Career Tips

5 Job Posting Red Flags to Watch Out For

After an uncertain 2020, jobs numbers are looking up again. With increasing employment rates and U.S. companies offering better wages and benefits, now is a great time for job seekers to hunt for their next career. 

However, this employment rush has also opened the door for more suspicious listings and less-than-ideal job postings. Do you know how to spot scams and time-wasters in the sea of hiring notices? Be on the lookout for these five red flags as you search for your next job.

1. Not Enough Information

“Help wanted” ads and job postings are meant to give a general overview of the company and position. Some details may be left out on paper, but it should be easy to get additional information from the hiring manager. 

If the listing or hiring managers are being especially vague about key details, however, it’s a good sign that the job won’t be worth your time. Be sure you’re getting clear information about the following three topics:  

Pay

While most job-seekers would prefer salary ranges and benefits to be front-and-center, there are a variety of reasons why a company may keep pay information off of their public job listings. However, if hiring managers are shying away from money talks during initial interviews, that’s a bad sign.

Be sure to ask for clarity if a posting lists the salary as “up to” a certain amount a year. This usually means that earnings are commission-based, and that the base salary is MUCH lower than the number being advertised.

The Company

Some companies post job openings anonymously for good and legitimate reasons. For example, they might not want to tip off competitors, or they may want to avoid making an internal hire. However, secrecy could also be a sign that the posting is a hoax.

“Postings that are completely anonymous are an instant no for me—few legitimate companies will do this,” warns Jon Hill, chairman and CEO at The Energists. “Ideally the posting should include some basic information on the company, like its mission statement and purpose. At the very least, the posting should include the company’s name and location so you can do independent research.”

Anonymous postings are more common when working with recruiters. Still, that doesn’t mean you should be completely in the dark about what they’re pitching you for. Your recruiter should be able to provide you with basic information early on in the consideration process, like the type of industry they’re hiring for and the pay range for the position.  

Job Duties

Most of us have completed work tasks that weren’t part of our original job description at some point or another. Even so, if your job description wasn’t clear to begin with, how do you really know if you’re doing what you were originally hired to do?

Stephen Greet, CEO at BeamJobs, notes that overly vague job descriptions may be a sign that the company hasn’t thought through the role they’re trying to fill. “A vague or generic job description implies you’ll have to figure out your role as you go,” he warned. “Without a clear delineation of your responsibilities or the metrics you’ll be in charge of, it will be difficult to know how you’re doing in your role.”

If you do apply for a vague role and are still unclear as to what exactly the company wants from their next employee, try asking what goals the company has for the new hire during the first 30, 90 and 180 days on the job. If the interviewers can’t give a clear answer, it’s a good idea to avoid that position and company.

2. Unrealistic Expectations

If you first entered the workforce in the past 15 years or so, you’ve likely come across job notices with impossible-to-fill qualifications like these:

  • “Entry level” positions that require 3+ years of experience
  • A position that requires a worker to wear too many hats in the workplace
  • Listings asking for expertise in an impossible number of tools and programs  

Laura France, director of marketing at Think Systems, Inc, says these types of postings are one of the biggest trends she’s seen in recent years. “What this tells me is that these organizations are completely out-of-touch with the current market OR that they want to pay experienced talent entry-level compensation,” she explained. “Whatever the reason is, candidates should proceed with caution when they notice this type of job posting.”

3. Unusual Posting History

Have you ever experienced deja vu when looking at a job listing? If it looks like something you’ve already seen before, chances are you have. It also might be a sign that the company’s employees aren’t sticking around for long.

“Some companies may have vacancies or positions which are similar, and it may be a strategy to fill in high-turnover roles,” explained Emily Perez, HR manager at Kitchen Infinity. “If the job posting does not fulfill any of these criteria, then such a job posting should be approached with caution.”

4. Requesting Sensitive Information or Transferring Money

According to the Better Business Bureau, employment scams cost unsuspecting people more than $2 billion every year. Many of these scammers prey on hopeful job-seekers online, using websites like Indeed, LinkedIn, Facebook and CareerBuilder to lure people in.

Be cautious when sharing any personal information with a potential employer, especially sensitive details like your social security number or banking information. Always do your background research on each offer you receive. Avoid any companies who ask you to deposit checks and transfer the funds to different accounts. Trust your gut — if an offer seems too good to be true — it is!

5. Toxic Phrases

Sometimes companies disguise their stressful, aggressive, unbalanced and unhealthy work environment with clever, positive-sounding descriptions. Seeing and hearing the following phrases throughout the application and interview process may be a sign to run away:

  • Work-hard, play-hard. This could be another way of saying “we work long, grueling hours, then reward our employees with a mandatory mixer.” This could also be a hint that company parties are super rowdy. 
  • Fast-paced. The company may expect you to hit the ground running with little training or guidance. They may also have a history of assigning short and unrealistic deadlines.
  • Go-getter or high-energy. These phrases often have an underlying bias towards male applicants. This may also be a hint that the company values toxic competition and working harder than what they’ll pay for.
  • Like a family. While this may sound sweet, this could be a hint that the company lacks boundaries. They may also expect you to show an unhealthy level of loyalty.
  • Sense of humor. Unless you’re working in comedy, this often means that the company lets off-color jokes and offensive actions slide.

Advice for a Red Flag-Free Job Search

If our list of red flags has set off alarm bells in your mind, don’t fret! More often than not, most job postings are from well-meaning companies who genuinely want to hire a top-notch employee.

As for overall advice, Hill recommends that job-seekers trust their instincts. “If you’re reading a job posting and something in it makes you feel skeptical or uneasy, don’t ignore that feeling,” he wrote. “Do a bit of research into the company online, and check out other jobs they’ve posted in the past and other open positions they’re advertising. Even if they’re a legitimate company they may simply not be a good fit for you, so researching their culture, work environment, and values can help you make sure you’re not wasting your time by applying.”

For more career-related advice, check out these pieces from Top Dollar:

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