Red Flag Alert: How to Not Be ‘That Employer’
When I was a naïve 27-year-old, I decided to move to the San Francisco Bay Area and took the first job offered to me there – despite the ominous red flags.
The job was as a “marketing assistant” for a small publisher of technology books – think geeky topics like Linux programming and how to build a robot. Things I knew nothing about and had no interest in (but hey, how hard could it be?).
Red flag #1: The office was in complete disarray. Especially the owner's desk. I felt like I had walked into the workplace version of “Hoarders.”
Red flag #2: After the first part of the interview with two of the company's key employees, the owner – who had been listening in the entire time from his paper-mountain desk – sat down next to me, slammed a stack of books on the table, and began demanding to know why I thought I was a good fit for the job (based on his condescending comments, it was clear he was already convinced I was not). My reaction: Now I must convince him that I am the right fit, even though we both know I’m not.
Red flag #3: I learned the last few people in the marketing assistant position didn't last very long. One, they said, “just stopped coming in.”
Red flag #4: I was unclear on what the job actually entailed. Apparently I would be pitching the books to the media for placement, but there was no plan in place or direction for how to do so.
Surprisingly, I was offered the job. I moved to the area and gave it a shot. Not surprisingly, tensions boiled over and drama ensued, and one day I simply gathered my things and walked out of the office without giving a formal notice. I wouldn't recommend this move to anyone, but since the job only lasted a few weeks, I was able to leave it off my resume.
As credit unions, you want to attract talented, quality candidates who will help your organization grow. And, the most qualified candidates will probably bolt if they spot a red flag during an interview (unlike my younger self). Likewise, if you’re a credit union professional making a career move, you’ll want to identify red flags during the interview process so you don't end up in the same mess I did.
Here are my top employer red flags, how credit unions can avoid raising them when interviewing candidates, and what candidates can do if they spot one while sitting in the interview hot seat.
High turnover. It's normal for a candidate to ask how long the employees they meet have been with the organization, as well as why the person who was in the position they’re interviewing for left. If your candidate only meets rookies during the interview process and learns that their predecessor only lasted a few months – that can raise a red flag. Have them meet with veterans who can speak to why they’ve made the credit union their professional home for so long. And even if the candidate's predecessor left on bad terms, you can give the story a positive spin. Try, “It wasn't the right fit – this time, we’re looking for someone who has skills in X.”
In the hot seat? If you see the high turnover flag being waved, find out more. Ask why people who have left the organization didn't succeed there and what types of new opportunities they left to pursue. And find out who the longest-tenured employees are, since your interviewer may not introduce them to you or mention them on their own.
Over eagerness to hire. If you recently and unexpectedly lost a strong employee, leaving a department overburdened with work, it makes sense that you’d want to get a new person up to speed as quickly as possible. But asking a good candidate during an initial interview if they can “start on Monday” will raise concern. Even if you are sure about someone after a first meeting, do your due diligence by scheduling a follow-up interview and checking references before making an offer. And if they ask whether you’re “considering other candidates,” say yes even if you’re not.
In the hot seat? On the flip side, if you’ve been unemployed for a while, it can be tempting to jump at a hastily-made offer. Well, don't. Gather as much information about the company and position as you can from your interviewer(s) and outside sources (Glassdoor is a good place to start). It also doesn't hurt to make yourself sound more desirable by mentioning that you’re weighing several options and will get back to them in a couple of days.
A foggy job description. Whether you’re choosing candidates for a newly-created position or the role has been in flux from the start, a lack of clarity on what the job entails will make good candidates head for the door. The solution to this problem is simple: Create a detailed job description and be able to clearly describe the person's duties before posting the job.
In the hot seat? Fire away with as many questions as you can about the role. What does a typical day entail? What would my daily/weekly/monthly tasks be? Who from within/outside the organization would I be working with/not working with? If the interviewer can't provide clear answers to these, something's up.
Poor behavior on the interviewer's part. If your candidate is late, badmouths their previous employers or hasn't done any background research on your credit union, you might be crossing them off your list quickly. But it goes both ways. Don't be late, be sure to review the candidate's resume in advance and don't speak poorly of the last person who was in the role – even if they were the employee from hell.
In the hot seat? Even if your interviewer reminds you of a train wreck, don't be rude or show your discontent during the meeting. If they seem unprepared, take initiative by asking questions about the role and providing details on your background. Take note of the red flag, but remember that they could just be having a bad day. Then, do your due diligence to research the organization and role thoroughly before making any decisions.
Look, no employer or candidate can be 100% sure if a new hire or new job will be the perfect fit, even after an extensive round of interviews. But like gut feelings, red flags can help people on both sides of the coin avoid making a dreadful mistake that costs them time and resources.