10 IT Job Interview Phrases To Make You Run - InformationWeek
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10 IT Job Interview Phrases To Make You Run

Wondering if the IT job you're interviewing for is a good fit? These 10 phrases suggest you should bolt as fast as you can.
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(Source: Nyttend)
(Source: Nyttend)

We get it. Times are tough. Many of you are still unemployed after the financial crisis, and more of you are underemployed. When someone offers you a job, you want to jump on it. But sometimes it really isn't worth it. The stress and pain of a bad job can take years off your life. That's why we put together this list of deal breakers, red flags, and head scratchers you need to look out for in the interview.

We all know that a job interview is sort of like a game of poker. The hiring manager is probing you for weaknesses, trying to figure out when you are bluffing, and hoping you will show all your "tells." A lot of us get so flustered that we forget that managers have some weaknesses they're hiding about the job, too -- low pay, high-stress environments, high turnover, an unhappy team. There's a lot you need to know before you take a job.

If you hate your job, it can literally kill you. A bad boss may actually increase your chance of a heart attack. Research shows that hating your job can lead to chronic stress, exhaustion, and emotional distress. Chronic stress can lead to obesity. It can cause high blood pressure, digestive problems, and fertility issues. And it can speed the aging process. Not surprisingly, all this adds up to an early grave.

That's not all. A bad working environment can actually affect your whole family. A Baylor study showed that a bad boss made an employee more likely to report stress in a marriage and more family conflict.

We can't prevent you from hating your job or keep you from ending up with a bad boss. But some folks get so caught up during the interview process that they forget to pay attention to a manager's own tells. They end up taking a job that was never right for them in the first place.

So we've compiled a list of a manager's biggest tipoffs that suggest you may want to run away as fast as possible. We've translated the manager-speak into plain English, so you can make a clear-headed decision. For all we know, you might like working 90-hour weeks or having weekly meetings in Siberia, so we're not going to tell you what to do. We just want you to make the best decision possible.

Read the list. Check out our translations, and tell us where we're spot on and where we're off. Tell us if you've ever missed these signs and been stuck in a bad job. And then add your own nightmare tipoffs to our list in the comments section.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
9/3/2014 | 10:40:43 AM
Run Fast or Sign Up
@dave -- I've heard all of these and signed up anyway if I thought it was interesting enough and paid well. Sad, but true. It's a good collection of red flags, and notice how many of them require the candidate to reply in the affirmative, or weave a narrative of how you will measure up, solve the problem, or whatever. It all sounds silly since you don't have the job yet.

This is the one that always get my attention --  "We have some strong personalities here." I've learned that this means lots of people don't get along, lots of bullies, and they are not collaborative, to say the least.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/3/2014 | 12:10:30 PM
Re: Run Fast or Sign Up
@jastroff- Yup, sometimes the red flags are worth ignoring. And sometimes drama can be fun for a few months. :)

You're also right that for me the "strong perosnalities" one is one of the worst. I'm a strong personality. I can handle it. But I'm not a jerk to my coworkers. I don't think people would describe me that way when talking about the team.
rkondrk
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rkondrk,
User Rank: Strategist
9/12/2014 | 2:07:51 PM
Re: Run Fast or Sign Up
One line that I noticed when I interviewed for my last job was "We need you to be a team player".  Only after I took the job did I realize that it actually meant, "We need someone to serve as a living football for the various, warring business groups in this company to kick around."  Sigh...I've heard almost every single line listed in this article during the 24 years that I've been in the IT field and, sadly, all of your interpretations are dead-on.
chis
IW Pick
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chis,
User Rank: Strategist
9/3/2014 | 4:21:32 PM
Great collection
A variation: We're looking for an "energetic" fill-in-the-blank. Translation: We're going to work you to death and then some!
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/3/2014 | 4:24:43 PM
Re: Great collection
@chis- I like the "and then some." It sounds like they're going to use my body at work in a kind of Weekend at Bernies scenario.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
9/3/2014 | 7:27:03 PM
Re: Great collection
@Chris: Did we work at the same job? LOL. I've had exactly that experience being the "energetic self-starter" who ultimately ended up convinced that my employer would expect me to keep working from beyond the grave. It was truly 24/7 365. If i had read this slideshow first, I would have definitely run the other way, but ah, live and learn I suppose.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/3/2014 | 10:10:51 PM
Re: Great collection
@Susan- I suppose the fact that you are still here means you left before the worked you to death. But I bet the rest of your team were a bunch of stiffs. :)
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
9/5/2014 | 4:50:15 PM
Re: Great collection
thank so much for the tips david. I'm job hunting at this time and this will help me to sort out the bad job from the good ones.  Personally, I don't like to get paid in kittens, I don't like cats in the first place.  A while ago saw some job description which indicated that you have to be available on call which means you have no life.  You are right, finding the job with the best match with your personality is no easy matter. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/5/2014 | 5:16:44 PM
Re: Great collection
@Pedro- Good luck with the search. I hope you find a job that pays you in the animals you like and has regular hours. :)
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
9/3/2014 | 7:30:17 PM
Travel!
These are all spot on, the one about travel particularly hits home. In most of the job interviews I've had, travel has rarely come up. But after taking ONE particular job I have learned to ask how much travel is expected. On this particular job, they did make a point of telling me to expect travel. Which amounted to approximately two weeklong overseas trips per month. The frequent flier status and the chance to see the world were nice perks, but  the fact that this travel schedule happened to coincide with the first year of my marriage definitely was not.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
9/15/2014 | 10:54:20 AM
Re: Travel!
@Susan: I must confess I love to travel But I had one job where i travelled over 200k miles/year and after about a year of that I was done. Granted I got the free flights on the Concorde and the penthouse suites in the Hilton, but I had to fly a lot of economy class flights to get that. I had so many frequent flyer miles that the benefits lasted about 3 years after I left that job. Not sure I could handle that now unless I had a Knee Defender!!
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
9/6/2014 | 10:14:54 PM
Hey Junior .......

I really enjoyed this piece David, and when thinking of  tip offs for terrible jobs - this is my personal favorite.  

Jr. Anything ...Translation:   " We are too cheap to offer this as the position it is - you will be doing your bosses job at half the cost."

 

Got to love those Jr. listings !

David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/8/2014 | 1:49:51 PM
Re: Hey Junior .......
Jr. Anything ...Translation:   " We are too cheap to offer this as the position it is - you will be doing your bosses job at half the cost."


@technocrati- Ha! True. I've also heard managers say something like this in an interview, "our pay is competitive." That is almost always code for "we're underpaying by 25% and we hope you won't notice."
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2014 | 2:30:00 PM
Re: Hey Junior .......
@David I have always wondered if statements like this actually mean the company's pay is competitive. Maybe they underpay because they haven't checked pay rates in 10 years! Ignorance is...?
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2014 | 3:11:35 PM
Re: Hey Junior .......
@David - I wouldn't mind being paid in kittens but my husband would hate it if I were :)

The article made me laugh, especially the pictures, but it also made me realize that every job I ever had used several or all of these phrases (at the same time) to describe the environment or culture.

And I have to ask myself - why exactly is a fast-paced environment?  Are people running in my office with relay batons?  I see it in nearly every job desciption and that makes it utterly meaningless.  As an aside, most people writing the job descriptions don't even know what kind of environment the position will have - HR usually takes care of that and they are isolated from the workerbees in IT, Accounting, Sales, etc.

The worst interview phrase I ever came across was "There's always something to do."

OK.  So my job is never done then?  That is the absolute worst thing you can tell a perfectionist.  You can also imagine that means I am going to be given meaningless busywork to justify my being there for a full 8 hours.  No thanks!
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/10/2014 | 3:13:56 PM
Re: Hey Junior .......
@vnewman2- You raise a great point about how the writers of job descriptions are seldom actually aware of the real work conditions. when that happens, it is usually just wishcasting on the culture they wish they had at the company.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
9/15/2014 | 11:08:31 AM
Re: Hey Junior .......
"meaningless busywork to justify my being there for a full 8 hours."

These days you are lucky if you only have to work 8 hours. My job requires 9 hours and you have to punch in and out just like when you were a teenager working in the pizza joint.

Companies expect longer hours, some even expect you to check your emails at night and on the weekends-something i just refuse to do on principal.

HR is usually a joke. They have no idea about what type of work is done or how you would fit into a company. They will not answer questions that are important to the job seeker. And you can't count on them for an honest status.

Then companies wonder why there is no loyalty anymore.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/10/2014 | 3:15:35 PM
Re: Hey Junior .......
 Ignorance is...?


...costly to an enterprise. :)

I'd say one of the few things companies know EXACTLY is how much a job is going for an the open market. They never want to overpay. That makes it all the worse when they try to low ball you.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
9/6/2014 | 10:23:53 PM
Job Seekers: Golden Words of Wisdom

When someone offers you a job, you want to jump on it. But sometimes it really isn't worth it. The stress and pain of a bad job can take years off your life.

 

Your words of wisdom David should be dipped in Gold.  It took me years to learn this, thank goodness I was able to hold up to the resulting stress. 

But as I get older, I can see it ( a bad fit ) coming from 10 miles away and rather than take a job just to have one - I have learned to hold out.  With patience and persistence you will find something you really like or at least can stomach for the next five years or so.

 

Probably the best lesson I have learned regarding finding one's way in this world of entry-level, non-paying job listings.

David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/8/2014 | 1:52:40 PM
Re: Job Seekers: Golden Words of Wisdom
@technocrti- Thanks for the kind words. If you can't get the words dipped in gold, I'll just settle for some gold nuggets. I can melt them down myself. :)

Seriously though, I think the finincial crisis and slow recovery has left so many people in situations where they feel like they can't pay attention to this advice. I get it. I really sympathize having lost a job in the crisis as well. But i interviewed for a bunch of stinkers before finding one I liked. So glad I didn't end up with one of the stinkers.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
9/8/2014 | 5:57:21 PM
Re: Job Seekers: Golden Words of Wisdom

Golden Nuggets it is !   : ) 

Very true David, most cannot afford to be picky - even with the improving economy we have now.  It is a real trade off, do you take the position and be under paid for the next three years ( if you are lucky ) ?

I did.   I did it then but I am in a stronger position ( I hope ) now to hold out if necessary, because the emotional toll is something a person needs to factor in as well.   Swallow your pride ?   Sure Everyone does it all the time.

I totally understand the "some is better than none"  mentality and you might have to go back to adhering  to that kind of thinking.  But early on in the process - don't settle for less than you would be happy with.   Circumstance might change and then you have to change with them - but enjoy your small window of autonomy.  It close so quickly.

But given the choice, I think I will be saying,  Have you really looked at my Resume ?   Just before I leave.

Reilly Kerr
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Reilly Kerr,
User Rank: Strategist
9/8/2014 | 1:31:53 PM
Other kinds of tip-offs
As an experienced (trans: older) job-seeker I've heard almost all of the lines you cite. I'm a B2B tech marcom guy, not an engineer or programmer, so some IT tip-offs don't necessarily apply, but you've come up with a great list. The tip-offs don't end with HR, though. 

For me and my deep resume, a HUGE red-flag statement is really a misdirection: "We need to know you'll be a good cultural fit with the department." This is often a ploy to cover up age discrimination (which, BTW is also rampant in IT hiring as well). It is assumed that an older worker won't be as productive or creative, can't or won't work well with a younger staff, and that said older worker will cost more -- all total bu115#!t. That's why fewer than one in 11 professional over the age of 45 who lost their jobs in the last decade have found positions in their previous fields. Forget about re-entering at the same level!

But there's another element you won't learn unless you actually get past the HR crapwall to an interview with the hiring manager. In a job market that thrives on cannibalism, no department manager will hire somebody they think could take their job -- even if what you do best (in my case, wordsmithing) will never get you promoted to management. They'd rather settle for mediocrity sufficient to the immediate goal(s) than trust someone who can deliver excellence. 

This dovetails with discussions about lying on one's resume. No, it isn't a good idea, but when will HR learn it applies to the job descriptions they write and post, too?

RK

 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/8/2014 | 1:55:26 PM
Re: Other kinds of tip-offs
@Reilly Kerr- thanks for your frank and wonderful comment. Yes, managers and HR often cover up discrimination in code. And you hit a major one right there. Another similar one is when they start talking about being energetic. 

The sad part is that as people learn the code, they simply swap it out for new language. Instead of learning not to discriminate, they learn how to do it better.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
9/15/2014 | 11:00:51 AM
Re: Other kinds of tip-offs
Age discrimination is very real. It is one of the sad reasons why so many middle aged people are now working in retail and can't survive on those salaries. The line about "cultural fit" is very true. It is not only to work out the age discrimination, but also to see how much "occasional weekend work" they can get away giving you. The staff might be very well beaten down and they don't want to hire someone who will incite a revolution. The job situation is very bad out there today and corporations totally have the upper hand.
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
9/18/2014 | 12:43:08 PM
Re: Other kinds of tip-offs
@tjgkg - I agree on the age discrimination statement - it's a subconscious bias as well, making it more rampant than people actually think. I have a young child now, but I am an "older mom" who was looking for a part-time job to keep me a little sane and relevant to the workforce. Well, I never found what I was looking for, rather I stumbled upon a full-time position in IT doing what I did in my former, pre-mommy life, which I was trying to avoid, but keeps finding me somehow :) But I digress - my point is, it came down to this: it would be really nice for me to stay home with my child right now, but in reality, if I waited to go back to work until he goes to school full-time, I'd be pushing 50 and....who's going to hire me then??? Seriously? So I figured I'd re-enter the workforce now before I pass my buy-sell date and maybe I'll reinvent myself in the process.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
10/10/2014 | 9:40:58 AM
Re: Other kinds of tip-offs
@vnewman2: Completely agree with you. You are very lucky the position found you. I think you made the absolute correct choice in going for the full time position. The job market is truly insane out there. Thankfully I have a job but i always keep irons in the fire because you never know. The job descriptions I see are just so out there you wonder who could possibly fill them. Then companies complain because they cannot find "qualified candidates". With 100 people applying for every opening? Really? I spoke with one headhunter who kept asking me about specific areas in my background for a position which i was clearly qualified-especially with 25 years experience. However the way she was going on made it seem these people were really looking for specific experience combinations that most people do not have. We have to be thankful we have jobs and be very careful about moving to a new one these days.
ANON1254946778562
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ANON1254946778562,
User Rank: Strategist
9/9/2014 | 9:37:55 AM
Adding an eleventh
My friend came up with this one

Forget anything you've ever heard about us because we're a totally different company now!
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/10/2014 | 12:28:30 AM
Re: Adding an eleventh
@anon- Ha! That's great. I have asked a manager about a copany's bad reputation and gotten a similar answer, but I've never seen anyone volunteer it. :)
hho927
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hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2014 | 2:28:50 PM
True
But I took it because I was desperate. So It's bad but sometimes, we have no choice anyway.

I think company cultures create the hostile environment. It's a constant war. The guy before me left no documentation. I get no training whatsoever. I've learned everything myself. Management keeps pushing more and more work. They act like they don't know how long it takes to do a certain task. The more I take the more they give, so I just refuse new projects. The lession I learned is that if I don't stand up, I will get pushed.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/10/2014 | 3:12:10 PM
Re: True
@hho927- I'm sorry to hear that. I sympathize. I really do. One of the problems we have as works is there is no way to work together to solve the problem. I'm not necessarily suggesting an IT union, but if tech workers had a union or similar body, they could negotiate together for change. As it is, we all are on our own with little or no power.

I don't know what the solution is other than to work together in some way to better our culture.
hho927
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hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2014 | 4:23:00 PM
Re: True
Thank you!
the5thHorseman
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the5thHorseman,
User Rank: Strategist
9/11/2014 | 1:59:51 PM
The company Kool Aid...
I have worked at an educational institution for 15 years now. What has astonished me more than anything else is the absolute lack of respect for the people who make your organization go. The culture of management here, and in business and corporate settings I have either worked in as an employee or private consultant, allows "managers" to make uninformed decisions about [insert subject here] without owning any responsibility for outcomes. I can write all day about software packages that have simply appeared, seemingly from a dimensional portal (or something) , imposed upon us by some one or thing that has absoulutely know idea what systems we operate or if this package can even run in our environment. But the completely disconnected, and clueless, person who bought this thing and just expects us to make it run, is not from some far away place, they are right down the hall in their managers office. And I am not speaking small projects either. We had a "member of management" simply decide one day that we would be providing streamed applications to faculty and students using Citrix XenApp. No one on our team had any experience with this service whatsoever. We received no training and there was a ridiculous deadline imposed that could not possibly be met. Yet he was not held responsible for missed deadlines and what they perceived as a delayed rollout. The team shouldered the brunt of the dissatisfaction of "management". Anyone who has ever had to rollout this system, from a Netscaler to storefront to XenApp farm knows that this is NOT one of those things you can just Google and do. But the "manager" who simply dumped it on us without any consultation ahead of time, owns no culpability... it has nothing to do with not providing training or not speaking to us beforehand to determine if we could even support this system, in their minds. To them, we simply failed to meet their deadlines. It is this method of clueless management through complete ignorance that makes it a workplace it is impossible to enjoy working in. And every one of your warning phrases applies in our workplace! Beware!!!!
rkondrk
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rkondrk,
User Rank: Strategist
9/12/2014 | 2:14:48 PM
Re: The company Kool Aid...
I believe that it's gotten worse than even that during the past few years.  These days, there seems to be almost a tangible *contempt* for IT people in the workplace.  I think that part of the problem is that we're generally considered a "service" department that (at least in their opinion) creates no tangible profits for the company.  I think that the concept that they're failing to grasp is that the IT department protects the revenue and intellectual property of the company at the very least and, by doing so, we do have "value".
aawells2915
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aawells2915,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/19/2014 | 10:58:46 AM
Re: The company Kool Aid...
the5thHorseman,

 

The company Kool Aid is alive and well in the education institution I work for also.  I have also seen every phrase in the article.  The phrase that is NOT mentioned is the "intellectual property" of employees.  The employees that will not help or go out of their way to keep processes a secret or the reason a process is done in certain way or flat out give you wrong information, this allows them to protect their position while only working 4 to 5 hours a day.  (Information is power)  I have run into this more than once working for the institution I am at and state employment in the past.  This is BAD employees and BAD management.  Cross training is non existent!
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