THE BLOG

The Signs of a Bad Employer (Or How I Dodged a Bullet)

02/11/2015 02:25 pm ET | Updated Apr 13, 2015
Wavebreakmedia Ltd via Getty Images

In the fall, I decided that having a steady income and a day-to-day routine would help me get closer to some long-term goals. I'd been consulting and freelancing for the last four years and thought transitioning into the full-time work force would serve me well, both monetarily and toward my career goals.

I responded to several ads and looked forward to the interview process. I've done a lot of interviewing and have worked for a full range of different employers. I've worked for startups and corporations, private firms and public organizations as well as entrepreneurs. I have worked both in the U.S. and abroad. I've worked with companies at the very top of their field as well as mom-and-pop shops around the corner. I've worked full time, part time, per project and as a temp. All these experiences have given me a lot of insight - insight I'd like to share.

One of the most profound pieces of advice I've ever been given was in my early thirties. That advice was that not only is your prospective employer interviewing you, but you are also interviewing them. It's a piece of advice I've never forgotten and have always put to good use. When I happened on an ad for a staff writer/sub-editor position at a well-known publishing company with staff around the world, I immediately sent my resume. The next day I received a response and was asked to come in that afternoon. The interview itself ran smoothly. I was given an overview of the company, a general overview of my duties and the salary range. They needed someone immediately, could I start the following week? As freelancer, I could start immediately, but wanted to have the following Tuesday off as it was my birthday. That was fine I was told, I could start on Wednesday.

During the first interview, we outlined our next steps. I would come in on Thursday or Friday to interview with one of the editorial director. Although I stated that I did have work scheduled, I could come in on either day for the second interview. At the end of the business day on Thursday, I received an email telling me that I needed to take a writing and editing test and have it back to the company by 5 p.m. the following day. What? No one had mentioned this as a next step.

Since I had budgeted time on both days for the second interview, I took the three-hour test and sent it in by 5 p.m. And then, nothing. No follow-up about receiving or reviewing the test. No thank you for the time needed to take the long and rather demanding test. Nothing. Not one bit of information. I waited on Monday, on my birthday and that Wednesday as well. Bright and early Thursday morning, I asked for feedback and was told I would have it the next day. The next day, nothing. At the end of the workday the following Monday, I received a call from the young woman who was handling HR. They would like to hire me, but everything remained vague about when that would occur.

I continued to send out resumes and interview with other companies. I also started working on new freelance projects. Toward the end of the third week after my interview, the woman handling HR and I scheduled a time to speak after one of my meetings. Unfortunately, I received a call during my meeting. Since there had been confusion about the time we had agreed upon and having already waited another half hour for our call, I followed up again. The HR person informed me that she would get back to me in two minutes because she was in the middle of something. I waited another half hour and when she did not call, I turned off my phone and began working on my project. Two hours later, when I had finished my project, I turned my phone back on and noticed a call a full hour and 20 minutes after the "two minutes" that was needed. They wanted to offer me the position.

Understandably at this point, I had many misgivings, and asked for an offer letter. The woman handling HR responded that she did not know what one was. She did want me to commit to a start date, though. I could not until I knew what I was being offered including my salary and benefits. That was the end of the day Friday and I would write to her Monday morning asking her a series of fundamental questions about my position that I had expected to review at the second interview or in the offer letter. Unfortunately, or rather quite fortunately, I came down with the flu. I could only send an email saying I was sick that Monday and I was quite sick the whole week. When I felt better the following Monday, I was informed that as they had needed to hire someone immediately, they had hired someone else. I knew then that I had dodged a bullet.

Here are some things to keep in mind when interviewing for a job. Each of these raised a red flag for me:

Is the company-and the people you are dealing with-respectful of you and your time? Are you being kept waiting a long period of time before your interview? Is the company respectful of your current work situation and specific needs? Are follow-up tasks mutually agreed upon and scheduled together? Is plenty of time given for you to complete tasks within an agreed-upon, comfortable timeframe?

Is the company respectful with requests? Does the company give you prompt responses? Have you mutually agreed upon taking any tests or training? Are you offered feedback within the agreed-upon timeframe?

Does the company clearly state next steps and follow through on them? Does the company say one thing and then do another? Does the company act as if only their requests/needs are important?

Does the company/workers follow through on what has been said? Is the company respectful of your needs and timeframe?

Does the company engage in clear communication?

Is the staff inexperienced? Are normal requests looked upon as unusual?

Are there any red flags on career websites about the company?

When it comes to finding a job, I've had that gut feeling (oftentimes backed up with ample evidence had I known how to spot the signs) that something was not quite right. For both companies and employees, the interview stage is the stage where everyone (at least it is hoped) wants to put their best foot forward - and while missteps can happen on either side, patterns often emerge. With companies especially, these patterns point to their "office culture." It's something I've seen over and over again in my career - as well as in life. If something feels not quite right or if you are feeling overly annoyed or angry - take these as warning signs. Keep your eyes open and use your awareness. Do some due diligence, both online and off. Ask around for feedback. I discovered that the company in question had a raft of positive reviews on a career website coinciding with their new hiring period. The woman who was handling HR had been at the company for less than a year in two entirely different positions, neither of them HR related. While I have a higher tolerance than most for a 'flying by the seat of your pants' work culture thanks to my start-up days, I also have a very low threshold for unclear and self-serving communication and disrespect. Your job in life is to take good care of yourself in all things and to spot that bullet coming and then, get out of the way.