Finding that dream job opening can be a heady experience. The position, the location, the money and other aspects may seem tailor-made for you. However, there’s an important question you can’t afford to overlook - does your future employer have a toxic workplace?

Many candidates find themselves in a situation where they ignore obvious signs of a toxic workplace, only to find themselves back in the job market in no time. Working in a negativity-prone environment with rigid hierarchies, normalisation of overwork, ego clashes, and poor communication can also have a telling effect on your self-esteem and self-confidence. So how do you identify a toxic workplace when you are interviewing for a position in a company - what are the red flags that you need to watch out for? Can you even identify these toxic workplace signs while being interviewed? The answer is yes.

Watch out for the following telltale signs that the company that you are interviewing with has a toxic workplace, and save yourself from misery in future.

  1. Negative or overly positive online reviews:

Checking employer review sites like Glassdoor is a great way to check what past employees feel about a company. When there are too many negative reviews, it is obviously a red flag. But too many positive reviews may also be indicative of the company wanting to put up appearances through fake reviews rather than addressing the underlying issues. While interviewing with the company, make sure to map the online reviews against visible signs of toxicity. If the impression you get from visiting the company’s offices is not the same as what the Glassdoor reviews suggest, it could be a warning sign.

2. Poor reviews from ex-employees or vendors:

Just as the company makes sure that you are fit for the job through reference checks, you too can look into the company by talking to people who have worked with them. These include the company’s ex-employees or vendors. If the general opinion is poor, it is yet another marker that the culture may not exactly be a conducive one. If you’re wondering where to find such people, try to look for shared contacts on Linkedin.  

3. High employee turnover:

As you dig up more information about the company, you may realise that employees do not stick to the company for too long. High turnover may be legitimately explained by management changes or restructuring, but those would be isolated episodes. If you find information that points to employees quitting frequently and after short stints, it may be yet another indicator of a toxic culture.

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4. Negative first impressions:

When you are interviewing in person and have been called to the company offices, reach a little early. Spend the time to observe people around you. Do they look tired and uncomfortable or happy and energetic? Does the office seem like a happy and vibrant place or does it seem to be robotic, frenetic or merely dreary? Are people joking around or grim-faced all the time? Even if they are joking, do the jokes feel inappropriate? The way you are greeted and the way people interact with one another may be indicative of how toxic the workplace may be in general. Of course, this method is subjective and not conclusive, but if you observe carefully, you may still be able to get a few clues.

5. Poor Interview Process:

This is a broad umbrella under which you could watch for multiple signs of a toxic workplace. First, there may be rescheduling of interviews, without reason or apology. Second, you may be made to wait for a long time before you are finally called for the interview. Third, the interviewer may be unprepared or conduct the interview as a formality, as if he or she has been pushed into it reluctantly. Of course, exceptional circumstances may also bring about these factors. But if you feel like your time was not valued, and that you were treated shabbily during the interview process, there may be underlying cultural toxicity involved. .

6. Inappropriate interviews:

Inappropriate behaviour on the interviewer’s part could be in the form of complaints about the previous employee whose shoes you are looking to fill. Or in the form of rude comments about you. Or they may browbeat you into feeling small and making you feel as if interviewing you is a favour to you. Or it may even be in the form of personal or sexual comments that cross boundaries that you may not be comfortable with. Some interviewers may feel that they may get away by speaking with you inappropriately behind closed doors. But if the organisation does not feel the need to correct such a person, it may well turn out to be a toxic workplace.

7. Poor response to questions during interviews:

If your interviewer evades questions or provides vague responses, it may be a marker that the organisation may probably be luring you into joining them with unclear terms that may work against you after you have joined. Similarly, if the interviewer does not offer an opportunity for you to ask questions at all, it may be an indication that they do not consider you important enough. Both of these are red flags.  

Having gone through the above list, please remember a few things. Any of these signs of toxic work culture, in isolation, do not guarantee a toxic workplace. Also, there are other factors to consider. Sometimes it’s just an individual who’s toxic, not the entire company. On the other hand, you may have moved from a toxic environment in your previous job and hence your toxicity radar may be too sensitive. A perfectly normal workplace could then seem toxic as well. The bottom line, therefore, is to keep your eyes open, be aware of these red flags, and have a balanced view of your experience. Doing so will increase your chances of avoiding a toxic workplace and help you have a fulfilling work life.