awesome enough to get a job offer within 5 seconds.

Instead, you should be worried about the fact that the company doesn't seem concerned about hiring the best person for the job-instead, they just want to fill the space with someone who's willing to accept what they're paying. In other words, another cog in the wheel.

Companies like that are usually not very concerned about grooming their employees or building cohesive teams. Unless your job is a part-time F&B gig you plan to take on during university, take it as a warning.


MoneySmart.sg is Singapore’s leading personal finance portal, and aims to help people maximise their money with powerful tools and engaging content.

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