When I was interviewing for a popular consulting firm early in my career, the hiring manager joked that one of the perks was employees could wear jeans on Saturdays.
At least I assumed it was a joke at the time. The unfortunate truth was that we could wear jeans on Saturdays and Sundays, and needless to say, I wore jeans to work a lot.
Red flags differ for each employee based on their current values, priorities and goals. For example, eager to make a dent in my career in my 20s, I didn’t really mind the weekend work. But for those with young families, it was unbearable.
There are some very obvious red flags in the job search that are easy to detect, like being asked to spend your own money up front, or learning that employees are told to punch out to avoid receiving extra pay when working overtime.
However, many others may not be so obvious. Here’s a list to consider:
High turnover. You can learn a lot by asking why a position is vacant, so make sure this is one of your questions. If it seems it’s been tough to retain someone in the job or the department has several open roles they’re replacing, probe deeper. You won’t likely get the whole truth, but trust your Spidey sense. This is a warning sign that you’ll likely be in another job search soon if you accept this offer.
A rush job. Most job seekers complain about how long and drawn out the hiring process is, so if you find the process moving much faster than you anticipated, explore why. Both hiring a candidate and accepting a new position are big decisions and most employers and job seekers want to get as much data as possible to make an informed choice. If you feel rushed, ask to slow the process down so you can gather more information, and be very wary if this request is rebuffed.
Thanksgiving in the office. True story – this was a selling point of a company where I worked. Although the pandemic has likely changed our relationship with the office forever, companies that offer on-site dry cleaning, gyms, nap pods and ping pong do so to keep you at the office longer. While some employees may relish creating their personal community at the same place as their work one, many others values work-life balance and autonomy. Inviting employees and their immediate families to a full-on Thanksgiving feast in the office cafeteria is not a perk now, and wasn’t then, either.
Not meeting the team. Most roles require some type of collaboration to be successful, so it only makes sense a candidate would want to meet the people they’ll be working with and it’s likely the current employees are interested in doing the same. If your request to meet other employees is blocked, you can be certain there is something the company is trying to conceal and it’s likely not favorable.
My word is oak. Employment is a contract and terms should be outlined in writing. If an employer is hesitant to put key details like salary, benefits and other agreed upon perks into a signed letter or other type of formal agreement, you shouldn’t count on those promises materializing. Even if made with good intentions, bosses leave, conversations are forgotten and power dynamics shift. Without a paper trail, your expectations are just wishes.
Future promises. Although building in future agreements such as termination clauses and performance bonuses can be a smart way to negotiate an offer, be careful of future promises without merit. Sometimes hiring managers make commitments they don’t have the power to keep in order to entice a candidate to sign on. Be sure you understand the rationale for the agreements, core timelines and what you need to accomplish specifically for these terms to come to fruition. Also, get it in writing.
Unclear goals and dotted lines. While newly created roles might be an exception to this one, being successful in a position that reports to multiple managers with differing priorities and goals can be nearly impossible. For your own sanity and success, during the hiring process clarify as clearly as you can what the expectations are for the role, including concrete milestones, ownership of processes and anticipated obstacles. If these aspects are hazy going in, don’t be surprised when your first year is spent defining your job versus performing the work you anticipated.
Rude recruiting. This is one of my pet peeves and unfortunately, it’s all too common. Companies expect job seekers to master Olympic level gymnastics to even get an interview and the time invested by candidates only seems to be increasing. Then, you get ghosted. It’s disrespectful and you’d think companies would be embarrassed at how they’re treating potential employees, and possibly future customers. While it’s not always a clear correlation, pay attention to how you’re treated during the hiring process because this likely reflects the values of the organization and can hint at how you’ll be treated as an employee.
Culture clash. There’s plenty of research showing that alignment with culture helps employees to be more effective. While you shouldn’t change who you are to fit in, explore the unwritten norms and rules during the hiring process to understand if it feels like a welcoming place to work for you. Even the seemingly perfect job can be a nightmare in a bureaucratic system or on a team that is incessantly micromanaged. Culture is deep-rooted and hard to change, so ask yourself if you want to spend time doing your best work, or using your energy to fight the system.
Of course, this is not a complete list and individual circumstances vary. The goal is to pay attention to all the signs – positive and potentially negative – and know what you’re signing up for before it’s too late.
The human brain is an expert rationalizer and can create a seemingly logical reason to pursue any decision, good or bad. While hindsight is always 20/20, so is much of foresight if we remove the rose-colored glasses before making the choice.