Warning Signs a Job Isn't as Good as It Sounds

Two businesswomen greeting with elbows

pixelfit / E+ / Getty Images CC

Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Two businesswomen greeting with elbows
pixelfit / E+ / Getty Images CC

Worked Over

Finding a job can be daunting, and it's tempting to take the first opportunity that comes along. But it's important to assess work opportunities with a critical eye so you don't become the victim of an unscrupulous employer who preys on those in need of money. We asked human resources and career experts from across the country to share some of the top warnings signs and red flags to watch out for when conducting a job search.

Related: Smart Ways to Get Through a Recession

The Recruitment Process Is Disorganized

The Recruitment Process Is Disorganized

Going through a recruitment process is almost like dating, and just like dating, first impressions matter. "There is an unspoken etiquette of what's right and what's not, so trust your intuition: If your first date with the company is messy and confusing, is this a working relationship you want to pursue?" says Monika Kozlowska, an international fulfilment and business coach. An example: "A sign of disorganized recruiters is if you hear nothing for weeks, and then many different people from the company contact you." 

For more smart career tips, please sign up for our free newsletters.

LinkedIn | 2012

There's High Staff Turnover

Want to make sure the company you're considering is truly a great place to work? Look into staff turnover. "You can easily check this by performing a quick LinkedIn search on previous and current employees to see how long they've been working at the company," says William Taylor, career development manager for VelvetJobs.

Related: The Top Job Search Sites — and Who Should Use Them

Your Interviewer Is Unprofessional
panitan punpuang/istockphoto

Your Interviewer Is Unprofessional

A lot's written about the unprofessional behavior of the interviewee — but what about for the interviewer? How a prospective employer behaves during the interview process can be telling. When a potential employer shows up late for a scheduled interview or doesn't provide responses to questions, it's a major red flag. "It shows that the employer does not value your time, and is usually an indication of how they treat their employees," Taylor says. 

Related: 30 Lies That Bosses Tell Employees


The Company Has No Online Presence

Most companies have some sort of online presence, and even if they don't have a dedicated, professional website, can usually be found on Glassdoor or even Yelp, depending on the industry. "If you can't find any info about the company on Google, it should trigger your alarm bells," says Jagoda Wieczorek, human resources manager for ResumeLab.

They Contact You From a Personal Email Account

They Contact You From a Personal Email Account

While there may be the occasional, legitimate, exception to this rule, in general, be skeptical of potential employers who communicate with you from a personal email address. "For instance, god-of-recruitment666@gmail.com," Wieczorek says. "Employers always use corporate email addresses instead of personal ones." 

You Hear Overly Bold or Vague Claims

You Hear Overly Bold or Vague Claims

Job postings should outline a company's mission and purpose, prerequisites for employment, and job duties. "If an employment ad is more focused on promoting the job as an opportunity or chance to earn money quickly and for little work, it should be met with hard skepticism or, better yet, ignored entirely," says Kimberly Back, of Virtual Vocations. "The same rule can be applied to recruiters or employers that oversell their companies or cannot succinctly explain what the vacant job will entail."

Related: 15 Industries That Would Benefit From a Recession

Employee or Customer Reviews Are Bad

Employee or Customer Reviews Are Bad

Job seekers should research a future employer thoroughly. "Research should include investigating the company's online presence, searching for the company name in social media posts, examining the public profiles of company leaders, and reading company and employee reviews of the business," Back says. "If the company has a heavily negative reputation, job seekers should consider if they want to be associated with a potentially unscrupulous organization, as well as the harm this connection could inflict on their long-term career goals, future job prospects, and professional morale."

Related: 26 Ways Social Media Can Land or Lose You a Job

There Will Be Mandatory Overtime

There Will Be Mandatory Overtime

It's one thing to work the occasional Saturday or pick up extra hours during busy periods, but if a posting or hiring manager hints that you'll be taking work home with you and putting in lots of time on evenings and weekends, walk away. "This either indicates a toxic workplace culture or an issue with understaffing," says Matt Erhard, senior partner with the recruiting firm Summit Search Group. "Either way, you're likely walking into a stressful work environment where you'll work with burnt-out coworkers and have a difficult time safeguarding your own work-life balance." 

Related: 10 Problems with Your Work-Life Balance and How to Solve Them

Young woman receiving text late at night
sam Thomas/istockphoto

There Will Be Communication at Odd Hours

You should also be wary if during the hiring process you get frequent emails, texts, or calls from a hiring manager outside of normal business hours. "This could be an indication the company has an issue with boundaries and will expect you to be on-call all the time," Erhard says. 

Know Where to Look

The Job Offer Was Unsolicited

It's not entirely unheard of to get a cold job or interview offer from an employer, especially via a professional networking service such as LinkedIn. But it can be a cause for caution. "Job seekers should be cautious about accepting employment offers from non-network contacts, unfamiliar companies, employers representing unprofessional user names or email domains, and businesses with a limited or poorly presented online presence," Back says. 

Your Potential Boss Criticizes Their Coworkers

Your Potential Boss Criticizes Their Coworkers

It's never a good sign when your potential boss badmouths his own employees or throws direct reports under the bus. "These red flags point to a toxic boss and toxic work environment," says Vicki Salemi, a career expert for Monster. "Even if you need a job ASAP, be extremely cognizant of toxicity and realize the solution in many of these situations is to look for a new job immediately, as toxic situations can negatively impact your mental and physical health, not to mention your career."

Related: 38 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid at Your First 'Real' Job

You Get Illegal Questions

You Get Illegal Questions

It's illegal to ask a potential employee such things as their marital status or how many children they have. "However, some interviewers can ask these questions in more subtle, indirect ways," career counselor Eileen Sharaga says. "For instance, questions like ‘So what does your husband do for a living?' can seem innocuous, but can be a red flag. Likewise, watch for any negative tone from the interviewer."

Related: 24 Job-Hunting Tips for Workers Over 50


You Sense a Lack of Transparency

You get to ask questions too, because you're interviewing an employer as much as they're interviewing you. "This process provides you with opportunities to explore whether or not it's a red flag. Or multiple red flags. Or green lights," Salemi says. You might want to ask, for instance, how the company was affected during the pandemic, and how it's adjusted: Were there furloughs or layoffs? Did the company have to reduce salaries? "If the company is not being truthful with you in terms of not revealing these answers during an interview, then it's doubtful leadership would be transparent with you as an employee," Salemi says. 

Two people, business team working with protective masks together in modern office, man and woman greeting with elbows.

The Job Interview Is Too Short

Having a brief job interview with only a few questions might seem like a blessing, but this lack of thoroughness could be widespread across the organization and signal a culture of letting things slide into crises bad for a business and its workers. "It could also be that they are desperate to hire — which, if they are, you should prepare to work under pressure from the get-go," says Vincent Scaramuzzo, president of Ed-Exec, a recruiting firm. "A lax approach to interviewing and recruiting could also be a sign of instability and a lack of vision." At the least, make sure you extend the interview long enough to answer your own questions about the organization's culture and its future: Why the company is filling the role, what the day-to-day of the job is like, what its values are, and how it lives out these values. 

You Get an Unconvincing Explanation Why a Job's Available

You Get an Unconvincing Explanation Why a Job's Available

If a company can't explain why a job is available, chances are it's hiding something, "like the fact that they frequently fire people or employees are leaving due to internal issues," Scaramuzzo says. "To find out more about the role, ask to interact with other team members. You will get a hint of the work culture and whether the role is worth pursuing and saying yes to." 

You Don't Get a Job Offer In Writing

You Don't Get a Job Offer In Writing

If you reach the point of a job offer, be sure to get details such as salary, benefits, and job title in writing. "If it's a verbal offer and nothing more, this is a significant sign you may not get paid what you've negotiated," Salemi says. "In fact, you may not get paid anything at all. Or the hiring manager or recruiter who extended the offer may suddenly leave and then you don't have any proof you got the job." If the company can't put an offer in writing — even a simple email indicating the job title, salary, and start date — take that as a huge sign you should not work for them. "As a former corporate recruiter, I can attest that offers should always be put in writing. We needed official acceptances from candidates in order to proceed to ordering technology and preparing for the first official day of work."

Passing documents

You Get a Lowball Salary Offer …

Companies that try to lowball qualified candidates may carry that same attitude throughout the employment when it comes to raises, promotions, and providing other opportunities for growth, says Charlette Beasley, careers and workplace analyst for FitSmallBusiness.

Related: 24 Undervalued Jobs That We Appreciate More Than Ever

A worried senior chef in the kitchen counter
FG Trade/istockphoto

… But Assurances of a Big Raise or Promotion

Don't be lured into a job by empty promises. "The raise or promotion will never happen. It's simply a ploy to convince you to work cheap," says Joni Holderman, founder of Thrive! Resumes. "You should analyze each job offer on its own merits, not promised future benefits."

Related: 30 Ways Your Employer Could Be Cheating You

During the coronavirus outbreak, two young adult women wear their protective masks and social distance to meet together. They are gesturing during their conversation.
SDI Productions/istockphoto

You're Told You Could Become Part Owner

Some less-than-honest employers will dangle the possibility of ownership instead of a competitive salary. "I have heard this story from clients many times," Holderman says. "Sadly, 100% of the time, unless you have an iron-clad written contract in place, you will not end up part owner of the company. It's very easy for an owner to make this promise now. But five years from now, they have your labor — you can't take it back — and they have zero motivation to give away part of 'their' company." 

Flu Season is Long
Brian A Jackson/shutterstock

Your Start Date Keeps Getting Pushed Back

Companies can face challenges when it comes to onboarding employees, but if you're going to leave a current position, it's important to make sure there's a clear plan for starting the new role. "It could be a sign that they are unorganized or may no longer need your right away if they keep pushing back your start date," says Gina Curtis, executive recruiting manager and career coach for Employment BOOST.

Woman looking at her reflection in the mirror

Your Gut Feeling Tells You No

Your intuition is there for a reason. "If your gut is telling you not to take a job, that is not something to ignore," Kozlowska says. "Instead, consider why this job might not be the right fit. Perhaps the salary is not meeting your expectations or your personal values are not aligned with the company. Regardless, it's worth trusting your gut if something feels off, because the right offer will also feel right."