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Where's the Gift of Fear for the workplace?
October 25, 2012 12:59 PM   Subscribe

What did you first notice about your supervisor, coworkers, subordinates, or office environment when you were about to take a job that turned out to be a negative experience?

I believe I have suppressed some gut-level reactions when unwisely accepting employment offers. What were some things you noticed when you were about to make a similarly poor decision?

Some examples:

-Mistaking desperation for enthusiasm
-Thinking I'd fit into a non-diverse workforce (i.e. single-sex, everyone else is significantly older, etc.)
-Overlooking some minor boundary invasion (i.e., the hiring manager called references before being provided a list or given explicit permission)

What did you notice? Has that guided you when you accepted jobs in the future?
posted by ziggly to Work & Money (69 answers total) 74 users marked this as a favorite
 
Looking at a lack of emphasis on process improvement as an opportunity to fix the place, rather than as an indication of an immature company culture.
posted by straw at 1:02 PM on October 25, 2012 [16 favorites]


I had a job from late 2011 to mid-2012 that I hated and was not a good fit for me. I had a bad feeling about it from the first day, where the job I was promised was very different than the job I was given. I think my warning bells should've been that the employer was looking for someone young and inexperienced* who they were looking to mold into the person they wanted. They didn't care what I could do, only the type of person they assumed I was from my CV and interview.

My new job is the opposite: I had a really great gut feeling about it from the start.

* I was neither young nor inexperienced, which was actually worse. The employer discounted my previous experience, later, as 'woman's work' and therefore not a 'real' job.
posted by toerinishuman at 1:07 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


CEO parked his ostentatious red sports car directly in front of the main employee entrance.
posted by ook at 1:09 PM on October 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


Just a general weirdness in communications between co-workers that doesn't seem normal. That can be indicative of bad power dynamics, lack of respect, unclear chains of command, etc.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:09 PM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


1. I walked into the building for my first interview and was filled with dread.
2. The person who ended up being my immediate supervisor said something mildly rude right off the bat in a screening phone call. I brushed it off as "quirky" at the time, but that turned out to be an indicator of this person's bizarre, inscrutable personality that was ultimately a very poor fit for me.
3. I felt zero interest in the product the company made and that I'd spend my days supporting there.

I took the job when it was offered to me because it paid okay and I figured that being pushed outside my comfort zone would be a good learning experience. It turned out to be a year and a half of assorted misery, culminating in my supervisor verbally abusing me before finally terminating me.
posted by hollisimo at 1:11 PM on October 25, 2012


A bottle in the bottom drawer. Seriously.

But I have stayed in my organization, and have far out-lasted the confederacy of dolts who were my first superiors here.
posted by Danf at 1:14 PM on October 25, 2012


Poor communication during the hiring process; not calling when they said (repeatedly), interviewing with different people who had different agendas, being kept waiting for an interview for an inordinate amount of time.

Once I went ahead and took a job after overhearing the worst workplace argument I'd ever imagined. Everyone was so apologetic and I was assured that was not a regular thing. I should have run.
posted by readery at 1:15 PM on October 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


I noticed the guy had way more enthusiasm than he had experience. He was trying too hard to be fun. Also: he cracked a joke about being a micromanager. Guess what he turned out to be? An inexperienced clown who was also a micromanager.
posted by 2oh1 at 1:16 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


...the job I was promised was very different than the job I was given....

Anything of this nature: I was told that I'd be coming into a writing/PR position, but would start on the floor for two weeks to understand the process. Six months later....
Required to stay on the floor 20 minutes after shift and be there 20 minutes before with no compensation; required to be on floor 10 minutes before lunch was over; required to attend no-pay Saturday meetings 'voluntary'; overtime without notice; informally only 'allowed' 5 minutes restroom break once a shift; yadda yadda yadda. Place was the shits. Oh, and the writing job? Had been advertised for over a year, still never filled while I was there.

Malicious gossip from day one is never a good sign.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:17 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


My Very Bad Boss did two things that probably should have tipped me off:

A) Announced in the interview he had already talked to my then-boss, because something in my cover letter had led him to believe she probably knew. She did know, but still, not cool.
B) Offered me the job on the spot, but then seemed totally taken aback when I wouldn't say yes on the spot. He initially said sure, take a couple of days, then emailed me that night to say he had another interview the next day and wouldn't I just say yes so he could cancel the interview and save everyone time? I was young and dumb and flattered by the hard sell instead of realizing the guy had no boundaries, and took the job.

And then had the most miserable two years of my life in that job. Ugh.
posted by Stacey at 1:18 PM on October 25, 2012


Worked in several UK academic digital library research centers on short term project contracts, and the dynamics of the shared kitchen area turned out to be the best indicators.

Stuff tidy, put away, easy-going set of shared mugs, no notes = good place.

Stuff untidy, stuff unwashed for days, notes such as "DEAR THIEF: I HAVE SPAT IN MY MILK" and some people keeping their mugs and food in their desks = low level passive aggressive warfare.

After the second such place I worked in, I made a point in future interviews of checking out the kitchen areas of other places. Can tell a lot by shared hygiene, food and drink storage, and general respect.
posted by Wordshore at 1:19 PM on October 25, 2012 [23 favorites]


During the interview for my first real job the manager bragged that they had "made payroll every week." Needless to say, that streak didn't last too much longer.
posted by bondcliff at 1:22 PM on October 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


I had misgivings within about a week of starting a toxic job at a salon, and I stayed for several years before finally giving up. Most of this behaviour was the owner's.

1. Immediate micromanaging behaviour, often passive-aggressive.
2. Constant diet talk/focus on weight loss (which, you know, people are allowed to feel however they feel about their bodies, but as a person who struggles really hard to love my own body, it was a huge soul-suck to have that be part of the working culture day in and day out).
3. Not giving a shit about cattiness/shit-talking amongst staff, or outright contributing to it.
4. Expecting me to devalue my services because she just didn't feel like paying me properly from time to time.
posted by catch as catch can at 1:22 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


required to attend no-pay Saturday meetings 'voluntary'

Fucking yes. Mandatory training days on my day off, no pay. *shudder*
posted by catch as catch can at 1:24 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Looking back, being made to wait ten minutes or more for both my interviews should have made it clear how disorganized the team was. (The second group interview especially since several people showed up late and one of them kept acting like she was too busy to be there, turns out she was a drama queen who never got her work done.)

I missed those signs, but what clued me in to what a bad environment I was in was realizing that my manager always arrived later than everyone else, then stayed really late and didn't respect that most people arrived early. She also cancelled meetings constantly or came late, so no one of the team bothered to be on time to meetings, and deadlines were treated with similar ccasualness. She wouldn't give feedback on projects until late in the day and eventually I realized that she was an inefficient manager. She worked ridiculously late hours but if she showed up when everyone else did (she dictated the start time but didn't observe it) she could have gotten more done.

Do you read the Ask A Manager blog? It changed my whole perspective on what a healthy workplace should look like and I think you'll find a lot of examples on it that speak to your question! It helped me realize that not all workplaces are filled with people who talk all day instead of working and gives a lot of pointers for what to look for in interviews to avoid bad working environments.
posted by thesocietyfor at 1:25 PM on October 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


From my first, ill-advised, post-college job at a law office:

Messy office space. A certain amount of mess is unavoidable, and I know plenty of people whose desk organization method is "stacks of paper and/or files," but this wasn't just cluttered, it was messy. Stuff everywhere, with no discernible organization.

When I interviewed, the main attorney I would be working for was wearing ostentatious gold jewelry and rather sloppy clothing. This may be shades of judging a book by its cover, but my first impression was "sleazy," and my first impression was correct. Also, during the interview, he justified the position's low pay as a positive (for him) result of the recession. If he had justified it as "this is a training position" or "this is what we can afford," I wouldn't really have minded. Instead he went to the "the shitty economy means I can dick around my employees!" place, which just made me think, "Christ, what an asshole."

My first day there, said attorney spoke to the paralegal in what I thought was a rather disrespectful and shouty way, but which I figured was due to their long familiarity/working relationship. I was not totally incorrect, but what I justified as informality born of familiarity, I quickly realized was just a shitty working relationship where he took her for granted and lacked respect for her, and her resentment festered. I started realizing it was straight up a toxic work environment about a month in.

I lasted about three months at this job, during which my paychecks were frequently late and I had to work overtime to make up for the boss's shitty planning (document review at the very last minute, deposition prep at the very last minute, complying with court orders at the last minute, etc.).
posted by yasaman at 1:35 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


From a friend: being asked Repeatedly if she could get along with "Everybody".
posted by ldthomps at 1:36 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was temping (as an executive assistant), and was offered the job on a permanent basis. I had only been there a short time, so I asked another woman who worked there, who seemed nice and trustworthy, what she thought about me working there for real. She said, "Have you ever seen The Devil Wears Prada?"

Which is a funny anecdote, but turned out to be exactly the truth. (The moral of that, if it's not obvious, is to find out what other employees think about working for your potential boss and the organization in general.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:37 PM on October 25, 2012


When the person/people interviewing you for the job talk negatively about other employees at the organization during the interview.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:44 PM on October 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


When the interview is mostly about how quirky the office culture is and how well a prospective hire might fit in, rather than practical details about the position and how one's experience matches up with the work to be done.
posted by Dean King at 1:46 PM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


They wooed me by throwing money around. Turns out, their primary motivation and common bond with each other was $$$ above all else.
posted by murfed13 at 1:49 PM on October 25, 2012


Once I was left waiting in a coffee shop for over 20 minutes by an interviewer.

Since then I have noticed that this is a definite pattern. If someone is significantly late to my first meeting with them, they are always a nightmare to work with in other ways as well.
posted by bq at 1:53 PM on October 25, 2012


I was hired as a temp worker with the understanding that my (kindly) supervisor would offer me a permanent position if my work was satisfactory. The first job: deal with a massive filing backlog involving several thousand documents with 9-digit identification numbers housed a room with about 30 4-drawer file cabinets. I set up a regime to sort the backlog into smaller stacks that corresponded to the cabinets; later I would sort and file the stacks. At the end of my first day, the Big Boss (who I had not met before) swanned in to introduce herself, saw how many linear feet I had processed, announced that my completion rate was "impossible" and so I must be introducing errors into the system, berated my supervisor for letting me do it "wrong," decreed that the documents must be filed one at a time, and then shuffled my sorted stacks to prevent me from reverting to my terrible ways. It turned out that this was typical of the Boss's crazy micro-management, which made everyone cower in fear. I left as soon as possible.

The moral of the story? Meet your supervisor's boss.
posted by carmicha at 2:08 PM on October 25, 2012 [12 favorites]


I have repeatedly joined departments that were openly at odds with or trying to change the culture and direction of the rest of the organization. Like, my director said that at the interview. God knows why I thought that was a good idea, it never ever works out well.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:25 PM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


While walking through the office to the conference room for my interview, I noticed so, so many employees hanging out on the internet. I took the job because I needed the money, but left after three months when I was tired of trying to figure out what to do on the internet six hours a day.

The only good thing that came out of that experience was that I spent so much time online, I finally paid the $5 for a Metafilter account.
posted by smirkyfodder at 2:34 PM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


1) left me waiting for the interview for over an hour.
2) different employer. During the two interviews he talked excessively about how he needed a go-getter and how most people he hired weren't working out. He also mentioned he'd fired the last person in the position for not being self-motivated enough. Sounded innocent enough to me at the time but the excessive negativity should have been a red flag. When I got the job a coworker to me the longest person in that position was there six months.

I thought "I'm the person they're looking for," but... No. For a few months after I worked there I saw the position re listed every few weeks and chuckled to myself.
posted by Autumn at 2:36 PM on October 25, 2012


Massive disorganization. If they just couldn't manage something as simple as interviewing an employee without me hounding them, usually I spend more time hounding people than doing work.

When the offer I got was waayyyy more than standard. I was happy to take it at the time but it was just indicative of how far out of touch with everything they were.

When the offer I got was waaayyy less than standard. It was an indication of how little they valued me and how broke they were rapidly becoming.

When I was interviewing and everyone was out sick. Rather than asking me to move it or just using the relevant members of my team who made it in and rolling the dice on their judgement, they kept it going and pulled in random people from around the office to interview me on projects I'd have nothing to do with and had no idea what I'd be doing. This amply demonstrated both their lack of crisis management skills and their willingness to charge ahead stupidly and pointlessly once they'd decided to do something.

When they sent a job offer and after I accepted told me "Oh by the way rather than being in Desirable City this is going to be in our Bumfuck Alabama office instead." While I was pretty screwed since I'd already given notice to my complex and started planning the move, I've calculated I would've literally been better off from a financial and physical and mental health perspective if I'd opted to live on the beach instead.

When the job has been up for a noticeably long time, either they're not paying enough or they're a very bad place to work.

When they focus an incredible amount of attention on their "culture" and selling you on it, they are either assholes and trying to make sure you won't sue them or they're cultlike and trying to make sure you won't mind working 12 hour days to impress each other. If they utter the phrase "You kinda have to drink the Kool-aid around here", run. Because you know what happened to the people who drank the Kool-aid? They died.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:46 PM on October 25, 2012 [12 favorites]


A group interview that was not people who would be my supervisors, and one dude says "We're like the old quarterbacks and you're the rookie, so we will guide you."

First, ugh, group interviews. Second, shut up dude, you do a completely different job and aren't my boss. That place sucked in sooo many ways.

I once quit a job on the first day--I had worked there temp and noticed how everyone walked around hunched over, there was no artwork on any walls, no one talked or laughed, and I was asked repeatedly if I was ok with "difficult" bosses. I could handle demanding, but there was something about that place that spooked me and I regretted taking the job the minute I said yes. At the end of my first day I was a nervous wreck, and then I walked out to the parking lot and saw the woman who worked next to me sitting in her car, swigging booze straight from the bottle. That was it. My temp agency was pissed at me, but I have never regretted quitting.

The lady who told me when she interviewed me that she had just hired a woman who was a new mother, and liked doing so because "they were desperate". Shoulda walked out on that one too.
posted by emjaybee at 2:47 PM on October 25, 2012


When they think it's funny to say "we put the fun in dysfunctional": RUN!
posted by radioamy at 2:55 PM on October 25, 2012


The girls at the front desk were on the phone when I came in for interview and there was no head nod, eye contact, any acknowledgment that I was waiting for them.

After starting work there, I remained ignored and excluded despite my initial friendliness, subsequent assertiveness, and finally, ignoring them back.
posted by lovelygirl at 3:18 PM on October 25, 2012


When I met the CEO and he started talking about his some grand scheme of his and I thought to myself, "What a dumb idea. This guy is a tool." It was a dumb idea, and he is a tool. I got laid off after a year, but I did make a good chunk of money and made some great friends.
posted by mogget at 3:18 PM on October 25, 2012


Boss didn't want to give me (female) any work besides double checking the addition in peoples' timesheets, and became apparent that even from the beginning he had pretty little faith in my ability to do anything at all. Subsequently told by other coworkers that he had a bit of a reputation for being sexist.
posted by Rinoia at 3:23 PM on October 25, 2012


The guy who started out friendly enough, but always interrupted me (even work questions) with "Let me tell you this" and go into a ten minute story. He turned into the guy who yells that he doesn't have time to explain this, but when you do it wrong, he yells that you should know better.

The owner who's there an hour a day.

The small business that has political bumper stickers on company vehicles.
posted by notsnot at 3:25 PM on October 25, 2012


I had a bad feeling about it from the first day, where the job I was promised was very different than the job I was given.
My first job out of college at a big Seattle-area software company was like that. My mistake was just sucking it up and going along with the less-interesting job. I left after about two years and have a strong aversion to that company, mostly because I spent two years working on an uninteresting (and dying) product.

Years later, the same thing happened at a different Seattle-area software company. This time, I had meetings with the relevant managers and senior manager. I was able to develop a transition plan out of the marginalized group and into the more interesting group. I stuck around at that company for nearly five years. I left not because I hated the company, but because I found something even more interesting to do.
When I met the CEO and he started talking about his some grand scheme of his and I thought to myself, "What a dumb idea. This guy is a tool." It was a dumb idea, and he is a tool. I got laid off after a year, but I did make a good chunk of money and made some great friends.
I've done that too. If the company seems like a house of cards, only take the job if (a) money means anything to you and (b) they pay you enough cash to make it worthwhile. Not stock. Not options. Not bonuses. CASH.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:25 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Assuming that just because I didn't immediately hit it off with my future boss in the interview, that meant we could work together smoothly and would eventually learn to see eye to eye.

If your immediate first impression of someone you'll work closely with is negative -- even if it's negative in the sense of "I don't enjoy spending time with you", that's worth really thinking about how badly you need the job. Because you will be spending time with that person.

This is especially key if your personal styles don't jibe, or if you can tell right off the bat that you don't communicate well.
posted by Sara C. at 3:43 PM on October 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


If it is a large enough company to have a receptionist, talk to that person. Whenever that person is cold, not approachable, too busy to make small talk, etc, it is a bad sign. I also had an interview once at the end of a day. I was to meet the person at 5:30 to accommodate my then current job. I was practically run over by fleeing employees at 5:20. None appeared to be leaving together or even talking to each other on the way out. It was just head down, gotta go, bye. I have no idea if that was a good company to work for because I turned down the offer based on that 5 minutes of observation prior to my interview. I was ready to sign up, but sleeping on it I woke up and could not do it.

On the other hand, I worked for a public company that went bankrupt 4 months after I joined and never had an inkling prior to joining. Turns out the people there were great and I am still in touch with some of them. Sort of went through the wars together and will always have a bond.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:43 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


When they offered me the job on a Wednesday and asked me to start the next Monday, and refused to push back the start date by 3 days so I could move.

I knew right then it was bad news bears, but took the job (first job! in publishing! in editorial! so rare) anyway. That place was a sh*tshow of massive proportions. Turns out that if they can't wait an extra week for you to start, that means they can't stop hemorrhaging staff and need bodies in seats ASAP.

I also later realized that this was why the HR guy I first interviewed with didn't seem to know what I meant when I asked about what genres the imprint published (it was a blind interview through a staffing agency--probably also a tell. Nobody in publishing needs to pay an agency to fill a $28k-salary assistant position). AND if you're part of a Big Six publishing company but the umbrella organization has to hire an HR manager specifically to keep up with the hiring needs of your 20-person division, that means they have a serious turnover problem.
posted by alleycat01 at 3:47 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hey DestinationUnknown -- your Devil Wears Prada job wasn't in book publishing by chance, was it? Because that's EXACTLY WHAT IT WAS.
posted by alleycat01 at 3:49 PM on October 25, 2012


If anyone is ever late for the interview, it's a sign of how they treat meetings and organisation generally.

If anyone says that 'we'd like to offer you x specialist job, but you'll have to be immersed in the other stuff we do for at least x amount of time' - you will never, ever wind up doing that specialist job.

If all of the staff working there are young women and they mention during the interview that there was one woman who couldn't follow their very cultish workplace rules and so she had to resign - don't work there (I didn't, for the record). Bonus points: Husband/wife owned business - husband makes a point during the interview that the wife rarely comes into the office. General feeling of 'run' accompanied that interview.

Being snapped at during the interview/contract signing stage - this is not stress, this is just how they are and it will only get worse because they cannot manage to do anything without it being a big deal (this was in publishing, so poor social skills seem to be a mandatory requirement).

If there are any veiled comments regarding gender it is a sign of greater things.

And a rather extreme, well der, scenario. Day one: a really bad comment regarding homosexuality. As someone who is only half-hetero (unknown to them) but who really, really needed the work, the whole thing damaged my sense of self immensely and I felt I had to be very careful about what people knew about me. It wound up being indicative of a much wider culture clash between us all.
posted by heyjude at 4:31 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


A junior editorial assistant position in non-profit continuing ed publishing, in NYC, paying $40K per year and hiring through a temp agency. That kind of gig is so rare that it should have been overrun by young hopefuls. On paper it's a dream gig for someone out of a communications program.

I had my own office and all the Flavia coffee I could drink, but I could hardly find ways to fill my day. The manager was cold and surly when she bothered to stop by at all. The guy I was replacing was on staff still and preferred to spend all his time hanging out with the graphics staff than proofing legal copy. He was also leaving without another job lined up. Red flag central.

I was there two weeks when they offered the permanent position. I said I'd think about it, went home, and realized I had not heard a laugh or seen a single happy human in the place in the entire time I'd been there. I then sent an email telling them I'd decided to leave the state.


Anyplace where they've stressed the ability to handle eccentric or difficult personalities, or noted what a sweetheart someone was underneath has turned out to mean "highly dysfunctional or toxic environment."
posted by ichbinsocki at 4:37 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


During interviews, I always ask the interviewer what he or she likes best and least about working for the company. Once, I was told, "Honestly, I think I've made a mistake. I took this job a week ago, and I wonder if the company I left would take me back."

I declined the job, but that was 3 years ago and they have advertised (heavily, desperately, continuously) that opening ever since. I assume they have now interviewed or rotated through everyone in Texas, because they are now advertising that they will accept out-of-state applicants and pay for moving expenses.

So, it pays to just straight-up ask. That wasn't the first time I got a surprising and surprisingly honest answer.
posted by Houstonian at 5:09 PM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


All the office furniture was Ikea.
posted by colin_l at 5:32 PM on October 25, 2012


Every person I interviewed with had something bad to say about their colleagues in other departments.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:57 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Long, convoluted process to interview for a job that paid, in today's dollars, maybe $30K a year, and they were acting like they were hiring for the A team in a fortune 500 company. Clue #1.

Owner of company talked in very long, windy sentences about his vision for the company and didn't let me get a word in edgewise. To the extent it made me wonder WHO was interviewing WHO. Clue #2

Made the mistake of letting myself be shepherded around to every department EXCEPT the one I'd be working in, to see what a great time everyone was having and how nice everyone was. When I finally did (briefly) get to the department I was hiring for (sales), everyone was kind of looking like something out of the Spanish Inquisition, but I was so impressed by everyone else in the building that I sort of overlooked it. Clue #3

And 5 months later, when I got fired by the megalamaniacal, impossible-to-please owner of the company (i.e. right on schedule for my department, which had a 200% turnover rate), by then I'd learned that all the other departments were reasonably insulated from the crazy owner by good managers, and he considered the sales team his #1 "project."
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:07 PM on October 25, 2012


... my first week on the job, one of my colleagues/supervisors was out with a mystery/stress-related illness.

I'm still at that place, sadly. Transitioned down to part time and looking for something else, thank god, but still.

Oh, and if anyone ever says "it's easier for me to do this (relatively simple/basic task) myself then explain how you could do it properly," effing RUN.
posted by Cracky at 6:09 PM on October 25, 2012


When they mentioned how neat it was that I had so much systems experience but it wouldn't be needed because the IT guys handle all that stuff.

And when the department head looked in the eye and said, "We don't do projects to correct mistakes in the catalog. If they've been wrong for twenty years, it's obvious no one cares."
posted by teleri025 at 6:12 PM on October 25, 2012


If the interviewer or a potential supervisor says, "Hey, I have no problems with women in management/working with women" without your asking that specific question, run. They will most assuredly have problems with women there.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:22 PM on October 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


When I met the CEO and the first word that came to mind was "Reptilian."
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 6:53 PM on October 25, 2012


In human services it's a bad sign when:

*Everyone's young.
*They ask you to do anything out of your job description.
*People are freely giving their time away like it's nothing and doing work they don't need to do.
*The agency ignore safety concerns, boundaries, self-care or HIPAA.
*You don't feel a "worky" atmosphere where stuff is going on and they're deadlines, etc.
*Your agency doesn't provide you working computer and desk within the first few days of working there (if they don't give you the tools, obviously, they don't care if you do the work).
*During the first week, they trust you to do stuff that you wouldn't trust a relative stranger to do (see clients, drive a company vehicle.

I started out trying to make this fun and snarky, now I realize that I'm totally serious. If you see these things and you're in social work, then RUN.
posted by shushufindi at 6:55 PM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


In my experience, they tip their hand at the interview stage, or, just as likely, setting up the interview.

In my case, the director was bad about returning phone calls, but then put a lot of pressure on me to hop a plane and cross the country for an interview on 24 hours notice.

The interview itself was very chatty, and they asked me some questions that they very obviously didn't know the "right" answers to.

Following the interview, I got a blow-by-blow report on how it went and what they thought of me, from a friend who worked in the same organization, because the director couldn't keep her mouth shut. I heard from the same person that my portfolio had been passed around the office to folks in no way associated with the hire.

The director phoned me and asked me how I thought I would fit in with the org's culture, not by asking about me, but by telling me all the things that were wrong with her team as it was and did I think I could put up with those people.

In my case, I also spoke with the person who did the job before me and he was weirdly diplomatic, while also mentioning that the director yelled a lot. And people I know who work with that organization said everyone was really unhappy.
posted by looli at 7:01 PM on October 25, 2012


Was told in an initial HR screen that I'd be working with some "big personalities". How quirky! Yeah.
posted by threeants at 7:12 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having conflicting job duties- must answer phone on second ring, yet have other responsibilities that are in areas where you can't hear phone.
posted by Melsky at 7:13 PM on October 25, 2012


Oh, ALSO-- giant also-- multiple supervisors who have undifferentiated authority over you. Run fast and don't look back if you see this. You will end up with conflicting tasks and priorities, and will be doing it wrong no matter what you choose.
posted by threeants at 7:15 PM on October 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


I knew right then it was bad news bears, but took the job (first job! in publishing! in editorial! so rare) anyway. That place was a sh*tshow of massive proportions. Turns out that if they can't wait an extra week for you to start, that means they can't stop hemorrhaging staff and need bodies in seats ASAP. - alleycat01

And they then tell you that you got the job because you could start before anyone else. And that they told a disabled woman not to even apply because, well, you need to go to schools and set up, and she wouldn't be able to do it (even though in a government job you are required to offer a significant amount of assistance in that case AND the person had said they do have an already contracted assistant for driving etc.). And it meant starting you at a point where it is so busy that you cannot be trained and by the way...

... my first week on the job, one of my colleagues/supervisors was out with a mystery/stress-related illness.

...

Oh, and if anyone ever says "it's easier for me to do this (relatively simple/basic task) myself then explain how you could do it properly," effing RUN.
- Cracky

...they are taking some leave after the busy period.

Be particularly if the entire team is run this way, and the junior assistants are expected to train their new superiors. Moreso if it is suspiciously ONLY your team as well, and even the director goes home before your supervisor.

*People are freely giving their time away like it's nothing and doing work they don't need to do.
*The agency ignore safety concerns, boundaries, self-care or HIPAA.
- Shushufindi

Then when any questions you raise about safety/overtime are treated as hostile and refusing to work as a team, or occasionally outright lying...

But yeah, the whole 'we expect X from the position' then finding out that, well, we really want that but technically you can't do it and your real job is Y. And then they tell you that in a performance review 18 months after you started.

Also finding out that all of the people before me in the position either became the direct supervisor (who then never left) or left the industry entirely - it shows there is no legacy planning and was a pretty big hint that the direct supervisor was pretty heavily invested in maintaining her supremacy as the 'best' in that position. Which included telling me, often, that she wished she still did it. None of the previous incumbents remained in public libraries in any way, which should be a pretty big warning sign.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:17 PM on October 25, 2012


'Fiasco, I'm not telling you to lie or be dishonest, but if you're willing to be flexible in the way you approach customer service you'll go a lot further with this company'
--My supervisor at the first white-collar job I ever had, a call centre.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:28 PM on October 25, 2012


Oh, a couple more I should've run from. Christ, I've worked for some bad companies.

If they tell you something like, "I hope you didn't believe all that work-life balance shit we say on our website and in interviews because it's mandatory ten hour days around here. Sometimes twelve. But really, you shouldn't leave before the CEO does. It would be Bad. If you leave that early you may as well not come back." (The CEO routinely pulled 14+ hour days).

If they call you the day before and tell you the person you interviewed with and that hired you has been replaced/shuffled around and you'll be working with someone else completely, it's a bad sign. In this particular case, I wound up working for someone imposed by executive fiat on the team, who all hated her and refused to do anything to help her department out. Which naturally, she blamed me for.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:30 PM on October 25, 2012


Unfortunately, this one didn't come to light for me until it was too late, but: it's a bad sign if a manager says anything like "I don't care whether my people like each other as long as they get the job done." It's hard to get the job done when you keep looking around wondering "how did this dagger wind up in the middle of my back?"
posted by Lexica at 7:37 PM on October 25, 2012


With all of this talk about "big personalities" being a sign of a terrible environment, I feel the need to mention that my old boss definitely was known for her "big personality," and I really liked her. She was kooky, larger-than-life, and dramatic.

She also screwed me over on safety issues, pay, and refused to give me a reference after years of dedicated service. The two best bosses I've ever had have shared a thoughtful, understated affect. This goes to prove my point that in human services work should feel 'worky.' Nothing should be too out of the ordinary. No one should be too intense or charismatic. You should always feel like a professional, never a rebel or a rock star.

It's a workplace and not a new relationship. Too much excitement in the beginning can be a bad sign. Fireworks can be dangerous.
posted by shushufindi at 7:45 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


A big warning sign for me is a company that constantly talks about its amazing culture or says things like, "We work hard and play hard" or "There's no such things as work/life balance here, it's all just life." Some companies may be genuine about this, but it's the kind of thing I'd prefer for them to show rather than tell.

My experience with a company that did this all the time was that it was more like a cult than a workplace and there were all kinds of boundary issues and sexual harassment that made me uncomfortable as a woman who didn't want to work in a frat house.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 7:52 PM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Forgetfulness. My bad job was with a boss who feigned forgetfulness anytime he was asked to make good on a promise.

Specific to retail management:

Potential boss during interview: So, how many hours are you working right now?
Me: Oh, about 50 a week, give or take.
Potential boss: oh, that's WAY too much! We don't do that here!

My naive self fell for it. 50 hours a week is a lot, but it is pretty much what the manager of a retail store has to do. I, on the other hand, ended up working much more than that.
posted by gjc at 7:55 PM on October 25, 2012


After making me an offer, they told me they thought I was single and wouldn't have made the offer if they had known I had a partner.
posted by medusa at 9:38 PM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


I had an experience with one company that has given me fodder for years of relieved laughs with friends. The TL;DR would be: gently turn down any offer from a company in which the interviewers toss stereotypes at you willy-nilly and go wide-eyed when it turns out that you don't fit them.

I was interviewing for a position with Big International Company, English-speaking in France. The position fit my skills (I don't want to specify which since it would make them somewhat identifiable), had room for growth, and my first two interviews were with a couple of really neat people. Very good gut feeling.

Note that there was one first warning sign here that I overlooked in my naivety and being impressed with Big International Company's reputation as serious: the position had been open for about a year, in spite of how great the first two people I met were, and a rather significant amount of qualified applicants in the area.

By my final, pre-hire interview, which is usually a formality with this Big International Company, started out with a strange foreboding. I didn't get it. As the first two people took me to meet the rest of the team, I noticed their faces change from smiling and easygoing to strained, and they sighed nervously, averting eye contact with me. I literally felt my stomach drop when I set foot in the manager's office. Probably a combination of body language signals I was picking up without being very aware of it. I was thinking, "I should leave, right now," but couldn't explain it rationally. Here's how the rest of that interview went.

Four other people on the team grilled me on my resumé and picked apart every.single.experience. for its negative points. The only positive was that I was a native English speaker. Then we went to eat lunch. I spoke French with the wait staff, as we... were in France... "Why are you speaking French with them?? This is an English company, you speak English with the wait staff!!" barked a manager as a couple of others nearby scoffed and rolled their eyes, pointedly saying "THANK YOU" to the waiter while looking at me. Ahem. I caught the waiter's eye with an apologetic look; he was red and left quickly, not saying anything.

Team member: "So, Fraula, what kind of car do you have?"
Me, smiling, easygoing: "Oh, I take the bus! It's so practical."
SILENCE OF MINOR DOOM.
A bit more chitchat, some about their families and homes. "Oh, Fraula, where's your villa?"
Me, smiling, a wee bit more uncomfortable, but still easygoing: "Ah, I live in an apartment in Nice. Great area, really quiet and central."
Response: "... an apartment...?"
Me: "...yes...?"
SILENCE OF MEDIUM DOOM.
Chitchat continued, families leading to pets. Lots of them had dogs. I was reassured, here was something we had in common! "I have the funniest cat," I offered at one opportune moment.
Team member: "What type is it? I love Persians."
Me: "Oh, teehee, no idea, the poor dear had been abandoned. Really fluffy and terrifically sweet though. Who knows, he might be Persian, looks Maine Coon too."
Response: "You took in a MUTT...?"
SILENCE OF MAJOR DOOM.

But the kicker, the "am I living in a bad TV series" moment, came when, in a one-on-one final meeting with the middle manager responsible for that team and a couple of others, said to me: "You know what's impressive with you?" I smiled and tittered politely. She said: "For an American, your English is really good."

I probably don't need to explain why I gently turned down their offer.
posted by fraula at 1:14 AM on October 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


Several shibboleths I've employed to sift out a bad prospective employer:

1) They only want to interview off site or seem reluctant to have you come around the office. There are some legitimate reasons, but at some point you should be able to see the workplace. They should be proud of it and want you to see it.

2) Lots of cars parked in the lot very early or very late. It could mean that they honor flex time, but more likely it means that 10-12 hour days are the norm. In lieu of cars in the lot, lights on in offices can be an indicator too.

3) Not being forthcoming about the benefits package or claiming that it is in flux, yet unwilling to chart a clear statement of what type of benefits they envision extending to staff. Ditto on promises of various programs, such as profit sharing that are not yet established.

4) Taking offense if you want to give careful consideration to an offer they extend rather than accepting it on the spot.

5) Taking offense to negotiating terms of an offer, particularly when part of the job involves negotiating with vendors. Extra red flag if when negotiating a higher salary they denigrate you in some way as to imply that you aren't really worth what you are asking for. (they may be right, but it is unprofessional)

6) Any negative talk about the staff because they anticipate you will be the bright shining hope and help turn the corner. Unless you have a knack for improving corporate culture this is probably the most toxic thing one can hear pre-employment.

7) The message is duplicitous or somehow contradictory. They need someone soon, yet the interview process gets hot and then cold and drags on for a long time. They talk about incredible revenue growth but low ball your salary because they need to keep the lights on at the place.
posted by dgran at 6:29 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've had a number of interviews where someone's body language suggested a lack of enthusiasm. In each instance the person would be sitting with head tipped back and looking up/mostly not looking at me directly. Most of these interviews have not led to an offer and I've felt that the person doing it was all but directly communicating that outcome to me. It would be part of a general sense that the interview was perfunctory or that I got the interview above the person's objections or something.

But I accepted a job where the second or third person I talked to behaved that way. I came home and said, holy shit that went badly. When the offer came, I think I took it partly out of surprise and a sense that my impression must have been wrong. I now think I was hired over this guy's objections yet he was powerful enough to make my life miserable. I really enjoyed the job the first couple of weeks, and then he came back from vacation. The good part was that, while I had trouble, I knew what the source of it was. Eventually I did well enough and even wound up with him trying to get me to help him land an interview. He didn't get that job, and the person who interviewed him told me he'd made a negative impression, which gave me a certain amount of schadenfreude.
posted by BibiRose at 8:30 AM on October 26, 2012


OP here. Thank you everyone for your thoughtful answers, they've given me things to look out for come the next interview. Sounds like rudeness and the hard sell are among the biggest red flags, so it turns out the Gift of Fear does apply!

I'd like to add a recent group interview experience where one of the women was likely at least in her mid-20s but looked 16, and did absolutely nothing to mitigate that impression. She had a hoodie on and did not bother to remove her headphones throughout the entire interview, and barely looked at me even when asking her few and far-between questions. I knew I wasn't going to be extended an offer, and indeed I wasn't, but at the time I bet I would have tried to rationalize away her apathy if they had offered.
posted by ziggly at 9:39 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a great thread. I read it yesterday and didn't have anything to contribute that wasn't obvious/hadn't already been said, but something surprising just popped into my head and I realized it's been a completely accurate predictor of work environment...

I taught English in Japan for 2 years after college, and got back to the US about 3 months ago. I've been applying to publishing internships and part-time retail jobs, and my experience in Japan has nothing to do with either of those, so it's on my resume but I don't bring it up unless they do. There is a STRONG correlation between the amount of time the interviewer spends asking me about it, and whether their company is a good place to work. The ones who seem interested are the ones who realize that life is more than just work and are curious about the world and interested in me as a whole person. The ones who touch on it briefly or not at all are the ones just looking for warm bodies. This is a weird thing to realize because it's not like I want to spend my whole interview talking about my travels when I have other relevant experience (and it sounds so egotistical!), but so far it's been 100% accurate.

Come to think of it, the two who didn't bring it up were also the ones who didn't seem to know what was on my resume at all, so that's probably a better predictor in general. That, or a willingness to make friendly small talk and find out more about me rather than just going over my resume and then finding out when I was available to start.
posted by sunset in snow country at 11:24 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was headhunted a while back, and did all the correct salary negotiation techniques. When I showed up for the interview with the CEO (small research firm), he said "I've never paid a girl that much to work here." Then he asked what kind of car I drove. As we parted, I said something casual about there being a major bike path nearby and how that must be attractive to interns from nearby universities.

On my first day of work, I learned that he had denied me a parking pass because I should be riding my bike to work to lose some weight (10 miles on dirt path in New England winter), that he hadn't upgraded the office from Windows 95 (it was 2005), and that he set the passwords for everyone's email. I also learned that they expected me to sign off on federal grant paperwork without being allowed to read any of the documentation.

I quit within 2 weeks and all he said was "Oh well. I liked having a girl here who isn't a scientist, but you were kind of pushy about the salary so I should have known you'd be trouble."
posted by catlet at 11:54 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Warning signs:

When the job description is obviously written by someone who didn't put a lot of thought into it or doesn't understand exactly what type of role needs to be filled. Anything hand-wavy or fantastical is a red flag. See also: the unicorn.

When they unnecessarily call you back for interviews with different people across multiple days instead of getting their shit together and just doing an all-day interview. This indicates a lack of organization and a disrespect for your time.

When the team you will be managing is obviously a group of unrepairable misfits. Unless you specialize in this type of "fixing" shit teams will always be shit teams and you will be working with that shit as long as your are there.

When they have this super-defined statement about their workplace culture. That shit is for mission statements. Culture is emergent and can't be forced into a catch phrase.

If there are a group of lifers in the office who have absolutely no need or motivation to include you in their special clique then you've effectively hit a ceiling on how much you can accomplish in terms of substantive change on day one.

Any office where there is any type of nepotism going on should always raise a flag. It may not be a problem now but hang out long enough and it will go bad one way or another.
posted by quadog at 12:51 AM on October 27, 2012


Short version: The position I took wasn't one that could be promoted into management. Ever. There was a glass ceiling if you had the 'wrong' degree, and it was one they would have gladly told me about; they didn't hide it, nor have reason to.
posted by talldean at 7:49 PM on October 29, 2012


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