Warning Signs in Interviews

9 minutes


Updated September 25, 2023
Ask Me This Instead

You’re reading an excerpt of Ask Me This Instead: Flip the Interview to Land Your Dream Job, a book by Kendra Haberkorn. This powerful work is written by a veteran recruiter for job-seekers who want to find their dream job—not just the next job. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, worksheets and a question database, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

As you progress through the interview process, you’ll get unique thoughts and opinions about aspects of the role, its purpose, and what the person who will step into the position will be responsible for achieving from each interviewer. If the interviewers are in general alignment—that is, they have a defined set of clear talking points and their answers are complementary rather than tangential—that’s great! You will be able to focus on resolving the differences around the edges or get valuable insight into where potential friction or disagreement might emerge should you join the team.

Unfortunately, not every interview team is aligned. While it may be hard to get visibility as an outsider looking in, if you’re aware of some of the dynamics that interviewers may be dealing with among themselves or within the organization, you can pick up on clues to read the room and identify warning signs more effectively. As you go through each conversation, take in the information provided by each interviewer as well as your gut reaction to what you’re observing and learning. These tangible insights and instincts can help drive your lines of questioning as you progress, or influence your decision to continue in the interview process or bow out.

Is the Hiring Team in Agreement on Why the Role Is Open?

A role often gets posted when someone who has been doing that work leaves, when a new initiative is launched or when there is a gap or pain point that needs to be addressed and no one internally has the ability or capacity to solve it effectively. There are other reasons why new roles come into being, but those are by far the most frequent.

In early conversations with the recruiter and hiring manager, ask questions to understand why this position is open. As you continue through the interview process, pay attention to what other team members share to see if they continue to reinforce or contradict what you’ve already heard. Gaps in alignment may seem inconsequential. However, they have the potential to grow and complicate working relationships and outcomes over time. Understanding if everyone agrees on the need for the role and how the position’s responsibilities will be integrated to complement and strengthen existing efforts is key.

dangerWarning Signs!

  • It appears that the team is solving for pain, rather than hiring with a plan. Are interviewers extremely eager to bring someone on and capable of listing all kinds of issues but light on details around specific responsibilities, timelines, or milestones? This may be a sign that they know they have a problem, but aren’t quite aligned on the appropriate plan or hire to address the issues.

  • Communication is inconsistent, inaccurate, or absent. Communication challenges might be between hiring team members as well as with you, leaving you wondering what’s next, what happened, and what does it all mean.

  • An interviewer makes remarks or downplays the role or the contributions associated with it. An existing team member may be currently fulfilling some of these responsibilities and could be hesitant to let them go. They may also have a different perspective on how the role or work should be structured.

Is There Clarity on the Responsibilities for the Role?

For there to be clarity on responsibilities, whether a backfill or new position, the hiring manager would need to assess relevant changes to the business and how those might impact the profile of talent, goals, or requirements associated with the position. It’s the combination of reflection, forward-thinking evaluation and effective communication to the hiring team that will lead to a consistent view into the role and set an interview process up for success. To do this requires extra work. Often, the hiring manager doesn’t have the ability to reflect and assess thoroughly so the burden to connect what you are seeing and hearing is your responsibility.

dangerWarning Signs!

  • The way the interviewers describe the work does not align with what is outlined in the job description. Do the interviews add new responsibilities into the mix or talk about an entirely different type of work? It’s possible that, depending on their own role, people will highlight and focus on different things so be cognizant of the nature and significance of the gaps.

  • Signs of confusion or misalignment with ownership or execution responsibilities connected to the position. Do different interviewers share contrary information about how the work will be done or who will be driving specific activities?

  • The interview process design or execution seems haphazard. Is there a clear and organized approach to the interview process to screen for the capabilities that a new hire will need in order to be successful? Do your conversations seem redundant, or does each interview increase your knowledge and understanding of the role and how you’d contribute?

Is the Hiring Team Invested in Your Success?

Often the person writing the job description and crafting the expectations has a credible understanding of what needs to be done, the skills required, and how the role fits into the broader context or team. Perhaps they have done similar work themselves or managed a team with similar positions and goals. If this is the case for the role you’re interviewing for, it will be to your advantage. However, it is possible that the hiring manager is scoping a role that is distant from their own expertise and experience. In this scenario, there is a chance that, despite their best intentions, they miss the mark on defining the work and aligning the requirements to specific skills, capabilities, and knowledge and may not be as targeted or effective in screening candidates at every stage of the interview process.

dangerWarning Signs!

  • There is a significant disconnect between the title and responsibilities. For example, they are hiring a “Director,” but the responsibilities represent those typically fulfilled by entry-level positions or use terms and descriptions that don’t quite align with what you’d expect to see in that position.

  • Interviewers seem unprepared in the conversations. You might encounter unprepared interviewers, which can be very frustrating when you think it could impact their ability to accurately assess your potential for the role, and especially when you’ve prepared.. The lack of preparation could be apparent with any interviewer, regardless of their level or role in the hiring process, and could be due to a lack of clarity about the role, an absence of interview structure and guidance, process fatigue (i.e. having interviewed many candidates in quick succession or as a result of a long, drawn-out process) or the reality that a busy calendar or urgent issue limited their ability to adequately prepare.

  • The hiring manager has followed a very different career path and is new to managing people in this discipline/domain. This can be an opportunity and a challenge depending on what you are looking for in a manager. If you want to be autonomous, it could be an advantage, if you are confident in their ability to listen, understand, and support or advocate for what you need.

  • The hiring manager and interview team have little to share about the onboarding process. Depending on the company stage and internal processes in place, there may be robust planning and coordination or a bare-bones approach. The most important thing is to understand if the team is thinking beyond the interviews and how much of a role you’ll have to play in structuring or supporting your own onboarding process.

Any of these warning signs, along with anything else that gives you pause, might impact your interviewing experience. You are not able to control or change the experience in many cases, which can be frustrating. If you encounter any of these warning signs, it is worthwhile to reconnect with the hiring manager or recruiter. Approach the conversation in a positive and proactive way, using exploratory questions like the ones outlined in the Ask Me This Instead question database.

Developmental Career Strategy18 minutes, 6 links

By this point, you’ve put in a tremendous amount of thought and preparation into getting the best outcome from the interview process, which gives you a meaningful advantage relative to other candidates. You have done more in that effort than the large majority of candidates ever will, and you’ll be better off in your next job and throughout your career because of it.

Hiring is hard and companies have an advantage. They know the pool of candidates they are working with, they can click through resumes, peruse LinkedIn, and control the flow of the process while they decide who is the “best.” They have the chance to test, compare, and see how everything settles. Hiring teams get to ask, ask, and ask some more. Then, at some point, they make a decision. If it’s an offer, they push, nudge, and smile to get you to accept and join on their timeline, and with their terms.

Companies often talk about hiring the “best people.” Realistically, teams hire the right person to do the work well enough, and who is also interested, available, and known to the company. I realize this is less impressive from an ego perspective and less punchy as an employment brand headline, but it’s closer to the truth. Someone can be the right hire in one environment—succeeding, thriving, and delivering impact all day, every day—and fail in another environment. It’s the mutual match that matters.

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