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7 Signs Your Prospective Employer Has a Toxic Culture

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7 Signs Your Prospective Employer Has a Toxic Culture

A while back, I published two articles that combined produced over 1,000,000 views, and sparked a tremendous conversation surrounding corporate cultures, management styles, and effective versus failing organizations. In case you missed them: 7 Management Traits that Will Make All Your Employees Quit and 7 Signs it is Time to Quit Your Job. In these two articles, I told the story of a toxic work environment that I endured that resulted in all of the employees in my regional office to either be fired or quit in less than a year. There were some signs throughout the interview process that should have thrown up red flags and sent me packing. However, I chose to ignore them. If you ignore them too and enter into a company that has a toxic culture, here are a few rather unpleasant side effects that I experienced that you might too:

  • High Stress
  • Anxiety Attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of Professional Motivation
  • Pit in Your Stomach Feeling on Sunday Nights
  • Damaged Personal Relationships

Here are the warning signs that I ignored. Hopefully, by me putting these out there, they may be of assistance to some of you in your career advancement endeavors, and you will avoid making the mistake I did.

1) Your future boss speaks poorly about current staff in the interview.

In the interview with my prospective boss, he was very negative towards his current staff in the way he talked about them. He used flattery towards me but put down his current team by saying things like, “I can’t wait to get a real sales executive in here that can show these yahoos how it’s done.” Consider this quote from Gregg Stocker, author of Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral.

“Ask what the company’s problems are and what their causes might be. If the answers to these questions consist of blaming others in the organization, especially those on his or her team, the person lacks trust in others.”

2) Your future boss comes across as self-absorbed.

If your boss keeps talking about how great he/she is during the interview they might be self-absorbed. Working for a self-absorbed boss ensures that your work will go largely unnoticed and he/she will use every opportunity to take credit for any of your success without giving you the credit deserved.

3) The interviewer is late.

The second interviewer was a senior manager. He showed up 15 minutes late for the interview. This individual appeared disorganized, and it seemed like he had not even reviewed my resume prior to the meeting. I was struck by just how unprofessional the interviewer was.

4) The company has a history of high turnover.

Make sure to do some research regarding the turnover rate for not only the company you are applying for, but the specific position. A good starting point is It will enable you to see what their current and former employees are saying anonymously. If you want to take a step further you could even do an advanced search on LinkedIn to find employees in your position and reach out to them for feedback. Most people are happy to help out and if you’re headed for a train wreck they will gladly give you a heads up. To my own credit, I did do research. However, once again I ignored the warning signs.

5) They put a lot of pressure on you to take the position.

In my case, my prospective employer put a lot of pressure on me to take the job. It was like they were trying to hard close a deal. I got emails and phone calls practically begging me to go to work there. Then they put an aggressive deadline on me that forced me to make a decision much faster than I was comfortable with.

6) You’re not sure if your values align with the company’s.

If after going through the interview process and doing research on the company, you are questioning the company’s values. Think long and hard about whether or not you will be able to be happy working at a company where your personal values may conflict the company’s way of doing business. Weigh how much of a conflict it will be, and whether or not it is worth the compromise you would have to make. Trust your gut on this one. Initially, I got a bad feeling regarding this company’s culture. I talked myself into thinking otherwise.

7) The offer letter contains a lower salary than what was communicated to you verbally.

When I received my offer letter, it was $5,000 less than what had been offered to me over the phone. I quickly pointed out the discrepancy to their HR Coordinator and they fixed it. However, again this was a sign of things to come in regards to the way they did business, not only with their employees but their customers as well.

If you read the first two articles and made it to this point in this one, you are probably wondering. “How in the world did you ignore these warning signs and end up taking this job?” Well that is a very valid question, and one that my wife asked me several times since. There is one reason and one reason only, MONEY. I was blinded by the almighty dollar. They offered me a higher salary, better commission structure, and substantial signing bonus. At the time my wife and I were remodeling and putting a major addition onto our home. We were paying for construction costs, mortgage, rent at an apartment (the project was too substantial for us to live there with a small child), and daycare. Needless to say, we were a little short on cash, and the opportunity to make more money right away was very attractive.

Life lesson learned: Money is not everything. There are other things to contemplate when considering a job offer like your peace of mind and happiness. Money should never be the only reason you are taking a job!

To sum this up, if your prospective employer possesses a few of these warnings signs you should think long and hard before accepting the offer. If they possess all of these interview warning signs, get out of there as fast as you can!

Now I will turn it back over to you all. Job seekers, did you find this helpful? Why or why not? To the people that have worked at or are currently working at a company that has a toxic culture (And I know you’re out there because I heard from 1000’s of you). What were the interview warning signs that YOU ignored? Please comment below.

About the Author: John White is the Social Media Marketing Director at Career Toolbox USA and Social Business Strategies, a proud dad, MBA candidate, digital enthusiast, marketing expert, and influential blogger.

Follow Me on Twitter: @juanblanco76 & @CareerToolboxUS & @SBSpartnersLLC

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  1. Doug Ales - Thomas & Betts 12/22/2014 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    Excellent article John! Do you recommend job prospects utilize the website Glassdoor?

    • John White 12/22/2014 at 3:31 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Doug. There are mixed reviews regarding Glass Door. However, my opinion is that it can’t hurt. If the trend on there is overwhelmingly negative from former employees then it is something to consider.

  2. Jo 12/23/2014 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    John – great post. Actually you describe perfectly well what happened to me in a previous employment.

  3. Gately Consulting 12/24/2014 at 9:39 am - Reply

    Hello John,

    We should not be surprised by the poor state of employee engagement given the following.

    – 80% of employees self-report that they are not engaged.
    – 80% of managers are ill suited to effectively manage people.
    The two 80 percents are closely related.

    Successful employees have all three of the following success predictors while unsuccessful employee lack one or two and usually it is Job Talent that they lack.
    1. Competence
    2. Cultural Fit
    3. Job Talent 

    Employers do a… 

    A. GREAT job of hiring competent employees, about 95%
    B. good job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture, about 70%
    C. POOR job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture and who have a talent for the job, about 20%

    Identifying the talent required for each job seems to be missing from talent and management discussions. If we ignore any of the three criteria, our workforce will be less successful with higher turnover than if we do not ignore any of the three criteria.
    1. Competence
    2. Cultural Fit
    3. Job Talent

    There are many factors to consider when hiring and managing talent but first we need to define talent unless “hiring talent” means “hiring employees.” Everyone wants to hire for and manage talent but if we can’t answer the five questions below with specificity, we can’t hire or manage talent effectively.
    1. How do we define talent?
    2. How do we measure talent?
    3. How do we know a candidate’s talent?
    4. How do we know what talent is required for each job?
    5. How do we match a candidate’s talent to the talent demanded by the job?

    Most managers cannot answer the five questions with specificity but the answers provide the framework for hiring successful employees and creating an engaged workforce.

    Talent is not found in resumes or interviews or background checks or college transcripts.

    Talent must be hired since it cannot be acquired or imparted after the hire.

  4. Beverley 12/25/2014 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    good points

  5. Steve 12/26/2014 at 11:26 pm - Reply

    I would say that in my experience, there are much bigger issues with unengaged employees than bad employers. I think the attitude of this article is where many unengaged employees are right now. It is all someone else’s fault…the employers. It is the employee’s “job” to be engaged.

  6. Ana Cecilia D. Bautista 12/27/2014 at 8:07 pm - Reply

    These are the warning signs that I ignored:

    – My future boss spoke poorly about current staff in the interview.
    *He told me that his staff are always late. He even encouraged me to lie to them by instructing me to misrepresent that the record book that he gave me actually came from the regional office, so that his staff will get afraid and show up earlier the next day.

    -My future boss came across as self-absorbed.
    *He asked me three times if I got appointed in that district just to replace him.

    -The company has a history of high turn-over.
    *Before I worked for my boss, he practically begged me to help him out because two of his lawyers were resigning already. That was the reason that I acquiesced to be in his law firm.

    -The interviewer is late.
    *The boss in my current company comes very late, all the time. Even when he scheduled me for an interview, he still was late. That he was previously sick is no excuse.

    -He put a lot of pressure on me to take the position.
    *My boss called me several times and made it sure that I will accept his job offer immediately. While I was still a public servant, there were instances where he would call while I was at work or even at home, like in the middle of the night. He even padded up my salary offer over the phone, just so I will say “yes”.

    -The offer letter contained a lower salary than what was communicated to me verbally.
    *Enough said. My current salary is Php 10,000 lower than what was offered over the phone. There was even absence of offer letter! And also, the 70%-30% profit sharing that my boss and I initially agreed upon, just so I will be encouraged to file a petition to be a notary public, is likely to be dishonored because my boss does not seem interested in honoring the profit sharing agreement with me.

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