Don’t ignore obvious signs that a potential job might be a disaster
One of the many good things about a strong job market is that it becomes easier to separate the strong from the weak. And no, we’re not talking about potential employees. We’re talking about the other side of the equation, the employer.
“There are a lot of bad companies out there who had no problems filling their ranks five or 10 years ago, but that’s not the case today,” says Joan Bradley, a Philadelphia-based career coach. “If a company is run poorly or treats its clients or employees as afterthoughts, they’re going to be outed. It’s hard to keep your weaknesses a secret when everyone shares everything online.”
Still, plenty of smart people accept jobs with dumb companies. “You’ll always have people who are so enamored by a name or a workspace or the company’s mission that they’ll overlook a million red flags,” says Bradley. “But if you do some homework — even an hour or so of research — you’ll be able to avoid the companies that could make your life miserable.”
First things first, Bradley says. Start with the job listing itself. Does the job sound too good to be true? You know, lots of promises about potential salary and advancement.
“‘Potential’ is a dangerous word when someone’s pitching a job,” says Dean Place, a career coach in San Antonio, Texas. “It’s an excuse for ‘we don’t know yet.’”
As in “we don’t know how much money you’ll make” or “we don’t know where you’ll be in 10 years, even if you do an excellent job,” according to Place.
“You’re going to give a company your best work up front,” he says. “You don’t tell them ‘there’s a chance I’m going to do great work for you’ yet people fall for the ‘there’s a chance you’re going to make a lot of money’ line all the time.”
Bradley says job seekers should view the “jobs that sound like Disneyland” with a skeptical eye. “I’m not suggesting you need to be cynical about every job but be cautious about those that sound like they’re the best-period-job-period-everperiod,” she says. “A lot of employers want a large pool of applicants to choose from when they’re filling full-time positions, so they’ll make a grunt job sound like it’s the job you’ve been waiting for your entire life.”
The misleading ad isn’t exclusive to full-time jobs. A job to approach with caution is an employee job that’s labeled as the perfect opportunity for an “independent contractor.”
“Companies like to seek out current freelancers and then promise them autonomy and work-from-home options,” Bradley says. “Get in the door, though, and you’ll learn you’re expected to be at the office five days a week, that you need to follow a predetermined template and that you’re just like a full-time employee — just with no benefits.”
To avoid that particular trap, Bradley suggests looking for other independent contractors within the company and asking them for an honest assessment of their role. “People tell the truth about their jobs,” she says. “If the job sucks, they’ll tell you it sucks.”
Keep it short
In addition to misleading job ads, red flags can pop up when certain positions are in danger of being offshored to workers a couple of continents away. “Coding can be offshored,” says Place. “But leading a team of coders? Not so much. Even when companies try, they usually return to a traditional model where on- and off-site workers share roles but not leadership positions.”
Wave the red flags
Keep an eye out for some other warning signs, including: Bad managers: Find out the name of your potential boss and do your homework. It may be difficult to find out why a person isn’t liked or respected but a few simple questions — what’s the turnover for this position? Can I speak to someone in the department? — usually bring some simple answers.
Boring work: Try to avoid a job that won’t offer you a significant challenge or new opportunities for growth. When looking for a job, it’s important to address the skills you want to use in a new position, not just the ones you’re currently using.
Moving on: Do you have that dream where you show up to a class and no one’s there? For some employees, it’s no dream. “I took a job with a start-up that had leased out some space in River North in Chicago,” says Rebecca Troy, a graphic designer. “I went to work on my first day and they were gone. No one was at the workspace from the company. They moved to a new location in Wicker Park before I started and no one bothered to let me know.”
That lack of information was enough for Troy to take a pass on the job altogether. “I called to quit and they were all apologetic and said it was an oversight. They had seven employees. I would have been eight. That’s not an oversight. That’s a bad company.”
Sure enough, when Troy says she looked for her former “employer” online a few weeks later, their website was gone. “They lost their funding and they closed up shop,” she says. “Imagine that.”
If you do some homework — even an hour or so of research — you should be able to avoid the companies (and coworkers) that could make your life miserable.