IT Job Interviews: Signs That A Workplace Or Manager Is Toxic

IT recruitment


In my 25+ years in IT recruitment, I’ve spoken with thousands of candidates who are working for a toxic manager or business. Unfortunately, the realisation that a situation is toxic often comes far too late. I believe there are several key indicators in the job description, interview process, and job offer stage which can give this away. Being aware of them could save you from the stress of working in a toxic environment.

Do your research

As the MD of an IT recruitment agency, it would be easy for me to advise that you should listen to everything your recruiter says and believe every word. After all, they have an existing relationship with the client and should have a full understanding of their Employer Value Proposition (EVP). However, I would always say to do your own research in order to formulate a full picture of the business you are looking to interview with.

Platforms like Glassdoor can give you interesting insights into how a business operates. Generally, I find that if there are negative comments, they are true to some extent.

Additionally, look at the companies’ financials via a credit check or by searching Companies House. Make sure you are going to get paid!

Office tour

During the interview, you should expect the interviewer to offer you a tour of the office. Most employers view this as a brilliant way to show off their culture and environment. However, if the interviewer doesn’t offer, you should ask. If you’re not allowed to see the office and meet the team you might end up working with, this is a huge warning sign.

Ask questions

The current market is candidate-driven, meaning that companies need to work hard to attract the right talent. It is important to bear this in mind when going through the interview process, and know that it is a two-way street. You have just as much right to ask questions as the interviewer does.

Using questions that might catch the interviewer off-guard will often give you indications of what the business/manager is really like.

  • ‘How do you measure employee satisfaction?’
  • ‘Do you have an EVP?’
  • ‘What is your staff retention like?’
  • To the manager – ‘Why do you stay in the business?’
  • ‘How did you deal with the pandemic?’ In the past two years, I’ve found that this question is very good for showing the true colours of a business.

Clarify the culture

I’ve found that companies using acronyms and phrases to describe the culture has become the norm in job descriptions and interviews. However, I’ve spoken with candidates who have interpreted a phrase differently from the companies’ understanding and been negatively impacted because of it.

For instance – ‘Work hard play hard’ – this is a potential red flag. I’ve spoken with companies who have used this phrase to describe a culture where you’re expected to attend every social event and drink heavily – if you don’t, you’re not part of the team.

‘Family feel’ – on first inspection, you’d think this means that the company likes everyone to feel like they are family and will treat each other as such. However, the company might be saying that they expect the team to become your family because you are going to be working long hours and won’t be spending much time with your partner, spouse, children, etc.

These are extreme examples. However, it’s always better to clarify a point, than live with regret later down the line.

I’d be looking for phrases like ‘Work smarter not harder’. This might mean that the company is focused on helping their employees to improve their time management and productivity to give them extra time to spend with their loved ones. However, it might mean something different to them, so double check!

Portrayal on social media

What tone/culture does the company portray on social media and what was described to you by your IT recruitment agency? Is the job description and interviewer aligned with that? If not, you might have come across a company whose marketing/communications team is all about team culture and inclusivity, but a manager or company which is not.

Read your contract

Has everything that was promised in the interview been included in your contract? This could be flexible hours, remote working, structured training, company car allowance, etc.

In the past, I’ve come across candidates who have shared similar experiences during the interview process at the same company. What I deduced was that this company had a ‘dream interviewer’ who was well-versed in selling the dream to the candidate, but was not present once the candidates started work, nor was many of the benefits they had been promised.


As an IT recruitment agency that successfully places thousands of IT contractors and permanent team members every year, we pride ourselves on working alongside businesses that uphold the same values and ideals that we do. If you’ve had a negative experience with an employer or recruitment agency, please get in touch and we’ll discuss any potential opportunities we might have.

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