The red flags of the first job (or any job)

Ah, April. Students are interviewing, interviewing, interviewing. Recruiters are visiting campus, students are being asked to Skype interview. There’s lots of excitement — and not a few red flags.

Anyone who has ever had a bad job knows the red flag. You tend to see them in hindsight, but when you look back you go “How could I have gone to work at a place that did X?”  My favorite was the department admin who was handling the scheduling of my interview and wouldn’t provide me a list of whom I’d be interviewing with. I pulled out of the applicant pool.

Then there was the boss who offered me a job and said “You have 24 hours to decide. There are plenty of other people who want that job.”

I took that job. It turned out she was a lousy boss.  I should have known.

After a lot of experiences, I’ve found a simple rule: Little things usually indicate big things. A high turnover rate recently indicates that management is doing something to move people out. Why? Flying in the night before the interview and the business has no one to take you to dinner or at least coffee? I question both how organized a company is and how much they care about people. Does the person I would be working for treat the administrative stuff poorly? I tend to think they won’t treat anyone who works for them well.

The way bosses act can be indicative of a company’s culture or values. If a company tolerates a person who treats employees badly, is it a place you really want to work for?

Here are four red flags. None of them are deal breakers. But they should cause you to think.

1. The potential employer doesn’t value your time. Look, everyone’s time is valuable, yours and theirs. And you want someone who feels like your time is an investment. Phrases like “squeezing you in,” and actions like repeatedly scheduling and re-scheduling the appointment show a lack of respect for your time. It also speaks to disorganization. A friend tells a story of going to an interview and being forced to wait in the lobby for an hour after the interview was supposed to start. She was told by someone’s admin that they had forgotten her interview. Why would you want to work at a place like that?

2. They say things like “We deliberately understaff to make sure that everyone has enough work.” HUGE giant red flag here, since it translates to “We don’t have enough people to distribute the work to and we don’t want to hire more.” Go to this company and you will work like a dog. I worked for a company like this once and we had weekly meetings where people would go around the table rating their workload from 1-10 and the most frequent answer was “11.”

3. You don’t get a straight answer in the interview when you ask “What will my first week/month look like?” Smart employers have an onboarding process — a way to get you acclimated to the company. Smart managers who work at places that don’t have formal onboarding processes will still have a plan: “After doing paperwork we’ll grab some lunch with some of your new co-workers, then you’ll do a little online training. On the second day…” If you hear an answer of “We just drop people in the pool and see if they can swim,” think twice. It’s not a deal killer, but onboarding programs — or people who think about doing that — are signs of smart management.

4. Don’t let them change you. You are who you are. A friend relates doing an interview at a TV station and the first set of the day’s interviews went well. Before the second set with senior management, the news director pulled her into a bathroom and tried to get her to change her hair. Unless you’re going into TV, your example won’t be that extreme. But if someone wants you to change basic things about you — your approach, your personality, a part of your physical appearance that is part of your identity — you want to have a moment of pause.

Special Bonus No. 5: Distrust anyone who says “I’m a straight shooter,” or “Let me be frank with you.” Because they’re not and they won’t. They’re trying to project an image. Every time, every time, I’ve had a potential employer use those words I have lived to regret taking that job.