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Today I started a new job as team leader in a new company (150 employees in total, the branch in my city counts about 35-40 people).

It is in IT and IT consultancy (company is more towards consultancy side whereas the local branch is more a software house with projects developed inside, not at clients locations). The location is EU.

I was hired after a three rounds interview process:

  1. With an HR guy.
  2. With the senior team leader and two senior developers of the team I was supposed to join.
  3. With a senior manager (who introduces herself as the manager of all the projects for that specific client of the company and should have been the boss of my boss).

All the interviewers were very friendly and I was extremely happy when I signed the contract.

To my enormous surprise, I found that all these five people left the company before I started and when they interviewed me they were all in their notice period (one of the senior developers was even on his very last day!).

I’ve never been in this situation before: is this a red flag? Or is this a red flag only if other conditions are met? Or I’m overthinking?

I passed my morning with an HR person from headquarters that came here to help me with papers. Apparently they had not found a replacement for the HR guy that interviewed me (and my impression is they didn't try at all) and that was the only HR here. I tried to ask two or three questions about the situation, but she responded in an evasive way using a tone between embarrassed and annoyed. I didn't push further. I've not yet talked to other team members.

Big Update

I have a big update. Last week I asked many questions to teammates and yesterday I took part in a dinner with 20/22 coworkers, the 5 people that interviewed me, 5 or 6 people from the client I was hired to work for and a few guys from Kate’s new company (Kate is the senior manager of my last interview). Situation is much much worse than I thought. Summarize by points:

  • Kate directly hired all (except 4) people (including the HR guy) of the local branch in the last 4 and a half years. With the exception of those 4, everybody was used to report to her, was used to work on her projects (all for one client) and didn’t have any contacts with the rest of the company
  • The HR person that came in for me on my first day was the first person of the company they saw in the last 2 years. CEO, the direct report of Kate, didn’t show up for at least 3 years and she phone him 1 time every 3 or 4 months
  • The company is purely consulting, whereas my local branch is a software house and Kate was trying to start the development of a product The gains brought last year from my local branch were equal to the rest of the company
  • The product imagined by Kate was studied 4 hands with the client and the contracts were already written: my company was supposed to develop the product for 1 year, then the client committed itself to buy it and continue the development. My company step in and blocked everything intimating to Kate to leave the company
  • Kate found a position as international division manager in a new company and more or less everybody in my local branch are going to follow her (or already did it, as the 4 people that interviewed me): last week 3 left, during this week 4 or 5 will leave, for the middle of March there will be me and 2 or 3 others that had not already decided to leave.
  • The client already has terminated one of the contracts with my company and is going to terminate the other 4 soon. Of course they already signed new contracts with Kate’s new company (as the client’s people and Kate’s new coworkers confirmed at the dinner)
  • Talking privately to me, Kate explained what has happened: they interviewed me not to hire me where they were working at the time but to hire me in the new company. In fact they gave a negative opinion of me to the headquarters HR office. But because of this (probably to make a last spite to Kate), headquarters HR proposed me a very good contract
  • Finally Kate said that she already has a contract with my name and better conditions at her new company for me and she is waiting me to sign it. Given the situation, I’m strongly thinking to accept

tl;dr: This is definitely a huge red flag. Everybody is going to follow the senior manager to her new company. The client also is following her. My local branch is going to die soon.

Final Update

I moved to Kate's new company at the middle of March. I really enjoy the work and the people here. I'm working in the team I was supposed to work in at the ex company (with few additions) and in September we will begin the development of the product that Kate and the client designed.

During the few weeks I was in the old company I did not have access to any company platform, even code repositories or email client (I was forced to used web based client) and I had literally nothing to do. Last person left at the begin of June (even the 4 people not reporting to Kate left the company). At some point in April, internet connection was no more available. In June even electric power was disconnected. Nobody from the company showed up.

My coworkers have a good relationship with the building receptionist of the building where the old company had his office. They said that all utilities were disconnected but everything is still there (desks, furnishings, servers and other IT stuff and specially all laptops of former employees). The only actions we see from our ex company are:

  • Remove my city office from their website page "Where we are" (and had it removed from Google Maps)
  • Remove from their website any reference to the client
  • Remove from their website 2 successful projects related to Kate and her team
  • 3
    Please, could you indicate industry and location (country or state should be enough). Some places have higher turn over as a normal thing. Startups in California, IT sectors in India are two that I know are much higher than where I am in Embedded Software in the UK's M4 corridor. Where I am it would be weird, in other places not so much. Hopefully, you are on a short notice period initially so you can leave if you decide things are not to your liking. – TafT Feb 11 at 13:53
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    @alexeyb please do give us an update in a couple weeks and again in a couple months. You should probably do an answer, and mark it as the accepted one. – Criggie Feb 11 at 23:52
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    @TafT industry is IT and IT consultancy (company is more towards consultancy side whereas local branch is more a software house with projects developed inside not at clients locations). Location is EU. In my experience such a fast turn over is not standard in my country. I have to serve a 6 month probation period, so I have tons of time ;) – Alexey B Feb 12 at 8:03
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    @Criggie I'll update the question for sure as soon as I'll found more informations – Alexey B Feb 12 at 8:04
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    @Davor not osmosis, but observation. A perfectly reasonable way to gain knowledge. – stannius Feb 12 at 16:39

15 Answers 15

145

Everyone involved in my hiring process left the company before I started: is this a red flag?

It's definitely a little weird. I've never heard of a company having an interview panel entirely composed on people on their way out especially across job functions. I would at least expect your hiring manager to be the same.

Normally you don't use people in their notice period to hire new people unless it's for their replacement and the employee is leaving on good terms. This situation could indicate a high turnover rate the company with very few people able to fill critical functions. Hence using people in their notice period to fill an interview panel.

If I were you, I'd keep an eye open for anything strange going on, but you're at the company now so you might as well enjoy your new role.

  • 27
    You may fall through the cracks and end up with the potentially envious position of being paid to do nothing... I mean, try your best of course, but if they start paying you regularly, and for some reason do not give you work, then... of course look for a new job. – Nelson Feb 11 at 14:04
101
+200

Yes, it is a red flag.

That amount of turnover and the fact that none of the people who you talked to during the interview process are now still in the company is definitely beyond unusual and is certainly problematic for you.

That doesn't mean you should pack up and leave. But it definitely is something to be aware of and take into account.

For once, nobody except you now knows what was discussed during the hiring process. If there were any promises made, anything said that is important for your work, now is the time to get it in writing, at least in e-mail. Ask for clarification regarding these points:

"Mr X mentioned during interview that ABC. As you know he left since then. Can you clarify for me if ABC is still the case or if not, what I should adjust to?"

You should also keep your eyes open for other red flags. These people might have left for harmless reasons and that they all left at roughly the same time might just be a coincidence. But it's too much of a coincidence to just shrug it off. If you see no other alarming signs, that's good. But be aware.

And lastly, when people leave, they always leave a gap. This company now has a lot of gaps in a small area. Be aware of that. Workflows might be interrupted, responsibilities unclear, knowledge lost. This can be problematic and is a risk as well as an opportunity for you.

tl;dr: Red flag: Yes. But if you keep your eyes open, might turn this way or that for you.

  • nobody except you now knows what was discussed during the hiring process., wouldn't that have been carefully documented in writing? – gerrit Feb 11 at 13:34
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    @gerrit in a perfect world, it would be part of the contract. But typically, more things than are legally relevant are discussed. That might be workflows, responsibilities, contact people, project status details and many other things. – Tom Feb 11 at 13:48
  • @gerrit I have a few emails from the supposed boss of my boss where she talks of the project I was supposed to join and a generic list of my tasks. Nothing more detaild – Alexey B Feb 12 at 8:07
19

Maybe it's the other way around: given they were all going away, they needed to hire ASAP to replace key figures in the company.

And, it's normal in the IT world to have a very quick turnover, f.ex. half of my team has changed in the last year.

Still, I think some concern would be justified: that's why probation periods are for. It's probation also for the company, so you will hopefully have time to have an idea in the first weeks and decide whether to continue or not.

  • 27
    "half of my team has changed in the last year." that's normal? I guess it depends on how long are your projects, but to counter this anecdotal, at my place it's considered extremely hard to maintain long running project in the "half-life" of team is 3 years. Also try to reverse the logic, if you saw a folk, who left 50% of his positions in less than a year, would you confidently hire him? In some areas of IT maybe it's normal, but not in general. It kinda sounds like projects are done by freelancers. I agree with your answer but this statement startled me. Maybe i'm getting old =] – luk32 Feb 11 at 12:56
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    It's normal in the fx world because so many people there are contractors, and for various tax reasons they don't want to stay more than 2 years at any one place. Even for perm roles I'd say that moving every couple of years isn't unreasonable if you find you're not getting what you want from the company. – UKMonkey Feb 11 at 13:08
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    Use to work in a bank as contractor. Stayed 2 years there. Half of the devs come and go before 6 months. Quite normal in this field. – aloisdg says Reinstate Monica Feb 11 at 13:10
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    That shouldn't be normal. Research shows it usually takes about 6 months for a Developer to get up to speed. If they all leave at that point, then you're never getting the most out of anyone. – krillgar Feb 11 at 13:29
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    @UKMonkey There's a big difference between contractors only staying a year and employees. One is pretty normal, the other seems strange. – Voo Feb 11 at 14:02
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This is not just a red flag but a massive betrayal of trust.

The company has asked you to make a commitment to it and you did. At the time, the company was in possession of information that it had to know would significantly affect your decision to commit to the company and it chose to withhold this information until after you committed. If I were you, I would be livid.

For anyone who might think the company was entitled to withhold this information, consider this thought experiment: If he had asked a question like, "Who are the people I'll be working with?" or "Will you be my primary HR contact?", they would have had to tell him or lie to him. Obviously, lying is unacceptable. So what would you expect an interviewee at a company to do? Should every interviewee ask every possible question about things at the company, essentially a fishing expedition, to make sure a company isn't withholding relevant information like this?

Either the obligation has to be on the company to disclose things that should affect the new employee's decision or the new employee has to ask every possible question to make sure nothing relevant is withheld. Obviously, only the first option makes any sense.

That brings us to the question of what you should do about it. You would be fully justified in walking in to the office of someone in management (the exact person depends on the company's internal organization) and angrily demand an explanation. However, if your goal is to smooth things over with the company if there really is nothing wrong, this is a counter-productive strategy. Perhaps the only thing the company did wrong was withhold the information and the actual departures have an innocent explanation. Maybe they all left excitedly to form a new company.

So, if I were you, I'd assess over the next few days what I want out of this. If things seems fine and the job is good and the people you are working with seem sane, I'd just let it pass. I'd be on the lookout for further red flags.

5

As a quick interviewing tip, it may be worth asking in the job interview what the history of the role is and why they have it open.

With that said, it is weird that everyone interviewing you was in their notice period. You don't explicitly state this in your question, but based on the fact that you're just now finding that out I assume that none of them mentioned this in the interview, which is also at least mildly strange. It makes me wonder if there were any other odd omissions during the interview process.

The third weird thing is that so many people left at once, especially across multiple functional areas. Was there some kind of recent dispute with management or something like that? Or was it actually just a coincidence?

The fourth weird thing here is the H.R. person's evasive answer.

So yes, I'd say that this is a definite red flag. As others have indicated, you don't necessarily want to quit immediately, but it's worth trying to find out more about, and you should be prepared for the possibility of receiving other unpleasant surprises in the near future.

  • 1) I found very weird this too 2) I confirm, nobody said anything during any of the interviews (even the guy that was in his last day) 3) I'll try to investigate as soon as possible 4) Not only the evasive answer but also the tone – Alexey B Feb 12 at 8:15
  • This was my thought... the OP probably should have found out at least one or two were leaving through the interview process. They probably need to review the types of questions they ask in an interview. – DanK Feb 12 at 19:24
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    HR being evasive in answering is pretty much the norm for HR – hellyale Feb 13 at 22:23
4

Anyone would be as surprised as you at this situation, but you are there now so try not to make this colour your impression of your new job which you were very enthusiastic about.

As long as you are able to get on-board, do the job and enjoy it then this could be a great opportunity for some fast progression.

Maybe this group of people all left to go to the same place? Perhaps they've all set up in business together. Perhaps you can find one or more of them on LinkedIn to see where they went.

Either way the reason they all left will probably become apparent to you when you talk to other people at your organisation.

In the meantime, make the best of it. If there are issues with this workplace which later become apparent then you can make a decision to remain or start looking for something else when you know what they are.

4

I once was hired to replace a person who died. Now if he'd died in the office that'd have been a big red flag but he died in a car accident, nothing to worry about.

You may well have been hired to fill the hole left by those people leaving, without knowing why they're leaving (and we can only speculate) there's no way of knowing whether it's a bad sign or not. They may have been moved to another department or office, or been hired by a customer (it happens, I've had jobs where there was a constant movement of people between our project team and that of the customer, the project had been running for 10 years and every few months someone would switch employers, while remaining in the same job).

Or they could all have been contractors and you were hired because the company wants to internalise that knowledge and reduce its dependence on contractors. I've experienced that myself, where suddenly a board decision is passed down that in 4 months time all contractors must be gone from all projects for example.

Just some examples of how people leaving isn't always a bad sign.

  • 4
    "Now if he'd died in the office that'd have been a big red flag..." Depends on the cause of death. – jpmc26 Feb 11 at 22:03
  • @jpmc26 of course, but compared to a traffic accident? (unless you're a highway patrol officer of course) – jwenting Feb 12 at 7:07
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    "Depends on the cause of death " ... maybe a large red flag fell on him? – Mawg says reinstate Monica Feb 12 at 8:11
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    One person leaving isn't a bad sign. Two people leaving within a couple weeks, maybe. But 5 people from different positions throughout the company is a big deal. – krillgar Feb 12 at 13:30
  • would the customer also poach the HR guy though? ... Customer stealing a whole team was my first thought, but the fact the HR guy left at the same time makes this less likely I think. – WetlabStudent Feb 14 at 6:46
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It could be a red flag or it may not - other information will help you decide, such as:

  1. Is the client happy with progress i.e. have existing milestones been met, etc.? Have you met or at least spoken to the client?

  2. How are the other members of the team - have you talked to them - preferably individually and informally to find out their level of contentness, concern, etc.?

  • 3
    I'm planning to talk to remaining team members in the next days to try to find out more of this situation – Alexey B Feb 11 at 12:32
1

We can hardly know what that means. Red flags are only relevant when you have a significant decision in front of you. But right now, you are not facing a decision. You have nothing to gain by leaving; and by staying you can make nothing worse.

Concentrate on your work. As a new team leader in an established environment you have your work cut out for you anyways, overcoming all the prejudice against the "new guy" from your team and your customer.

As you have signed no contract (between the company and the customer), you are not liable for any milestones that will be missed due to senior developers etc. leaving (and depending on the company culture, as a "team lead" you are not the "project lead" anyways - but be sure to clear that up with whoever is still there). Be sure to assess the situation.

View it as an opportunity. There is an enormous upwards vacuum, and you might just fill that out very nicely, maybe even jumping up in the ladder (if that is what interests you) quicker then otherwise possible. After a few weeks, you will be the "company guy", and all new replacements will be the new guys... push for replacing those people, and try to be involved in the interview process. You can create a nice little family of new ones which look to you for guidance.

If that works out, you surely will be noticed. If it does not work out, you can easily explain the quick turnover on your CV with the truth.

  • As my contract says "Team lead" is a person focused on the tech and architecture parts of the projects, is not a project manager or a manager of any kind – Alexey B Feb 12 at 8:12
  • Then that sounds fine for me; there seems to be little risk that a few weeks from now, blame will be put on your shoulders... @AlexeyB. – AnoE Feb 12 at 8:19
  • At a prior employer, I had a similar situation. When I was hired, one of the things they were looking for was someone who would stay a while. Within a few weeks all of the people who interviewed me had left. The HR guy was working on this PhD. The tech lead and team lead nearly got into a fist fight, and both left. Nevertheless they were a good company and I worked there for 18 years. Average turnover in IT was (and is) low enough that they are potentially facing a mass retirement scenario in the near future. – pojo-guy Feb 12 at 20:29
1

Well, this might be red-flag time, and it might not.

Start with the good possibility. It's possible that the folks you talked to were in the process of moving on as a group to found a new company. That happens sometimes, when someone with a vision persuades others to join her. Five (including an HR type) is unusual, but seems possible.

The bad possibility, of course, is that there's something toxic going on in the company.

On the gripping hand (as the saying goes) it might just be coincidence. As you may or may not know, "The law of averages not only permits the most outrageous coincidences, it requires them."

So, I'd start keeping my eyes and ears open. Especially, see if you can find out about the group which left.

1

You didn't mention what the size of your team is now that those people have left, and if the 5 people were a significant part of of the team that you will be leading before they left.

One scenario is that it is just coincidence.

Another scenario is some other company is actively recruiting people for a job that matches those 5 people's skills and interests. It could be that the other company hired a manager from the current company that the 5 people liked working for. I've seen this happen twice in my career (usually a start up "siphoning" employees from other companies doing similar work).

Another scenario is that the 5 people had good reason (at least in their opinion) to leave the current company. I've also seen this happen twice in my career. In what could be considered a worst case scenario, an entire development team was upset by circumstances at a company, at the same time the company was hiring a manager for the team (the team was not upset at the departure of the former manager, it was another issue). By the time the new manager started working, all of the development team had left.

1

HUGE red flag. I would not stop looking for other jobs. Those people left for a reason, and you're about to put yourself in the same situation they were in.

Always remember that with the company, recruiters, coworkers, etc... the only person that will be looking out for you is you. NO one else is going to put you or your interests first regardless of what they say. So step wisely.

0

This might suggests that the company -- or at least, your local branch -- is going through major layoffs and/or budget cuts, so they are hiring less expensive and/or more diverse-skilled people.

This can be either bad (financial difficulties), good (eliminating inefficiencies in the company structure), neutral (reacting to a major change in market conditions), or even some combination of the above. So we cannot really say anything specific. Ask around, get to know the key people and the team in general, and you should be able to put together a picture of what the situation at the company is.

0

By analogy is your house burning down a bad thing? Perhaps it leads you to find the secret vault that holds tons of gold your great-grand-dad socked away. We can't know all possible scenarios.

That said, 9 out of 10 ways of looking at it this is an entire drill team of red flags. 1) Even for IT, that is high turnover. 2) This was clearly an elephant in the room during interviewing. You have been left essentially re-interviewing for your job--only while already occupying it.

I can't think of more than a theoretical reason why you shouldn't keep fully on the market. What anyone owes to a brand new employer is fairly minimal. After all, they didn't give you a job, they offered to provide what you want (paycheck) for what they want (service). An employer that has tacitly reneged on a substantial portion of what you had reason to believe the company might be is owed even less.

Keep taking calls from recruiters. In the meantime, do your best. Maybe there's a gold vault under the ashes.

-1

is this a red flag?

Please define "Red flag."

Do you want to know if the company's financial status and your future career plans are in danger? Or there is a problem which makes the company so inhospitable and impossible to work for, which soon you will be seeing yourself and you want to be prepared?

Because, on the contrary of everyone, I am planning to answer as "In business perspective, no, it is not a red flag, in fact there are many positive signs about the professionalism."

5 people, from different departments, most likely with different mindsets and character and possibly different work ethics... They will soon leave the company. Most likely because of an event or situation which made them quit at the same time. Either the company's fault, or theirs.

Yet, they run a 3 round interview for their replacement, all of them were friendly, not even a sign of badmouthing, even a little harmless complaint about workplace which would you can catch and become suspicious, like "Here you can't say no to do overtime, you know?" or "This will be your salary for the next 5 years -assuming it will be paid, haha".

All other commentators are right: If everyone leaves at the same time, this indicates there is a big problem in the company. It will most likely affect you, and you might consider leaving before it is too late. But it also indicates even under that circumstances, people are leaving in such good terms they still don't even consider to harm the company, influence you, holding no grudges.

Knowing that how ugly things can get in these circumstances, I believe your story indicates you are in a company which might deserve a chance.

protected by mcknz Mar 26 at 5:35

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