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What is your biggest 'red flag' when interviewing?

david_j_eddy profile image David J Eddy ・1 min read

Interviews are a two way process (and dont let anyone say otherwise). Organizations need people who can 'do the work'. People 'need to get paid'. Above that is what makes showing up to work a frustrating experience or the best thing we do all day.

The job market is tight these days. Last I checked less than 2% unemployment. Skilled workers are in such high demands organizations have started offering perks that would make the pre dot-com bubble engineers jealous. As such we need to be even more careful and diligent when interviewing organizations.

For me it is the 'Do you perform well under pressure?' Via experience this typically means 'we don't know how to schedule work', 'we have no leverage to push back on business demands', or ' the requirements change every day'. None of which are situations I want to be involved in.

What about you? What are your 'red flags'?

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David J Eddy


AWS Certified (x4), Automated Testing / Continuous Integration / Delivery / Deployment (CI/CDs), Cloud, Containers, Dev(Sec)Ops, Software Engineer.


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The biggest deal breaker for me is when a company has "set hours" where they expect you to be in the office. I personally am a morning person. I like to be in the office by 7:45am and I do my best work in the morning. Then I head home around 4/4:30pm. Some companies are rigid about the 9 to 5 in the office and that's never worked well for me.


Some companies will tell you you have flexible hours but then shame you for making use of this policy 😓


Worst case I had this happen - I had to work from home because school was closed. Got a bunch of dirty looks the next day for doing so. So next time school was closed, I brought my daughter to work with me and let her watch TV in the main area. I got even dirtier looks haha! But, what do you want me to do?! I found a new job shortly after this (and a few other instances of BS).


I've definitely experienced this many times. Just because flexibility (of any kind, not just hours) is offered, does not mean you will be allowed to use them in any way other than "technically". I usually ask what the work day of current employees looks like from person to person

Oooof, nothing is worse than being guilted into the office!


Following are few from me

Developers not given admin access on work laptop/desktop.
No flexibility for remote work.
Developer needs to know all technologies under the sun but work will be production support of java 1.4 monolithic application.


Lol on that last one. I totally understand that feeling 😂


Whenever I hear from the company ”we don't have too many tests because we don't have time.” thousands of my brain cells died.
But what is a real deal breaker for me is ”We need it fast.” = ”We expect you have a switch in your brain for normal and turbo mode, and you can perform x time faster if we ask you to x time speed up.” In other words, famous sentences like ”Two weeks is too long for this; we need it in 3 days, we have to make it.”


"...Whenever I hear from the company ”we don't have too many tests because we don't have time.” thousands of my brain cells died. ..." Truth!


In my area I've actually had a couple of interviewers commend me on "interviewing then as hard as they did me". Not all interviewers appreciate this and that is a red flag to me. I personally feel that the interview is not just where a company finds out of they want to on board, but also for you to find out if you want to work there. If the interviewers start squirming under questions about company culture (especially if they've recently been acquired), work schedule flexibility, how conflict is handled and what the "chain of command" is, who is responsible for what, etc I begin making for the door.

I look for traits in hiring managers like accountability, honesty, directness, candor, and response to having questions asked about why they do things the way they do. If I see evasiveness or catch dishonesty, I walk away. That is why doing some "recon" on your company of choice is so important. Check their reviews on Glassdoor and actually read them, look at the profiles of them employees on LinkedIn and Twitter, Google news about them and read the articles that result. You need to do this because trust me, they are doing that to you.

It's a two way street all the way. They need to prove they are worthy of your excellent skillset, passion, and love of the craft just as much as they need to prove you are worthy of a paycheck. In my eyes, you can get a paycheck anywhere, but there is only one you. They need to earn you.


So very true. Interviews are two-way. They want your talent, you want there benefits. It has to work for everyone involved.


I think when they say "We work in a waterfall model for our software development". I will always run away from them since if they are following it just means that they might be stuck in the stone age in their practices or technology.

Especially you're doing work that is focusing on creating new product or services and you will only be finding your code being deployed in donkey years which is not a company I would want to be part of.


Funny. One of my red flags is "we're a totally agile shop". 😁


Why? Because of teams who claim it but really aren't, or maybe dogmatic and inflexible leadership?

Probably both. 🤣

Yeah, I agree with Mark on that since being dogmatic and inflexible is something that will hurt the moral in the company regardless if they embrace either agile or waterfall method.

I had been in the military, it's really bad when your superior or the organisation has that culture which will snuff out the creativity of an individual contributor.


Much like the 'Must be willing to work under pressure' red flag, I always find it weird seeing job ads for data analysts that say 'must thrive on chaos' or 'loves juggling multiple tasks'.

I cannot think of a single data analyst ever who loves a chaotic environment with lots of change and requests coming from multiple places.


Another one that had seen when I was looking for a job last year was: 'Working in the nanoseconds zone'. I believe it fits into the "we are disorganized and dysfunctional multitaskers but for reason proud for that" category too.


It seems the 'loves juggling multiple tasks' or similar is being applied pretty liberally around IT these days.


Interviewers that clearly haven't even looked at my resume/cv/etc and have no idea who I am or sometimes what I'm even applying for.


Most of my red flags are just bad interview practices. Not following up with me for months after an interview, holding 8 person panel interviews.

My biggest red flag is if the direct manager and I don't get along. This is the person who is going to make or break your team and if they are flaky or angry or incompetent, it's most likely the team who will get thrown under the bus.


When I got my current job, the listing had the classic "must be willing to work under pressure", they've recently added "must have heroic spirit" and "rockstar mentallity"

And I'm not sure if they have any idea about both concepts, but I've read that those are things NOT to look for :(


Thank you for those. Adding them to my list of 'avoid' phrases.


I walked around to check out the dev-team. Had a quick talk, so that I knew what I would sign up for.

This developer had his code-editor open and I looked at his controller, where there was this mulit nested Hadoken terror foreach loop.

I said: "Well, a lot of stuff happening over there!"
He said proud: "Yeah, nice or what"

Later I talked to the lead and senior developer and found out that he was a senior, because he worked there longest. So yeah.. super lol. But I needed work, so I took the job.


How did that work out for you? Where you able to implement better coding standards? Best practices? Bring positive change to the team?

I see this as a challenge but also an opportunity to help improve a team.


The snowboard trips were nice, the parties were great. Nice people and good co-workers.
All were willing to learn. So we added Sonar-Qube for code quality, implemented and iterated on scrum practices, with retrospectives and bi-weekly lightning talks to improve the team and incite continuous learning.
BUT I never got technically satisfied or inspired by co-workers.


For me:
Not having a well documented continuos integration workflows.
Not having documented code formatting and guidelines to ensure code consistency.
Not allowing devs to dive into new things or express ideas.
Not offering the opportunity to continue learning. For instance if you are applying for a Backend position but they also work with Data Scientist and you are willing to learn about that.
Not guaranteeing a healthy work environment.


I look for the following:

  • flexibility in work hours
  • option to work remote
  • a team that is structured to work with a few or all devs remote

One of the best places I worked at, checked all these 3. And it worked so well for me, that I'd go in for 2-5 hrs only for meetings/stand-ups, head back and wfh. The productivity increase was too good to ignore or complain about. Unfortunately, the startup failed for reasons outside the dev team and founders refused to pivot.

During an interview if I feel the employer is not really offering flexible/remote work option, or says they do, but come across as not capable of handling remote workers, I don't proceed with that interview.

While working at a company, biggest red flag is when they move from flexible/remote friendly to every day in office, 9am to 5pm. That's been a consistent red flag at startups I worked at.


Here are a few

  • Not having any questions for me
  • Not having time for me to ask questions
  • Silent or uninvolved people in the interview room

The company has lots of negative comments/reviews on Kununu (like Glassdoor) which a left uncommented/unanswered.

(I get that lots of employees will leave negative reviews, a mix of good/bad is still healthy. But when it's almost only negatives and also nobody cares to respond…)


"Buzz words" is my most feared deal breaker.

When I come into a society, I expect some seriousness from an enterprise's standpoint, but hearing about "ninja/whatever" developers (I don't even know what that means) or seeing projects clearly directed by hype-driven development is a real turnoff.


Very good point. Hype fuel eventually runs out. See: crypto-currency.


I had a really weird interview, which is something considering that I've only interviewed three times in the past 10 years.

First they asked what I would do if multiple people all gave me tasks and said they were urgent. My answer was that unless it was obvious which was the most urgent I would look to my manager to determine which had the highest priority.

They weren't clear about what answer they were looking for, but that wasn't it. Apparently they either wanted me to do all the tasks simultaneously or just decide autonomously which was most important. The first is impossible. The second means that anybody and everybody is my manager, and if I do what one person says I might be accountable for not doing what the other person says instead.

In a sane environment I'm working on a prioritized backlog of tasks and anyone who wants something else just needs to ask my manager if they need to divert me.

In a less sane environment I suppose I could work with any other system. FIFO, sort based on job title or the person's last name, draw from a hat, whatever. And perhaps 75% of the time the priority might be obvious anyway. Just tell me your system. (This is my internal dialogue, not what I said to them.)

This is the part where they would normally explain what they expected. It's as if they didn't know themselves, or they just wanted me to say that I would somehow prioritize everything in the right order. That's a big red flag. They're describing chaos. If you apply Conway's Law, what does their software look like?

I asked about their unit tests. They said that they were working toward adding more unit tests. Translation: We don't write unit tests. That's a huge red flag. Unless they're interviewing me to teach them how to write unit tests (they weren't) then there's a mismatch.

The weirdest part was when one of them said, more than once, that theirs was a smaller team, there weren't that many developers, and that meant there would be nowhere to hide. WTHeck? That's a disturbing thing to say. Why would I want to hide?

Then he asked if that made me just want to run out the door. I said no, but my face is expressive, and I'm sure that by that point my expression was shock and horror. You've told me that your team is in chaos and that working there will make me want to run or hide.

They didn't offer me the job, which scared me a little because I hadn't interviewed in a decade. But the next two places I interviewed did. That was two years ago, and my experience since them has confirmed that nothing about that place was normal.


Disrespectful and aggressive behavior from the interviewer. When a interview actively denigrates your past experience in an attempt to get a candidate to lower their salary expectations. There are other red flags like asking illegal questions such as "What is your marital status" (this is illegal in Portugal).

I think interviewers sometimes forget that their company is also being judged in these interviews.


When the culture of the company expect that you work extra hours on a daily basis that is a big NO to me


For me the biggest is if the employees don't seem happy or seem like they are unwilling to talk about the company without sugar coating it.