Although a candidate may be extremely focused on their own behavior and speech, it is just as necessary to pay attention to what the interviewer discloses through conversation or body language throughout an interview. In addition to debriefing an interview to learn where improvement may be required, a review can also help you pick up on clues the employer provided that could alert you to a dysfunctional work situation.
It’s always best to know of potential issues/personalities you might encounter in advance, so your interpretation of any odd behaviors is closer to the mark. When advance information from insiders isn’t possible, the following are some things to pay attention to and their potential causes.
The interviewer(s) arrived on time. An interviewer arriving and beginning the interview on time shows respect for your time. It also shows they have planned ahead. Certainly there are reasons someone might end up running late. The key is in how they approach the issue. If they’re not apologetic, or if the late start is not even acknowledged, this could illustrate how other meetings are approached or how your time is valued.
You met the person (or people) you expected to meet with. It’s great when the people you expected to meet are the ones actually present, but it isn’t unusual to be greeted by someone else. When people send stand-ins because they are unable to follow through as planned, it can work out ok if the replacement is someone actually prepared to interview or has a stake in the situation. It can turn into a problem if the person you end up meeting with appears to have little interest or awareness of your potential contribution or role with the company. A late replacement can be a sign of disorganization, or an indicator of how tough it might be to get the real decision maker’s time or attention on other important issues down the road.
The interviewer(s) seemed genuinely interested in meeting you. It’s important to look for signs that the interviewer is actually engaged in your conversation. Did they take notes? Did they give eye contact? Smile? Did they nod or offer affirmations to your comments/answers? Yawns are a pretty sure sign of disinterest, but so can stoic stares. If the interviewer was watching the clock throughout the discussion or allowing interruptions, it can be a sign that their mind was elsewhere. Ultimately, this can lead to a colossal waste of time for each of you. It can mean they were overbooked, or had already mentally checked out because they have an earlier candidate pegged. Or, they truly have an emergency to contend with and are feeling pressed to “carry on” with the interview because you are there. If you see extreme signs that would indicate they are preoccupied or their attention is slipping away, it might be helpful to simply ask if they are running late for another meeting. It might even be necessary to offer to reschedule.
The interviewer(s) was prepared. It is always a nice experience to learn that an interviewer has actually read your resume with care. Seeing a marked up resume with key points highlighted can be a very good sign. When specific questions about your personal past experiences or skills are asked, it shows that someone took the time to dig into your background. There may be something of particular interest they wish to expand on and will lead the way there. A good sign the interviewer was prepared will also show up in the order they ask their questions. Typically building on one piece of information to the next to help them develop a full picture is a sign of interest and understanding. When an interviewer clearly shows signs they have not seen your resume and is completely unaware of your background, it can be an indication of a number of things that might not be in your best interest. They may not have taken the time to think about you at all before your arrival or they may not be completely present in the moment. They also may not have a vested interest in you or your role and may have already made up their minds about another candidate, or they may simply choose to shoot from the hip when making other important decisions. Going through the motions by asking the same old, rote interview questions, in random order, can also either be a sign of inexperience or disinterest. The question remains: how will they treat you once you are an employee?
The interviewer(s) listened to your answers. When the interviewer asks questions and is carefully listening to your responses, even asking clarifying questions, it shows they are engaged in what you are saying. That isn’t always the case, however. Many of us have experienced the interview that progressed with the interviewer doing all the talking. When the “discussion” turns into a “monologue” about the interviewer’s experience or interests, there is a good sign they are more concerned about impressing you than learning about how you fit or can add value. It may also mean they are trying too hard to impress you, which could mean they are covering up other issues. A talkative interviewer might not sound like a problem, if you are a good listener. It might not immediately be a problem, if they end up presenting you with an offer. The real problem could come along later if they end up NEVER listening to you or acknowledging your value or contribution. When it comes to solving a problem or getting a promotion or a raise later, their behavior of not listening could become a problem. Or, if they had only been talking to cover up any unrevealed issues, you may discover them at a later date.
The information provided was consistent from all sources. It’s always important to pay careful attention to the input you get from all participants. If there are glaring contradictions, it could be a sign of communication breakdowns, disagreements or even all out wars. It would be a good idea to ask an open ended question to help clarify, correct or expose something that could be very important at a later time. If an open ended question gets them to talk more, it may expose more inconsistencies, or in the best case, it may prove to clarify something. If more unraveling occurs, then pay attention. Don’t try to brush it off as something insignificant. Contradicting information can be signs of unrest, and may be fertile ground for the next person to serve as a scapegoat. A clarifying question could be: “Earlier I heard Mary say that the project was slated to begin on the 8th, and I thought I heard Joe say it was the 12th. Could you please tell me more about the anticipated start date?”
The interviewer(s) was comfortable or poised during the interview. Granted, some interviewers are inexperienced and may seem uncomfortable because they are nervous. Others may be uncomfortable because they know more than they are sharing or because they really don’t have the time to interview someone. If someone is getting fidgety, try not to take it personally, but do take care to pay attention to how you might be contributing to their response. If your answers are long, are delayed in getting to the point or you have said something that could be interpreted as off-task, off-color or politically incorrect, it’s time to stop talking. Pay attention to their body language before you continue down the same path. If the discomfort appears when they are talking, it might also be a sign that they are having difficulty shielding a sensitive issue.
Each of these scenarios could expose information that would make a difference to you. Lack of punctuality, disinterest, distractions, stress and inconsistencies could all be indicators that things in this workplace are not ideal. Although none of these issues need to be deal breakers, don’t assume little things are unimportant or are an aberration. In order to maximize any employment situation, it is vitally important that you are aware of what you are getting into. Knowing the pitfalls in advance allows you to develop strategies for avoiding derailment at an inopportune time down the road.
What red flags have you encountered in an interview? Please tell us what happened if you ignored it until it was too late.