6 Red Flags to Watch For Before Taking a Job

Learn the six red flags to watch out for before accepting a job offer.
3 min read

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  • Employers are competing for good talent.
  • Be wary of inappropriate questions, vague job descriptions, high turnover, and sketchy behavior.
  • Don't be pressured to take a job immediately.
  • Look for opportunities to grow during your interview process.

Job openings are at an all-time high — one of the highest reported since 2000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of those already employed, at least half are thinking about looking for a new job, if not actively doing so. Employers are searching for talent, and job-seekers are demanding higher pay, flexible work options, and good benefits more than ever.

A successful job search doesn't end when an employer makes a job offer. Job-seekers often worry whether the offer in front of them is the right move to make. Before accepting an offer, job-seekers should carefully consider the pros and cons of the job.

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Ready to Start Your Journey?

While you can't know everything about a job before you take it, there are many ways you can ensure that the job is a good fit. The interview process helps you learn if you'll work well with your prospective employer, so don't be afraid to research and ask questions at this stage. When considering a job offer, examine pay, benefits, work expectations, and company culture.

It's also good to be aware of red flags to watch out for when sizing up a potential job. Below are some warning signs that you should consider before signing on the dotted line.

The Interviewer Makes You Uncomfortable

The Society for Human Resource Management provides a list of areas employers should be careful about in interviews because of federal laws. Any employer asking you illegal questions should be taken off your list.

Pay attention to the body language and more subtle cues that demonstrate how your prospective boss treats others and acts towards you. According to Gallup research, one in two employees have left a job to get away from a manager.

A potential supervisor who treats the receptionist rudely or badmouths other employees is a big red flag. In addition, questions about your personal life that may not be technically illegal but feel uncomfortable may point to someone who cannot respect boundaries. Even if your potential supervisor doesn't do anything "wrong," you should only consider a job offer where you can picture yourself working for and learning from them.

The Job Duties Are Unclear, Vague, or Don't Match Expectations

Sometimes companies try to hire someone to do many different tasks. While you likely want to work somewhere where there's room to grow, be wary of any potential job with an unrealistic set of job duties. This is especially important if it's at a workplace where they'll expect you to work overtime without pay regularly.

If your potential supervisor discusses more job duties in the interview than what was in the job ad, ask questions about them and check the job offer letter to verify expectations. You also want to be wary of a bait and switch situation where the expectations don't match the reality.

A Toxic Workplace With a High Turnover Rate

Some fields have high turnover, especially at the entry level. But be wary of workplaces that are constantly looking to fill the same position repeatedly. Check out reviews of companies on places like Glassdoor. You can't always go by one or two reviews, since you never know when someone has an axe to grind, but they are worth at least taking a look at.

Ask around to see if anyone knows someone who works at the company where you're considering working. Try to chat with a current employer before the interview to get some insight into the company and what you might expect in the interview.

Biron Clark, an executive recruiter, career coach, and founder of Career Sidekick, suggests asking your interviewers how long they've been with the company and what made them decide to work there. You can also do some of your own research by checking dates of employment of staff on LinkedIn.

Pays Cash or Otherwise Engages in "Sketchy" Behavior

Cash is fine if you are babysitting or mowing someone's lawn, but you should try to seek an employer that issues a paycheck and deducts the necessary taxes. Some businesses just starting out might be seeking to save money by paying you "under the table." While not illegal, chances are these employers may not offer benefits, or provide long-term stability or growth opportunities.

More broadly, consider how the company or organization matches up with your values and how you feel about what they do and how they act. Sometimes, you'll need to take a gut check; sometimes feeling uneasy about something can point to a mismatch in values between you and a boss or a company.

Pressures You to Take the Offer Immediately

Taking a job is a commitment. It's in the interests of both the employee and the employer to take the time to decide if it's a good fit. If the employer is pressuring you, that's a red flag that they might be trying to hide something or are desperate to fill the job because of high turnover. That doesn't mean they should give you weeks to decide, but ask for more time if you need it.

Does Not Offer Opportunities to Grow or Does Not Value Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

Nowadays, it's common practice to switch jobs to earn more money and advance. Still, whether the company offers growth opportunities is something to consider. Do they offer any opportunities for training? How much of the staff in leadership positions worked their way up? If there aren't any, that might be a reason to pause.

Ellevest CEO Sallie Krawcheck also advises women and people of color who have long been left out of leadership roles to "look up." Who are the leaders? If there's nobody at the top who looks like you, the company may not truly offer opportunities for women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups to climb the ladder.

Similarly, you might also want to consider whether employers demonstrate that they value diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Research shows that more successful companies embrace DEI initiatives and are likely more open to new ideas and welcome fresh perspectives.

Bottom Line

Commiting to a job is a big decision. Be sure to do your research, ask questions throughout the process, and carefully review your offer letter. If the potential job has one or more warning signs, pulling yourself out of consideration or rejecting the offer may be something to consider. The ultimate goal is to know what you're getting into before it's too late.


BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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