Applying for jobs can feel like a job. But as with your actual career, a little extra effort can go a really long way. Though it’s super tempting to skim and scan job descriptions in the hopes that the perfect fit will just leap out, this tactic can cause you to waste precious time and energy filling out applications and heading out to interviews that aren’t right for you. Worse yet, failing to pay attention to job description red flags could cause you to end up working at a job that’s a horrible fit. Here are a few red flags that should cause you to think twice about an opportunity.
If a job description gives scant details, take the lack of information as a warning sign that the company is unsure of what they want. If the company isn’t capable of clearly describing what skills and level of experience they require, they likely won’t be too great at guiding you into your new role with their company, either. Steering clear of vague descriptions or convoluted titles can save you a lot of frustration and wasted time down the road.
Alternatively, excruciatingly specific descriptions can be a bad sign for a different set of reasons. If their post makes them seem like their expectations are too high, that may be a sign that no matter who gets the job, their expectations will continue to be over-the-top. They may also have a poor idea of what the role actually requires, which can lead them to overcompensate by adding more detail than is actually necessary.
The employer and employee relationship should be reciprocal. If the description asks for a lot of qualifications, skills and experience without mentioning what the company will do for their employee, consider that to be a major warning sign. Companies who are hesitant to sing their own praises should be viewed skeptically. After all, if they’re trying to attract the best candidates, shouldn’t they be screaming about how great their benefits are? The bottom line: if a business offers little to no information about the positives of working there, they likely have little to offer.
While on the surface having work flexibility definitely seems like a positive, a company who overemphasizes the perk may be twisting the word’s meaning (no pun intended). Choosing what days you come into the office each week and having the ability to decide what hours you work may sound like a dream job come true, but your potential employer could mean that they want you to work nights and weekends. Unless you’re cool with answering phone calls after dinner time or spending your weekends submitting status reports instead of chilling at afternoon brunch, approach listings that emphasize schedule flexibility with extreme caution and make sure that before you walk out of an interview, your employer and you share the same definition of flexible schedule.
When you see $100,000 listed in the space for salary, it can be so hypnotizing that you barely even glance at the first part of the range: $30,000. A major disparity between the lowest and highest salary listed is a red flag for a few different reasons. First, if the phrase ‘earning potential’ is used, that may be a sign that your salary will be based off of commission, which could be a negative—especially if you have little to no sales experience. Second, though you may want to give the place the benefit of the doubt and believe that even if you’re not earning six figures, you’ll be earning something close to it, that’s probably just what the employer wants you to think. Having an uncharacteristically high salary listing can attract a higher number of applicants who won’t walk away after they’ve spent enough time interviewing and getting roped into working for less than they anticipated.
There are a number of reasons why companies may choose to leave out their name on posting boards, and some of them are pretty shady. The company may have earned a bad reputation either for poor business practices, being caught in scandal, or being flagged on websites for being a bad employer. Just as companies have the ability to check on prospective employees’ behavior, so to do prospective applicants have the ability to check on the behavior of companies. Another reason why companies may choose to take the route of anonymity is to hide the fact that they are searching to fill a position that hasn’t yet been officially vacated. If this is the case and someone is blindsided shortly before you fill in, this could lead to a major scene on your first day, and hostile coworkers (who may unfairly blame you for the person’s recent termination). This could also be a sign that the company in question lets employees go on the spot, which suggests a lack of job security.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.