Let’s face it: People are not always the best at picking up cues from the people we’re interviewing with for a job.
I’m guilty. 🙋♀️
I don’t always ask the right questions, or do enough research, or see the red flags, even though my potential boss told me a million times that the work-life balance is really what people love, not the lack of compensation.
I’m not perfect.
Thankfully for me, I’m learning how to navigate that. To an extent.
Let me tell you how I got to this point.
In April 2018, I got laid off for budget cuts from my dream job after only 3 weeks (and 1 day after my 30th birthday) after getting a fancy title and salary that would pay off my student debt still lingering from 2010.
I even bought a new power pantsuit from Zara thinking it would give me confidence.
On Tuesday, April 11th, 2018 at 7 a.m. ET I discovered I was locked out of everything.
I tried contacting my boss, but no answer.
I tried contacting my co-workers, nothing.
At 3:18 p.m. ET, my boss called to inform me that the company was going out of business.
My stomach dropped.
Fear started to creep in – how am I going to pay rent? How am I going to feed my dogs? Myself?
Then, anger and self-loathing… Why did I give up my freelance gigs for this? Why did I not have a plan B? Why did I not protect myself from this?
I was devastated.
Three years earlier, I had been laid off from another start-up company due to budget cuts 4 weeks after I had filed for divorce and was already homeless.
I had built my house of cards with my rose-colored glasses on.
And, there I was …. watching it all fall apart in slow motion like a scene from a movie. It felt like waiting for the snow to drop in a snow globe.
My mother, who is ex-military and previous dairy queen princess, taught me to be a lion, to never give up, to keep going after failing.
I’ll never forget her screaming at me to finish the game after I broke my arm playing soccer. I scored three more goals to win the championship.
So, that night, I did what my mom would do. I applied for every marketing job – anywhere, no matter the level of experience, for whatever they would pay me.
The next morning, I got a job waiting tables.
It took me 6 months to build back up my freelance work while waiting tables. It was a struggle.
There were many nights of canned green beans for dinner and paying for gas in change.
Then it happened.
I got the call of a lifetime. A six-figure job opportunity to move to Europe.
I felt like this is what I had been waiting for. I gave up everything to move across the world to start a new life.
But, I arrived in Europe on more false promises. After 4 months, I was in the same place again.
I couldn’t afford to pay rent, feed myself, my spouse, or dogs.
But I didn’t how to fix the situation.
Enter: My knight and shining armor – an SEO company in the United States looking for a Director of Link Building.
After I got off the call with the job offer, I fell to my knees in the living room and cried.
I was so grateful to have someone that cared enough to offer to help me get out of my current situation felt genuine and heartfelt.
It was not.
Eight months later, I was being gaslighted, bullied, and experiencing sexism for the first time in my SEO career.
I was threatened, manipulated, and fearing my life was going to be destroyed if I said anything against the Chief of Strategy at this company.
I felt weak and helpless.
I was embarrassed for letting this happen to me.
I knew I was stronger than this.
As my mom would say, I was a lion.
So, why was I so concerned and scared of the opinion of a sheep?
I’m happy to say that now I am with an amazing company leading SEO.
This is why this article is important to me.
After 121 interviews, 18 companies, 300+ websites, I’ve identified 15 red flags to watch out for during the interview process before accepting a job.
Hopefully, you can learn from my experiences so this doesn’t happen to you.
Think of it as a kind of jerk repellent checklist. You know, people and companies you wouldn’t swipe right for.
And, today you’re going to earn your merit badge.
In identifying red flags of potential employers and people you don’t want to work for.
Here Are 15 Red Flags I Watch Out for During Interviews
Red Flag #1: A Recent Series of Suspiciously Happy Photos on Instagram
This is the easiest telltale sign of a company trying to push their “most fun” culture.
Are they on a beach in the Caribbean for their team week retreat? Yes.
Are they all connecting and playing ping pong in the office? Duh.
Are they all laughing and having fun at the hot dog eating contest at work? Sure!
These are classic “Fake Love” by Drake playing on repeat type of moments in an interview.
This is a cue to run.
Red Flag #2: When They Say, ‘We Don’t Need a Contract’
Not having a contract or a written agreement saying what you’re getting paid?
That’s a very bad thing.
Red Flag #3: When They Offer to Pay Your Benefits in Equity
So you’ve been offered 0.3% of the equity in a company in place of benefits.
Awesome! Great idea. Good for you. You’re so talented.
Now come the harder parts:
- Is it vested or granted all upfront?
- What taxes will you pay?
- Are you already at a senior position?
Equity-based pay typically comes from startup companies that don’t have the capital to pay the big bucks for experienced employees.
This could be a really big pay off. Or, a complete waste of time.
Red Flag #4: When They Don’t Let You Interview Your Potential Co-workers
Walk with me as I take you through a journey to a special place.
A perfect work-life balance where you love all your co-workers, no micromanaging, no meetings, massive budget, your dream job.
Welcome to delusion.
This place does not exist.
I want to talk to other people in the company to get a good perspective of what the culture is like and learn about my new bosses’ management style.
Red Flag #5: When They Say, ‘We Can Figure Out Your Title Later’
During a job offer conversation, my boss told me “We can figure out your title later.”
Now, I’m not big on titles.
It’s not like I’m going on “The Bachelorette” with Social Media Influencer as my job title.
But, a job title is a signal to potential news reporters, partnerships, and companies of what level your at within the organization.
It’s a symbol of what you do and the value you bring to the table.
Red Flag #6: When They Require a Daily Meeting
It’s 7:14 a.m., and I just got done brushing my teeth.
I have a Zoom meeting in 6 minutes so I dab makeup under my eyes and on a zit on my chin.
I attempt to brush my mane, throw a shirt on that doesn’t scream, “I have a mac n’ cheese stain,” and hop on the call. This is only my first call of six for the day.
I’m worn out. These daily meetings are soul-sucking.
Over the last 50 years, research has shown the people are spending an average of 23 hours a week in meetings.
This takes away from solo work that needs to get completed. How many times have you heard a coworker say, “So sorry, I was stuck in meetings all day?”
There are better ways to use your brainpower.
Red Flag #7: When They Say, ‘You Tell Me a Number, We’ll Make It Happen’
I’ve always waited for my Dr. Evil moment of asking for “one million dollars.”
And, I finally got that opportunity. But, I sold myself short because I was nervous I wouldn’t move forward in the interview process.
Little did I know, that I was the least paying person with a “Director” title at the company.
I got into a terrible habit of connecting my self-worth with my net worth.
Now, I see that my salary is how my services and skills are valued in the market today.
The next time I was asked this question, I flipped the script to ask the company what their budget was and to explain the compensation package.
Later in the interview process, I found out it was a six-figure position, almost triple what I was currently making.
Red Flag #8: When Their Glassdoor Reviews Are Terrible (or Have None at All)
1 in 3 people have turned down a job offer because of bad reviews.
But, it’s important to take these with a grain of salt. Not all reviews are true.
I worked at a company that required me to leave a Glassdoor review within my first 90 days.
So, I wrote about how it was all rainbows and daisies because I felt my job was on the line. #realshady
On the other hand, you can use reviews like this to gain a glimpse of what it’s like to work inside the company.
Red Flag #9: When They Leave Your Interview Early Because Their Kid Is Auditioning for a Movie
Yes. This really happened.
Let me say that you’ll probably have bigger problems than just a movie audition later.
You know what they say about Hollywood, everything is fake. This job is no exception.
Red Flag #10: When They Say, ‘I’ve Got a Guy, But He Doesn’t Want You to Know Who He Is, But He’s from Russia’
I interviewed with a Chief of Strategy that claimed to be the Dutch master of building SEO-friendly websites.
He claimed he’s got a team of Ukrainian and Russian hackers that could manipulate anything.
If he would have whipped around in his mega desk, stretched out his fingers, and called himself Kerrigan from Starcraft, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Red Flag #11: When They Tell Say, At Least 6 Times, ‘I’m Friends with Rockstars and Can Get You Tickets’
I grew up touring with the band Kansas so music has always been a big part of my life. During an interview with a potential employer, I shared my love for music with them.
The interviewer told me, “I’m friends with rockstars. I can get you free tickets backstage.”
I thought it was another Bert Kreischer and Creed guitarist moment.
— Comedy Central Stand-Up (@standup) April 14, 2017
Later, I discovered this person played drums in high school with a semi-known reggae band.
And, after 3 years of working together, no free tickets.
Red Flag #12: When They Text You After the Interview
I received a text message from a CEO after an interview asking me to email him my salary requirements immediately.
I was surprised.
I appreciated the sense of urgency.
But, it felt like an invasion of my privacy after one interview.
I quickly learned this was a peek into what my life would be like working for this company.
I got multiple random calls and text messages throughout the day. The client would never show up to our scheduled daily meeting.
Red Flag #13: When the Job Description Is Less Than 100 Words
I applied for an SEO Specialist freelancer gig that was short, simple, bullet points of what was expected from me.
My offer letter was pretty similar.
I ended up running the entire marketing department because apparently SEO Specialist also means social media guru, email marketing expert, and content extraordinaire.
Red Flag #14: When They Won’t Show You the Employee Handbook Before Joining
The employee handbook is crucial to how the culture and inner office workings happen.
It will tell you how the company really treats its employees.
For example, General Motors’ handbook included 10 pages of what is appropriate to wear to work. In 2014, CEO Mary Barra replaced the 10 pages with two words: “Dress appropriately.”
If she could trust them with $10 million in budgets, she could trust them to dress appropriately.
Not getting to read the employee handbook before accepting a new job is like finally reaching the OT VIII (8th level) of Scientology and now you can read the handbook.
Red Flag #15: When They Can’t Tell You About the Work Hours
Whether you’re a W2 employee or an I9 contractor, you want to be sure your work hours are confirmed by both parties.
I made the mistake of not having a formal contract with my work hours.
My client called me during an interview for a podcast. He was not happy and said that between the hours of 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. that I was only focused on his work.
However, as an I9 contractor, that’s not something a client can determine.
I’ve always believed that a flexible work schedule breeds productivity. Clearly, another failed attempt at finding the dream gig.
Show Me a Person Who Hasn’t Had At Least One of These Happen During an Interview & I’ll Venmo You $20
OK, not really. (I don’t have your account information).
The biggest takeaway from this piece is to not just take whatever gig you can get.
In the past, I would scale a tall building to get higher pay. I would even change into my superhero outfit (OK, just a new pair of sweatpants) at night when applying for jobs.
When interviewing a potential employer or client put the interviewer in the hot seat. Asking the right questions helps you understand if this is the right fit for you.
Be a lion.
Understand your own worth before going into an interview.
No matter what happens, do not lose your confidence. Now, before interviews, to bring out the lion, I jam out to “Lucky You” by Eminem featuring Joyner Lucas.
🎵 “Snakes in the grass, tryna slither fast I just bought a [bleep] lawn mower.”🎵
- Why Would Anyone Leave a Job They Love?
- How Your Job Becomes Your Identify
- How I Found My Work-Life Balance & the Importance of Self-Care
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
In-Post Image: Provided by author
All screenshots taken by author, June 2020