Watch Out for These Red Flags in a Job Description
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- Job descriptions are meant to share the highlights of an employer and position.
- That nuts and bolts approach can make it tough to tell if you should apply.
- Looking for common red flags can help make the most of your job search time.
- It's ultimately up to you to decide what your career dealbreakers are.
From doing company research to tailoring your resume, applying for a job takes time and energy.
Of course, you're more than willing to invest that effort in job postings that seem like a good fit for you. But how can you tell what positions are worth applying for and which ones you're better off skipping?
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Keeping an eye out for common red flags in job descriptions can help you spot trouble ahead with a potential employer. While your deal breakers will differ depending on your values and what you want in a work environment, here are a few warning signs that should inspire some doubt and raise eyebrows.
Asking for Sensitive Information
It's normal and expected for an application to ask about your education, past employment experiences, and even your contact details. That's the information employers need to evaluate you.
However, suppose an application asks for you to submit sensitive or confidential information like your social security number or bank account information. In that case, that should put you on high alert that the employer or job posting isn't legitimate and is more than likely a scam.
An employer might eventually need that information from you for payroll purposes but never within the initial application. That request should happen much later in the hiring process — usually, once you're close to receiving a job offer or already have one.
Skipping a Salary Range
Are you willing to purchase something without knowing how much it costs? Probably not. So, why should you be expected to apply for a job without knowing if it's close to your compensation expectations?
Employers might not be willing to put the exact pay in the job posting and will work around it with ambiguous terms like "competitive" or "dependent on experience." Some payroll laws have changed that. Generalities aside, companies should include a salary range so that candidates can determine if the position is somewhat close to their expectations.
Unfortunately, this is one red flag that you'll see over and over again. Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, told CNN in 2022 that only about 12% of postings from U.S. online job sites include salary ranges. So this might be one warning sign you have to take with a grain of salt.
Listing Lengthy Requirements
One glance at the job posting and you see that you need a bachelor's degree, three years of experience, an industry-specific certification, two letters of recommendation, proficiency with five different kinds of software… The list is endless, and it's all for an entry-level job.
It's somewhat understandable that employers want to find the perfect candidate and that they think a lengthy laundry list of requirements will help them get there.
But if those demands seem completely unreasonable for the position you're interested in, that should trigger alarm bells that the employer has expectations that may be impossible to satisfy.
Vaguely Explaining Job Responsibilities
Do the job duties seem like they should actually span three different positions? Does the job description say you'll "wear a lot of hats"? Does the employer barely share anything the role is responsible for and instead leave it open-ended with general language like "handle other duties as assigned"?
That could indicate that the company doesn't actually have a good grasp on who they need to hire and why. If you land that job, you'll likely deal with chaos or unreasonable demands.
Promoting Hustle Culture and Burnout
No employer will blatantly state that they intend to overwhelm you to the point of burnout. But plenty of words and phrases serve as a warning that they have a tendency to run employees ragged.
If you see adjectives like fast-paced, high-stress, entrepreneurial, work hard and play hard, or self-starter used to describe the role or the work environment, it could mean that the company doesn't place a high value on work-life balance. They may expect you to prioritize your job above anything else.
Not Sharing Perks or Benefits
It's easy to forget that the hiring relationship goes two ways: You want to catch the employer's attention, but they also need to appeal to your career desires to encourage you to apply.
Companies pique candidates' interest by highlighting the compelling perks and benefits they offer. These perks may include top-notch health insurance coverage, unlimited paid time off, or gym memberships.
Does the job description spell out everything the employer is looking for without calling attention to anything you'll get in return? That's a red flag that the company may have a one-sided relationship with employees.
Using Jargon and Buzzwords
Some industries have more jargon than others. But, even so, you shouldn't need to feel like a professional code breaker to make sense of a job posting.
While you can expect some jargon, particularly in more technical fields, a company may use too much industry lingo to cover up a lack of clarity about what the role is actually responsible for.
Having a Clunky Application Process
Another way that employers appeal to high-quality candidates is with a streamlined application process.
If you need to manually enter every last detail from your resume or answer a bunch of unnecessary questions, take it as a sign that the employer hasn't invested the necessary time and energy into creating a smooth candidate experience. Another sign might be landing on a page that doesn't exist.
And consider this: If a company isn't willing to put in the time for an application, what do you think your experience will be like if you're actually hired?
Should You Apply (or Should You Run)?
If you see several of the above red flags in a job description, that doesn't automatically mean that you should close that tab and run far away. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide what your career dealbreakers are.
With that said, it's helpful to know common warning signals in job postings so that you can stay alert, do your due diligence, and invest your time in applying for roles that best fit you.