Red, Yellow, Green Flags: How to Know if an Employer Is Right or Wrong for You

Career Advice
minute read

Landing a great new position is about more than receiving a job offer. You also want to experience a good match between your personality, skills and goals on the one hand, and the company culture you’re entering on the other. Here's what to look for.

Finding the right position requires a certain level of risk and a certain element of reward. After all, when you’re in the market for a new job, you’ll be contemplating life at a new company, potentially taking on new responsibilities, stretching your skills, and looking for growth opportunities. That new role you step into can feel a bit like a gamble. And no one enjoys accepting a role, only to find it isn’t the right place for you.

But there are ways to tell how well you’ll fit in a company before you say yes to that job offer. Look for these red flags, yellow flags, and green flags to guide you into making the best decision for you.

Red Flags: Probably a No-Go

Every work environment and job have pros and cons. Finding a fit means looking for the best balance of what will serve you in the long run in both your career and personal goals. 

That said, there are definitely signals that a position or employer may be worth steering clear of. Here are some of the biggest ones to look for (and avoid!) as you apply and interview:

  • Tense atmosphere — You’ll notice this most often as you interact with or observe various employees, so take time to see how employees behave while you’re there. If the work culture is tense, you’ll notice people (in general) aren’t smiling. They don’t seem to be enjoying the job or work environment. They’re not relaxed. (If you’re looking at tech companies specifically, coworkers may be serious about results, but you should still look for an atmosphere that doesn’t feel constantly uptight and anxious.)
  • Negativity — Another way to get a read on the company culture is to see how the interviewer interacts with you. Do they seem harried? Rushed? Unhappy? Before the interview ends, ask the interviewer, “Why do you like working here?” If they can’t answer, or give a vague, confusing answer, that’s a hint the workplace may not be a positive one.
  • Toxic coworkers — While it may be difficult to tell this completely before accepting a job offer, you can keep an eye out for hints of issues. Do people seem nervous around the boss? Are they tense rather than relaxed when interacting with job seekers like you? Do they seem unhappy when interacting with fellow coworkers?
  • Disorganization — While some workdays can get a little hectic, great companies balance that with good planning and a focused approach that makes it easier for employees to succeed. The opposite—a company that’s constantly in survival mode—is no fun to work at. Hints of ongoing disorganization include the following: No one’s ready for you when you arrive for your interview. They fail to call to let you know there would be a delay. They cancel or reschedule without telling you, leading to confusion and wasted time.
  • Lack of connection to you as a person — It’s important to feel like you’re going to be appreciated as an individual when you take a new job. If the interviewer is clearly unprepared, hasn’t reviewed your resume, or aren’t sure what position you’re there to interview for, these are all signals the company itself may not truly appreciate its employees.

Yellow Flags: Proceed with Caution

Various aspects of a work environment will be a fit for some people, and not for others. These “yellow flags” are not always deal-breakers for everyone. Consider them a signal that you should carefully consider what you need in your new role before saying yes to the position.

  • Speed-hiring for open positions – Has the hiring manager indicated that the employer wants to “hire someone quickly” to fill the role you’ve applied for? This doesn’t always mean the opening isn’t a good fit for you, but it can be a signal that the company isn’t being as careful about choosing the right person for their needs long-term.
  • Scope creep — Sometimes, the job description you apply for isn’t a complete match to what the company actually expects from someone in that role. As you interview, ask about what “a day in the life” looks like for that position. If the answer is vague, or indicates you’ll be taking on all sorts of responsibilities not described in the job description, that may mean your job will not be what you want it to be.
  • Lack of clear boundaries — Often, an interviewer will emphasize there may be overtime. For some people and some jobs, this is not a big deal. But if you’re looking for a position that doesn’t involve a lot of unanticipated work obligations, pay attention. If the hiring manager can’t specify how much overtime is typical with the position, this may not be the best work environment for you.
  • Communication issues during the hiring process — With the ups and downs of remote work and the pandemic, it’s not unusual right now to experience small hiccups in communication. But overall, it should be easy to connect with hiring managers. If their responses to you are not timely, personalized, and professional, this could be a sign of a bigger communication problem throughout the whole organization.
  • High turnover — At times, companies can experience high turnover even when they’re generally good to work for. The question really is, what are they doing to improve their retention? So, see if you can get a sense of why there’s been a lot of employee changes, and how the company plans to handle it.

Green Flags: Go for it!

So, how do you know when a company is the right place for you? Look for these positive signs that suggest smooth sailing is ahead for you if you accept the position.

  • Alignment of values — Finding the right company often comes down to making a match between the organization’s values and your own. When both align, it’s easy to come to work each day, excited and passionate about what you do. Know what you care about most in terms of organizational values, and find out how well they match what the company believes in.
  • Sense of belonging — You spend a lot of hours on the job, and for the most part, you should be able to enjoy that time. Having camaraderie is a big part of job satisfaction. You should feel like you fit in when you connect with other employees. Just as it’s a bad sign when you enter a company and feel like the décor, atmosphere and people aren’t welcoming, it’s a great sign when everything about the environment and staff make you feel like you’ve come home.
  • Great clarity — Job satisfaction also depends on knowing what you are there to do each day, and having that role align with your skills and passions. When your role in the company is very clear, well defined and appealing, you’ll enjoy yourself more. You’ll know what metrics to aim for, and it’ll be easy to know when you’re achieving success—which helps when you’re asking for a raise or promotion.
  • Gives you your must-haves — The position you land in should be a great fit for what you need in a job. We’re not talking about the “nice to haves” here (like more money or more vacation time), but the “must haves”—the things you must have to be fulfilled at work. Examples include the type of role it is, opportunities for leadership, great use of your skills, and a mesh with your personal strengths.
  • Clear sense of growth path — Great companies know the value of investing in employees, and this includes plans for retention, additional training, and promotion. If the organization offers all these things in ways that appeal to you, that’s an excellent sign the position is a good one for you.

Summing It All Up

Finding the right employer doesn’t have to be hard when you know what to look for. Between this checklist and your gut sense, you can make a smart decision for whether or not to pursue further interviews and accept a job offer.