I'm a Former Recruiter — Ask These 5 Interview Questions to Avoid (Another) Toxic Workplace

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Courtney Dercqu156
Current Social Media Manager/Former Recruiter
May 30, 2024 at 3:10PM UTC

Interviews are designed to determine whether or not an applicant is a good fit, but far too often, applicants forget that they’re interviewing the company, too. Recruiters use all sorts of screening questions to weed out bad candidates, such as “Why did you leave your previous employer?” On average, applicants only have about 7 seconds to impress a recruiter during their interview. When you combine the anxiety of selling yourself with the pressure of needing a job, it can make you overlook vital questions you need to ask to determine whether or not the company is a good fit for you

If you left a toxic workplace, the last thing you want to do is join another. Recently, one Fairygodboss member posted to ask the Community about how to avoid another toxic environment by inspecting a workplace culture during interviews. 

While many Fairygodboss members left their advice, here are my top five interview questions you should ask to avoid working for a toxic workplace, as a former recruiter.

1. How do you deliver feedback?

This is a great question to ask, mainly because no one asks it. Because of this, it puts the hiring manager on their toes so you’re more likely to get a genuine response as opposed to one that has been perfected over time. For example, does the company hold weekly meetings to analyze the team’s productivity? Or, does the manager take the employee to a private conference room or their office to deliver constructive feedback? 

The answer to this question can be telling because toxic work environments include actions that are demeaning and negatively impair productivity. For example, public displays of discipline or harsh feedback can cause employee embarrassment. This can result in negative behaviors such as gossip, decreased productivity, and even resignation. 

2. Can you tell me more about a project you or the team worked on that you’re proud of? 

Full transparency: I once asked this in an interview and the hiring manager complimented me that it was an excellent question to ask, which is why I’m putting it on this list. 

Competent leadership will do two things. First, they will recognize that their department’s success is a team effort. Second, they will have a list of accomplishments that improved the department or company. The goal of this question is to analyze leadership and how the team works together. In other words, how do they measure success? Regardless of how the hiring manager answers, you’ll be able to get a feel for how everyone in the department works together. 

3. What does a typical workday look like?

Do people filter in late or leave early? Does the manager contact employees after hours? Are employees free to work on whatever they want, as opposed to designated projects? While you might not be able to get every detail, you can learn a lot about what the company’s atmosphere is like by how they answer. 

While letting employees come in late in the morning may not necessarily hinder everyone’s productivity, it’s a sign of a lax environment. As such, you’d have to consider how far this laxity extends. Chances are, this laxness will affect communication, teamwork, and problem resolution. 

4. Is this a new role that was recently created? What are your expectations for someone hired in this role? 

If the position you’re applying for was recently created, then this is a simple answer. However, if it’s replacing someone, pay particular attention to what the hiring manager says. If they begin to speak negatively of the person who left, this is a red flag of a toxic environment. 

If someone asked me this during an interview, I would have either explained whether it was a new role or not, while indicating that the previous employee left for a new opportunity. However, if a recruiter responds with gossip or insults, run far, far away. Interviews are a time of professionalism; if an interview demonstrates the opposite, there will not be any boundaries once you’re hired. Even worse, how fast will they start to blame you after you’re hired? 

5. What would you say employees like most about working for this company?

This is an opportunity to find out what kind of values the company holds, as well as the benefits offered to team members. If the recruiter struggles to answer this question or provides a generic answer, it might be a red flag that they don’t know. The bottom line is that a recruiter and/or hiring manager should know how their team feels about the staff, the environment, and the opportunities offered to them. 

If they don’t, it’s usually a sign that they are not communicating with their staff, which could be a sign that employees’ opinions are disregarded or ignored. 

Unfortunately, a good workplace can turn toxic if the wrong person is put in charge, however, you can feel better about your decision to accept an offer by getting the answers to these questions beforehand. Remember, you have a right to know what kind of environment you’re subjecting yourself to. You want to work for a company that will offer you the right career path; asking these questions is the first step in getting there. 

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