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How to Tell if You’re Being Conned by a Prospective Employer

Image of a deceptive prospective employer holding a mask to his face while extending a hand for a handshake

It is deeply unfair that employees are asked to be “open books” during the hiring process, submitting to what can feel like a never-ending series of checks and tests, while employers can block access to entire libraries worth of negative information.

The fact that your boss routinely gets into screaming matches within anyone within earshot? You’ll never hear about it.

The merger that’s just about finalized which may very well put your division on the chopping block in 12 months? Conveniently ignored.

The deep toxicity that’s hidden right below the surface, which will coming surging out the moment you’ve signed on the dotted line? Hidden.

So how do you fight back?

The first thing is to keep a close eye on any and every discrepancy between WHAT IS SAID and WHAT IS DONE. Between these two points lie important clues to the truth of what’s really going on.

Second, be on the lookout for these telltale warns signs during the hiring process:

1) Dictatorial with Terms

A great hiring process is one that feels a little like a great relationship. Of course the employer sets the baseline terms, but there should be an element of give and take there, a sussing out of what works best. If there’s NONE of that, or worse if it begins with a laying out of take it or leave it terms (including things like demanding your current salary before proceeding further), that’s not normal. If this is how they treat a prospective member of the team, can you imagine what they’ll be like if you accept?

Also read: Are You “Pre-Qualifying” New Career Opportunities? You Should!

2) Choked with Bureaucracy

 If filling out paperwork and answering a robotic list of questions during interviews rules the roost, watch out. This can be a sign that the company has tipped over from viewing its employees as a precious resource to items on a balance sheet, disposable. Not a good indicator of things like turnover, absenteeism, and stress within the workplace.

3) Dirty Laundry In Plain Sight

How hard is it to put up a pristine front during an interview? If you notice things like people in the room passive aggressively bickering with each other, or questions during a group interview that feel more like egos jockeying for attention, be careful. Do your homework behind the scenes to find out more about what’s really going on.

4) Extolling Negative Virtues

Making jokes about a lack of work-life balance, or preaching an “us versus them” dog-eat-dog way of doing business can be more than harmless banter- they can be clues into the kind of person who gets rewarded at the company. Ask yourself: if there wasn’t a hint of a joke in the air, would I agree with what’s being said?

Finally, here are some things you can do to take action when you’re feeling suspicious:

1) Share Core Stories

Core Stories are all about the things you’re truly proud of in your career and life. They’re essential to understanding who you are and how you see things. Be sure to share a few early in the process and carefully gauge the reactions of those in the room. Is it resonating with them? Or is it like speaking to an alien race? If they don’t understand you, or at least trying to, this is not going to work out. Sharing Core Stories can be a great litmus test.

Also read: If a Job Sounds Too Good to be True…

 2) Ask Hard-Hitting Questions

The more concerns you have about a company, the more incisive your questions should be? For example, if some serious red flags have popped up, and you have a follow-up interview scheduled, use it as an opportunity to decide whether it’s worth investing any further time on. In other words, ask it all: hard salary numbers, all the dealbreaker questions, everything. At this point, your goal is not to do well in the interview but rather make a value judgment about the merits of proceeding. Treat the situation for what it is.

About the Author

Anish Majumdar is a nationally recognized Career Coach, Personal Branding Expert, and a fierce advocate for transitioning leaders. His posts and videos on disrupting the "normal rules" of job searching and getting ahead reach a combined audience of 30M professionals every month. Go down the rabbit hole of Anish’s career videos at, and connect with him on LinkedIn to receive daily career tips and advice.