Red Flags of Potential Employers

Have you ever interviewed with a company that acted somewhat strangely?

Perhaps the company:

  • Acts reluctant to allow you to give two week’s notice to your (soon-to-be) former employer
  • Is more concerned with filling X position by Y date versus finding a great candidate
  • Has high turnover
  • Scores low on the Joel Test (“2010 Version”)

These are the highlights of my Red Flags of Potential Employers.

Let’s assume the current economic climate is causing abnormal strain on your company. Emotions are running high. Situations are tense. You say to yourself, “this must be how it is everywhere.” I have been in this situation and lived to write about it. In fact, I have specifically worked for companies that have guilted employees into working increased hours & being loyal to the company. To the employees, the poor economy offered zero options to flee. Therefore, the company was able to take advantage of the staff under the guise of encouraging them to aid the company in climbing out of struggling financial times, even though the company was stable.

Fortunately, there are some organizations that have their acts together. In the situation above, a forward-thinking company would have taken advantage of the wealth of talent available, while at the same time solidifying internal morale to retain a high-level of talent.

If you have decided to move on and are looking for said “forward-thinking” company, here are a couple tips to identify them:

Accelerated Projected Learning Rate

When evaluating an employer, it is very important to determine how easy it will be to learn there. This is true for senior-level developers as well as junior and entry-level. Hopefully, you will be able to gather some information about how easy it will be to learn while you are interviewing. An ideal sign would be that you are interviewed by a “lead” developer or you will get to meet the entire team. You want to find a senior-level developer that can clearly communicate. If you cannot find at least one person with a great mix of technical skill and the ability to communicate in-depth concepts clearly, Run!

Disclaimer: This may not apply if you are the one being hired to be that senior-level superstar. In which case, please comment below. I want to read your blog!

Think about how much easier it will be to learn and/or to produce quickly if there is a knowledgeable, experienced technician who is able to communicate solutions to problems. This is the type of person you want to have in your network, but working with him or her every day would be even better.

Existing Development Environment & Architecture

Often times, given varying external forces, developers are faced with situations where a solution seems like it creates more problems than it fixes. This happens at every company, causing the Development Environment & Product Architecture to concede trade-offs.

With this as a given, you want to determine the perspective of the employer toward the existing environment. You would like to see any issues acknowledged via a good communicator who can explain the historical decisions that led to the current environment as well as some of the drawbacks or advantages. It is not unreasonable to ask “what are some of the limitations of the development environment?” Nor to follow up with “what has caused those issues to linger?” You want to hear a clear, objective response that acknowledges the validity of the question as opposed to getting defensive.

The idea is to make sure that the employer recognizes that its system/process/environment is not perfect. It needs to be tended and maintained, just like anything else. If leadership already recognizes that, then it is one less thing that will fall on you to fix later. Also, you may learn that the development environment is rather impressive. If so, you probably want to work there, because you will be able to get more work done and look like a superstar!


All this advice is moot if employers do not want to hire you. Work hard. Stay abreast of new technologies. Work on your communication skills. You will be wanted by a great company, because they are out there!