With the average time to hire now reaching 45 days, more and more job seekers are learning to be patient to land their dream role. Of course, this is easier said than done: such long waiting times can lead unemployed applicants—with bills to pay—to grow increasingly impatient and adopt a rather desperate mindset.
This desperation can be dangerous, as it sometimes causes applicants to abandon their normal good judgment and ignore warning signals—colloquially known as red flags. The unfortunate result: job seekers accepting wholly unsuitable jobs which inevitably cause stress, financial troubles, and sometimes, flat out misery. More often than not, they end up back at square one looking for yet another new job.
Red flags are called red flags for a reason, and if you see any semblance of them in a potential job opportunity, don’t ignore them!
Here are 5 of the biggest job red flags you may come across and if you see them we recommend you run, far, far away:
A completely disorganized or frustrating hiring process
The hiring process can be a pretty good representation of a company and how well organized it is. While you should be tolerant of some disorganization—HBR research shows today’s managers are seriously overworked—there are certain job red flags that you should definitely keep an eye out for.
Imagine the following hypothetical scenario:
You arrive 10 minutes early for your scheduled interview and check in with the receptionist in the lobby. They have no record of who you are supposed to be meeting with, but eventually they confirm you have an interview with Hiring Manager X and that they will be with you shortly. After 20 minutes of waiting past the scheduled time, they finally greet you. No apology is given. You are escorted to the conference room and Hiring Manager X begins the interview—except all they are doing is talking about how great the company is and how lucky you are having been selected for an interview. Suddenly, you realize they don’t have your resume in front of them, so, being the star candidate you are, you loan them one of your copies to review. They review it for a few seconds, and begin to ask you questions—none of which pertain to your skills, experience, or even the job responsibilities. In fact, it seems like Hiring Manager X is winging this entire interview. You answer a few of their oddball questions—after noticing they aren’t even taking notes of your responses—and then attempt to guide the interview to a place rooted in reality, where you can adequately exemplify how perfect you are for the role’s challenges and responsibilites. Instead, they are suspicious you aren’t answering their made up questions and doubt your listening and communication skills. Half an hour later, Hiring Manager X unexpectedly ends the interview, saying, “I have a plane to catch,” and leaves.
Now, obviously this is the interview from hell, but while extreme, it has undoubtedly happened to some poor job seeker at some point. Let’s presume Hiring Manager X offered you the job, and you were to report directly to them. Would you accept?
This kind of inconsiderate and dismissive hiring process could reflect a culture that takes its staff and their effort for granted, and at times is deeply disrespectful to them. This is a serious red flag, and if recognition and respect at work is important to you, run far away from this job.
Job descriptions that are vague, confusing, or filled with buzz words
While we accept that companies are moving away from rigid, detailed job descriptions towards a more flexible style, overly vague job descriptions where you don’t know what is expected of you can be another big red flag. This can suggest a few things; disorganization, a lack of focus, or the employer may be trying to conceal some intolerable aspect of the job.
For example, if a job posting is looking for a “coding ninja” that will “wear many hats” and join a “team of rock stars” who are “serious about changing the world” because this job is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” since the company is destined to “become the next Facebook,” don’t even bother applying. Employers that post these types of overzealous job ads at an attempt to lure talent to apply, instead of looking for quality employees based on their hard skills and experience, will likely end up just hiring the candidate who interviews well and expresses the most enthusiasm for working for the company.
At a bare minimum, the employer should be able to provide you with performance objectives. If they can’t do this, then there is a good chance you might find yourself either overburdened with an unwieldy amount of work, completely lost at what you’re expected to actually accomplish, or even worse: being bait-and-switched with an entirely different role than what was advertised.
Heavily-advertised jobs that seemingly never get filled
Imagine you see an interesting job posting by a company you could envision working for and liking what you do. You excitedly apply and hope to get called in to interview in a few days. You may get called in to interview, you may not, but let’s say that you don’t get the job. A few months later, you notice the same job ad by that company is accepting applications again. They didn’t want you the first time, so you don’t bother applying. Another few months pass by, and you see yet another job posting from the company, except this time, the job title and responsibilities are slightly tweaked, but you can just TELL it’s for the same exact job. What’s going on?
This type of situation is indicative of either two things:
- The more likely reason is that the company just can’t keep employees. It’s possible their hiring department is not properly screening candidates, offering jobs to those who claim they have the skills and experience to do the job, but actually don’t and eventually get the boot. Maybe there’s a manager that treats their employees badly or promotes a toxic workplace. Perhaps the job description was intentionally misleading and the candidate found themselves in a totally different role than what was advertised. Whatever the reason, the role has a very high turnover rate, and chances are, you wouldn’t last long there if you were ever offered the job.
- The other, but less likely, reason for this is that the company has outrageous expectations about what the perfect employee for the role looks like. They might require X years of experience across Y industries with Z different types of skillsets—for entry level pay. Thus, since the company can never find their “perfect” candidate (because they don’t exist), they keep reposting the same job, over and over again.
Anything that remotely sounds like a scam
Sadly, millions of Americans get targeted by scams each year, and job scams are commonplace as scammers know job seekers are often more needy and vulnerable—all the more reason why you need to be on your guard.
US News suggests that one of the biggest scams to be wary of are work-at-home scams and the biggest warning sign is being asked to work at home for minimal work and high pay. Here’s how the majority of them work:
The scammers target individuals who have their resumes on job boards and send fairly convincing emails inviting them to apply for work-at-home positions with advertised pay anywhere from $50-70k. The scammer will tell the job seeker that they will be sending them a check to cover costs of their “work equipment.” The check clears, but then the job seeker is instructed to withdraw it, keep a portion as partial “salary,” and send the remainder via money order to another individual as “payment” for the equipment. However, a few days later, the bank informs the job seeker that the check was no good, and the amount that was in the account is reversed, suddenly leaving the job seeker with a net loss of potentially thousands of dollars—with the scammer nowhere to be found.
There are dozens of accounts of this scam posted online by unfortunate job seekers desperate to become a part of the workforce again. Always be wary of any potential job opportunity that requires your banking information or offers to pay you without first filling out an I-9 form for employment eligibility verification. (Also, this may go without saying, but always avoid working with Joanne the Scammer.)
Illegal internships and other sketchy opportunities
For students enrolled in undergraduate programs or recent college graduates, internships are a great way to learn on-the-job skills and experience, as well as network with professionals that may can help further your career. Unfortunately for students and grads, not all internships are paid, but that’s actually not illegal—in the US, employers are allowed to take on unpaid interns, but there are stipulations. As an intern, you shouldn’t be doing a job that a paid worker might do; instead, you should be doing training similar to what might be given in an educational establishment.
That being said, if you see a job opportunity for an unpaid internship, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a red flag. But take care to ensure that all these 6 criteria are being met before you apply or accept an offer—if not, the unpaid internship is breaking the law and you should not take it (and probably contact the Department of Labor).
- The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship
Other than internships, there are also some entry level job opportunities that provide skills training; but just like internships, there are also rules regarding whether or not training will be paid, but luckily the rules are more cut and dry. Basically, if you ever receive training that is mandatory or will be directly relevant to your job, you can guarantee you will be paid for it. Therefore, if you ever encounter a job opportunity that requires for you to be trained for a job, but will not pay you for the training, run the opposite direction (or demand to be paid as per FLSA regulations). Definitely run away if the employer is asking for YOU to pay for the training, or to work for no pay whatsoever within a probationary period or “trial period.”
If you’re desperate to find your next job (or ANY job, if you’re unemployed), there can be a temptation to ignore or overlook red flags and take up jobs that you know deep down are suspicious. Ignoring these red flags is always a mistake—you’ll likely leave that job prematurely, potentially cause damage to your resume, and make it harder for yourself to find a job next time. Always pay attention to warning signs and don’t be afraid to turn down a bad opportunity. The best advice we can give is to partner with a trusted recruiting agency that will be able to submit you to suitable job openings at fair and respectable companies.