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What are good questions to ask during an interview to avoid situations like these? How are other people weeding out employers like this one? This sounds like a bad situation that I'm sure we'd all like to avoid.

Spending years as a short term on site contractor I've picked up one question I find invaluable. I always ask "what are the pain points you have to deal with"

I've asked it so often and been in so many different teams I can more or less tell what the working environment and management will be like now.

Generally they aren't expecting this question so you catch them flat footed and get a clear unfiltered emotional response. The emotion on there faces betrays them. Every team has pain points, they have to answer the question with something negative, but its how they react with them that gives away a lot about the work place.

From a good teams you'll get a chuckle or story, which indicates to me a culture of understanding and dealing with things sensibly. Sometimes just a smile followed by a negative statement like "well releasing is problematic". But its that initial positive reaction.

From bad teams I've seen panicked looks between interviewers to make sure they don't divulge something, people turning white/clammy/sweaty, refusals to answer/insisting to move on/changing topics, silent stars at me LOL anything thats not openly a positive emotion.

I agree that's an excellent question. It's not fool proof, but no question is. Given my experience, I think it'd catch 90%+ of the bad apples.

Thanks for sharing. I'll use it from now on in job interviews.

Wow. This is a great question. Not just for interviewers, though.

I manage a small team and was wondering what I would say if asked this question--probably that our pain points are our server hardware/software, which are a bit, shall we say, "antique". Some of the other pain points fall out of that one.

I like it. It's the flip side of "So what's your greatest weakness" bullshit question that's sometimes asked of employees.

I don't think there's a sure-fire way to know, but you can ask upfront (even in the initial communications by email or phone) if it's a new position, or a "backfill."

And during the phone or in-person interview you can ask questions about team dynamics, like who you report to and are working with, how long the interviewer has been working there and how they like it, etc., to try to get a sense for how things work.

And I'd say ask as many questions as you can reasonably think of--it's more about how they answer questions than the answers themselves.

If they show resistance or evasiveness, then that may be a bad sign.

Abouth the `backfill': you can also ask about length of average stay at the company.

You can, but there's no way of finding out if it's true until you're there.

Indeed. But that's true for almost all questions. (Don't just ask for an average, ask for the shape of the distribution.)

It's probably a bit tough when it comes to a small outfit like the one described. In this case the main red flag was the mysterious previous developers. So to avoid situations like this one would have to find people who previously worked at the candidate employer and have them give references for their former boss.

I make a point of telling them in the interview that I don't work over 40 hours a week. (This may not be strictly true, but I don't want to work for a company that would consider it a problem if it was).

That's another good question to ask: how often is overtime "required"?

You can usually spot it in the job ads themselves (look for "fast-paced," frequent references to "deadlines," and similar language).

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