Imagine that you can get solid job search advice directly from someone with a background in recruitment and human resources. Wouldn’t that be helpful? Now you can do just that thanks to our new series of interviews Recruiter Reveals! Every month I interview our resident HR expert Christy Morgan on various job search topics, whether it’s resumes, cover letters, job interviews, or anything marginally career-related.
Job hunting is always a two-way street.
You are not in this just to be chosen, you are someone who chooses too.
But how do you choose your next workplace well? And how do you make sure you don’t end up in a toxic workplace?
The point is, sometimes until you join the company, you have no way of knowing for sure. Still, there are some techniques that can help you identify a toxic workplace before accepting a job.
We’ll tell you what the biggest warning signs are in the workplace and where to look for them.
In this interview, you will discover:
- What is a toxic workplace?
- What techniques can help you identify it?
- Where to look for the main warning signs in the workplace;
- How many red flags in the workplace are simply too many;
- What should you do when you only find out after accepting the job?
- How both Christy and I were cheated on when we were teenagers.
What is, in your opinion, a toxic workplace?
This is an interesting question because when you say the word “toxic”We automatically imagine a workplace where there is a lot of drama and negativity. But in reality, this is not that common. The things that we could call toxic are smaller things that add up.
For example, favoritism, not receiving the deserved raises you requested, not getting that promotion because someone less qualified got it. Or maybe having to deal with some low-level internal policies that create an unpleasant environment, which is by far the most common type of toxic undercurrent in the workplace.
And then it goes to the dramatic stages where managers yell and scream like in a Hollywood movie. It doesn’t happen that often, but it does happen. So the toxic environment goes from small things to big problems.
Are there any toxic signs or warning signs in the workplace that you can look for before accepting the job?
Yes, especially now with the Internet and social networks it is much easier. It has sites like Glassdoor, Comparably, or Blind. People even post reviews on Facebook pages and internet forums. For example, there are several really great Reddit forums, like Recruiting Hell and Career Guidance, that give you great insights because people share experiences you wouldn’t know otherwise. And there is a lot of toxicity!
Therefore, it is about doing as much research as possible before the interview. But even then, sometimes you just won’t know until you’ve been there for a while and see patterns emerging.
Can you tell me a little more about how you can identify a toxic workplace? What techniques can you use to catch it before it’s too late?
Checking out things like the ones I mentioned: Comparably, Blind, Glassdoor, online reviews, and internet forums. That is where you can investigate and discover many things. Of course, don’t trust a single website, as businesses can pay to have negative reviews removed. Also, every company will have negative and positive reviews because that is the nature of humans. But usually you can see a general pattern there. And you should keep that in mind.
You can even check a company’s social media accounts, Google or Trustpilot reviews and see what people are saying about them. Just get as much information as you can and try to filter it.
Is that the environment you want to work in? Sound suspicious to you? Is that what you would classify as toxic? Because some people may say “This is a toxic environment, they made us work and pushed us to do more.” However, to a salesperson or someone else, that may sound fantastic. Those are the things you need to be aware of as well, but there are plenty of resources available to get you some clues on what business is like.
Does it also make sense to check if someone in your network works for that company and ask them?
Yes of course. Contact them and ask them. But again, don’t take it as an absolute truth about what it’s like there because your experience may be completely different from others or yours. Just take it all together with other things you discover during your research and use your instinct and judgment.
What about multiple news reports? That is also something that can be part of your pre-interview research.
Yes, very true. Some of it may not be relevant to your particular office, but you may find some useful information about the culture. Leadership sets the tone for the culture, so the types of people who run the company give you an indication of the types of people, behaviors, and values that are tolerated or expected in the organization.
Does asking the right questions in the job interview also help? They can also help you guess what’s going on in the background, right?
Yes, that is also part. So first do your research on the company, access their network, and then at the job interview, don’t hesitate to ask questions.
For example, one thing you may ask is why the position is available, which can give you an idea of the turnover rate in this particular position. Or ask them in their opinion, what the culture is like. If they say that people work hard and have a lot of fun, and if you’re looking for a reasonable work-life balance, you know that it may not be right for you.
Is there anything else or is this the most you can do as a job seeker??
One more thing you can do as part of your investigation is to try to verify the previous person who might be leaving the position. Just take a look at LinkedIn to see how long they were at work and try to find someone else on LinkedIn who has held this position before them. If it is a short period of time, that could indicate that something is happening. It can also give you information on whether the person did the things listed in the job description or if the actual scope differs.
Also pay attention to how they treat you as a candidate. How do people appear to be when you walk into the interview? Are they engaged and welcoming? Do employees interact well with each other? In a hurry to quickly finish the interview? You can get clues from that too.
I mentioned in a previous one Recruiter reveals I had a client who was doing a panel interview. Only the main interviewer was asking questions; the others weren’t interested and spent most of their time on their phones. This, in my opinion, shows that they are not interested in the organization, nor in the team, nor in the product. That’s a big red flag for me.
Are there warning signs in the workplace you look for before you even apply for a job? For example, some resources say that a very vague or long job description is a red flag. What do you think of that?
Not necessarily. It could indicate that they don’t know exactly what they want from the person or that they are a bit disorganized. Let’s say it’s more of a yellowish flag than a red one. If something is not clear, you can ask them at the job interview.
What if the job description only mentions job responsibilities and doesn’t say anything about what the company can offer you?
It’s not necessarily a red flag, because many companies just aren’t good at writing job descriptions. Sometimes they just want to post the job posting quickly and use the same old description that they have always used. It’s not a smart practice, sure, but not necessarily a red flag.
What if their communication is unprofessional or they contact me later than promised?
I’d take it as a red flag for sure. I don’t know how big it would be, but I would certainly take it into account and keep an eye out for other signs. Because if they don’t communicate effectively, it could just be that person. But if you get that from the rest of the company and the people you are interacting with, then communication is probably not your thing. And that is certainly a red flag. If they don’t treat you with respect at first, they will treat you the same as an employee.
What other warning signs in the workplace do you notice at this stage of the interview?
Things like if they keep their promises when they say they’ll get back to you in a week. Or when it comes to the offer, are they trying to offer you less than you wanted?
What if they suggest a lower salary and say you will recover later?
That is a red flag. I think that shows a lack of respect, or worse.
I also read somewhere that some people think that if a company cannot delineate a career path, it is a red flag. But is it? For example, startups don’t have a corporate structure.
Yes, exactly. Startups are like that. You don’t know if it will be there in five years, it’s just getting started. The same for companies that are in the post-go-live start-up phase. So, I don’t think it’s a red flag. In that case, I would focus on where they see the company going.
And if it’s an established company and you ask the first stage interviewer, they may not know specifically what the current options are for your position (although they probably should, if they are interviewing you!). So it may be a question mark, but not a massive red flag.
What if they start asking you personal questions that have little to do with work?
This is definitely a red flag. This has also happened to me personally many times. Even on Reddit this morning, I read a post from someone asking if it’s normal for the potential business to ask for your social media account passwords. Well, this is definitely not right. You should never give out your passwords or be pushed to show them your personal profiles. Treat it like a big red flag if they ask for it.
However, asking personal questions also depends on the country you are in. In certain countries, you can ask certain questions, such as marital status, date of birth, religion, children, etc. For example, in Germany it is used for informational purposes and is not considered discriminatory. But otherwise, I think that if they ask you such personal questions, it is because they are trying to filter you, or they are quite bold and do not recognize acceptable limits. Would I like to work for a company where they are so intrusive? Certainly not.
What if they offer you the job on the spot?
Well that’s pretty cool. I think that in most cases that is a red flag. That is common, for example, with MLM and scams. This morning I was reading something from a person who was looking for remote jobs, saw a suitable ad and applied, did a video interview with “HR” which went very well, they spoke to the “manager” and were offered a job on point. The candidate thought, as many people might think, that with working from home becoming more and more important, the whole process can move much faster.
While waiting for his contract, the company sent a check to the candidate so that he could begin purchasing work-from-home equipment that is generously included in the offer. They advised the candidate to take it to the bank and gave them the contact information for their equipment supplier to send the money. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a fake check. All too often, people spend their own money on such supplies in the meantime, assuming the funds will be returned when the check is paid. Then the bank says a few days later, “Sorry, this is a fraudulent check.” They give you your money back and you run out of money. And still out of work.
And there are loads of scams like these. So if you are offered a job on the spot, I’ll be cautious. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Oh! But I imagine that startups or smaller companies are the exception, since their hiring process is not as long as that of corporations.
If it can be. Especially with younger companies and staff who don’t want to be “corporate” people. They want to be spontaneous and flexible. But you will meet them in person, you will be able to talk to them, ask them questions. For example, the person in the story did not meet them in person. Mainly do your research and this way you can make sure it is a legitimate company. You can even try calling the company directly from the information on their website to make sure they haven’t given you a fake number.
How many red flags in the workplace are too many? When should you start to think that you probably don’t want to work for that company?
It depends on what those red flags are in the workplace. For example, if it’s the communication from the HR person, it’s probably a red flag for me, but it may not be a deal breaker. But if you have a constant lack of communication or ghosts of multiple people, plus there are other factors like the way they speak to you, the job description is a bit vague, you’ve read some negative reviews on Glassdoor, it’s enough to tell you that you don’t want to work for such a company. But most of all, it depends on you and when your instincts start to kick in.
Has it ever happened to you that you took a job and a day or two later realized that it was not what you thought it was?
Yes, it happened to me when I was a teenager. I got the travel bug early and there was a job selling books. The company seemed legitimate. The job was basically to sell books in rural communities, door to door. I like books and travel, so I thought it was quite interesting, even if the pay was quite low. But I was a teenager, I just wanted to get away and do things. So, I said it was okay.
But deep down I thought it wasn’t right. Still, he was young and naive. Meanwhile, after accepting the offer, I heard a rumor that someone had been raped doing that job. I’m not sure if it was from an employee or someone else, but it was while doing this job. So, then I backed off.
This is horrible! They also cheated on me as a teenager when I took a job without a contract and then didn’t get paid.
I’m sorry to hear that! Oh yeah, that’s another red flag when you are offered a job without a contract. This happens many times to younger people who have no experience and think it is normal. I guess that’s where websites and resources like Glassdoor come in very handy as they give you some ideas and clues.
Is it common for job seekers to look at each other for various benefits and ignore red flags in the workplace?
Of course, people like cool perks and it’s a nice thing to have. But sometimes, it could distract you from certain things. I will use Google as an example.
There was a documentary where a journalist came in and discussed Google’s staffing methodology and how it comes down to productivity. They also interviewed former employees to get their opinion. I remember one guy who had really positive things to say, but felt like at the end of the day, all these perks like table tennis, gourmet food, free transportation, all of that didn’t make up for the fact that he was doing something different than what he wanted. when you joined; He thought he could focus on certain initiatives, but in the end he couldn’t. It took me a while to realize that. I guess all those amazing benefits can make it hard to see what isn’t working sometimes.
In the end, those benefits can be an orange flag. They are addictive. And when one day you return to the “normal” world of work, it is more difficult to get used to.
Do you think companies are good at covering up these toxic environments? Or is it that job seekers can feel it most of the time?
Well, sometimes you can feel that something is not right. But sometimes, until you join the company, you may not know it. However, when it comes to covering up the toxic workplace, I feel like sometimes companies just don’t know. Leadership doesn’t always know about people who have favorites, internal politics, labor issues, things like this. So maybe it’s not that they’re covering it up. Maybe they just don’t realize it. But there are also managers who tend to ignore it.
What should you do if you have already accepted a job, start working, and after a few days you realize that it is a toxic environment?
It will depend on the person. Some people may say “I don’t like being here, but it’s just a job. I can deal with it. It’s only going to be for a year and I’ll earn good money. “
Then there is the other half that will say “I don’t want to work in this environment. I do not like it “. Most jobs usually have a trial or trial period. So sometimes you can give your notice and get out right away. Or you can use the trial period to find another job. I think there is no shame or anything negative in going out. And if it comes out early enough, then you don’t have to include that company on your resume. And maybe there is a very small gap between the previous job or the next job and you can tell that you were looking for a new job during that gap.
But I think if you realize that it is a toxic environment and you feel like this is not a place for you, you better get out ASAP.
What if you had already accepted a job offer but then realized that the company is toxic? Is there a way to gracefully decline his offer?
Depends. If you have already signed a contract or if the offer has just been presented to you. If you were only offered a job, you can say something like “I have another great opportunity that is closer to my home. Thank you for considering me, I really appreciate it. I wish you the best.” They may not be happy about it, but these things just happen.
Key takeaways: red flags in the workplace
How to research a company:
- Research the company on sites like Glassdoor, Comparably, or Blind. Also, browse your social media accounts and reviews on Facebook, Google, Trustpilot, and other internet forums.
- Try to find a person who has previously worked in that position. Take a look at their LinkedIn profile to see how long they were at work.
- Check your network of people who work at that company and ask for their opinion.
- Ask the right questions in your job interview, eg. Eg why the position is available, what is your company culture, etc.
What are the main warning signs in the workplace?
- Negative feedback from employees
- If you are treated badly as a candidate for a position
- Unprofessional or lack of communication.
- They suggest a lower salary and say you will get back later
- They ask personal questions
- They offer you a job on the spot (unless it’s a startup or small business)
- They want you to work without a contract