Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

Candidates Reveal 4 Biggest Red Flags in Job Interviews

Two women sitting at a desk talking to each other.

What do job seekers view as the biggest red flags in an interview?

To find out, data analysts at HR community People Managing People analyzed 5,172 comments from a Reddit thread titled "Red Flags in an Interview that Reveal a Job is Toxic."

Experts say interviewers should set positive expectations, be transparent about the role and the organization—and avoid saying the following.

'You're Joining a Family'

The No. 1 turnoff for candidates may be surprising, as it turns a concept typically considered a positive into a dismaying concern.

The Reddit review revealed that the biggest red flag in an interview is the use of the term "family" to describe a company.

"It may be meant to express that the organization is collaborative and team-oriented, trusting and respectful," said Anna Cowell, a talent acquisition consultant at Washington, D.C.-based HR consulting firm Helios HR. "But it could be a way to describe an environment where undying loyalty is expected, or commitments go beyond typical job duties and working hours."

Instead of warm and fuzzy, people could be reminded about family dysfunction and toxicity, said J.T. O'Donnell, a career coach and founder and CEO of Work It Daily, a career-coaching site in Portsmouth, N.H.

O'Donnell recommended that instead of using a trite metaphor, employers convey the bonding association with family through examples. "What are the stories to back that assertion up?" she asked. "People expect you to help them visualize what it would be like to work there. Say 'This is a place where everyone's voice is heard' or 'This is an environment where you will be supported.' "

Recruiters and hiring managers are better off being clear and finding thoughtful ways to explain the workplace culture to candidates, Cowell agreed.

'We Really Need You to Say Yes'

Another warning sign is when candidates feel hiring managers are desperate to fill the role, or they hear that the role has a history of frequent turnover.

"Recruiting is a high-profile activity, and recruiters can lose sight of how what they do looks from the outside," Cowell said. "Managers can be overly enthusiastic in outreach, sending multiple follow-up e-mails to passive candidates who don't seem interested. It can be hard to let a candidate go when you think they are perfect for a role, and there's a fine line between enthusiasm and desperation."

She said that's why it's important for recruiters to honestly represent a candidate's interest in the role to the manager to help mitigate expressions of desperation.

"To say that 'We need to fill this job yesterday' or 'We need to fill this job ASAP' feels like hype," O'Donnell said. "Job seekers would rather hear something specific to understand the need for the open position."

If candidates ask why the position is available and how long it's been open, transparency is the best option. "Have a response ready," Cowell said. "If the role is challenging in some way, be upfront about the limitations or difficulties, giving candidates the option to make an informed choice whether or not to continue in the process or move on."

'Long Hours, But It's Worth It'

The mention of long working hours and a crushing workload, even in exchange for estimable rewards, is another warning sign for some candidates.

"There's been a shift, and employees are expecting to have a reasonable work/life balance," Cowell said. "You want to be mindful that your culture reflects your values, and if that includes working outside traditional hours at certain times, it's best to be upfront about it. People want to be successful if they believe in what they are doing and know what is required of them."

Experts agree that honesty about the not-so-attractive parts of a job is the best policy.  

"If working long hours is nonnegotiable, then figure out what kind of person relishes that work style," O'Donnell said. "Ask the employees who find satisfaction in that environment what they love about the culture, and then take that message to the interview. You're better off embracing it and saying, 'Yes, there are long hours, but that's why the compensation is so high and the benefits are so great.' "

Cowell said that an important part of the interview process is to give job seekers a chance to self-select out. "You don't want to hire someone who will not be successful or happy in the role."

'So, Are You Married?'

Inappropriate or offensive questions are sure to stand out as interview red flags. In a recent SHRM survey of more than 1,000 recruiters, 24 percent said it was somewhat or very common for hiring managers to ask inappropriate interview questions during the hiring process.

"You want to avoid anything that implies you are trying to get into their personal life and personal preferences," O'Donnell said.

Cowell said questions to steer clear of include potentially discriminatory queries such as "What are your plans about starting a family?" or "How old are you?", and she also advises against asking wacky, outside-the-box questions like "What superpower would you want to have?"

"Be thoughtful and intentional about the questions you ask, and make sure they are job-related," she said. 

"Interviewers should be more focused on what a person's drivers are and why they want to work for you," O'Donnell said. "Ask 'What makes you want to come to work every day?' 'Why would you want to work at this job?' and 'What about you makes this job a great fit?' Those types of questions are framed in a way that the person is able to respond in a work context and can also choose the personal aspects that they share."

Cowell said that ultimately, job seekers should be open-minded about what may seem like red flags in an interview. "A red flag may be just poor communication. It's worth drilling down and getting clarity, asking, 'What do you mean by that?' or 'Tell me more,' instead of shutting down and thinking that the job must be a bad place to work."


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.