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Job Search Warning Signs You Should Never Ignore

job search red flags

When you’re looking for a job, you tend to be more concerned about what a potential company thinks about you than what you think of them. Which means you may overlook some of the warning signs that help you weed out the bad jobs from the good ones. What exactly should you be on the alert for?


Start with the job description.

Whether it’s on Craigslist or a job search engine like ours, there are phrases and words you want to pay attention to before applying for a job. Consider how the job descriptions are created (by hiring managers or recruiters). If the position they want to fill is an existing one, they are likely to include requirements that the person who vacated the position did not have. For example, if one of the requirements is “passionate about [insert topic here],” this could be code for “we need someone who doesn’t want work-life balance.” If you’re all in for 80-hour work weeks, then go for it!


Job descriptions with no company name. “Company confidential” = blind ad. It could be a recruiter fishing for applicants. It could also be a way for a company to ensure you won’t do a whole lot of investigating before you apply. If you can’t look up reviews of a potential company on Glassdoor, we recommend reaching out to the job poster to see if they will give you a company name. If they won’t? It could be a scam. Skip it.


“No experience required” in a job description. If you’re a new college grad, this might be OK. But if you’re an experienced professional with translatable skills—even if you’re applying for a job in a different field—a job that requires no experience is likely to be low wage, no benefits, or an offer to open your own franchise to sell insurance.


The application process.

When applying for jobs online, once you submit your application, be aware that there are scams out there. Some companies (like Jobs2Careers) do a darn good job of weeding them out. Others don’t screen their postings (like Craigslist). If you submit your resume and receive a request for information like your social security number, bank information, or any other personal info under the guise of “background check,” be on high alert. There are so many instances of fraud on Craigslist involving Western Union, the site has a default warning not to give out financial information in any form based on information in a post.


Background checks with legitimate companies happen after in-person interviews and typically after an offer letter has been produced (if contingent upon passing a background check). Even if you’re applying for a remote or work-from-home position (these have high scam factors), never give out personal information until you are able to research the company to make sure it’s not a scam. The only reason a company would need a scan of a canceled check is after you’re hired and for the purpose of paying you via direct deposit. Never give this type of information until you’ve verified that the job you’ve applied for is legit.


NOTE: We’ve heard from a number of readers who received requests for W-2s from previous jobs when applying for sales positions. There is no reason legally to supply this information; in fact, it only gives the company you’re applying to a chance to low-ball you on a starting salary. Best answer? “My W-2 is not a good representation of my total salary and perks and I don’t feel comfortable supplying that information at the application stage.” Your W-2 is not just a wage statement; it also includes personal information that a hiring company should not be privy to until they extend a job offer. When hiring for sales positions (with a rapidly growing company, this is a constant at Jobs2Careers), we never ask applicants for this information.


The job interview.

In person or by phone, there are many red flags you should be on the alert for during the interview process. One of the most common is that the interviewer’s job description doesn’t match the one you applied for. There might be a legitimate reason (lack of communication between a hiring manager and human resources, departmental changes, etc.), but don’t overlook it. Be prepared with a copy of the original job listing and ask the interviewer directly about the changes.


Did you know there are questions an interviewer cannot legally ask you during an interview or application process? Questions like, “how many children do you have?” or “are you married?” are not legal. Questions about your physical health are not legal (questions relating to duties of the job for which you are applying, like “are you able to lift 30 lbs.?” are legal). Questions about your mental health are not legal. “Have you ever been hospitalized?” and “How many days of work did you miss due to illness on your last job?” are not legal.


Not sure what is and isn’t legal? You can find updated prohibited job application policies and procedures for the U.S. on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website.


Lifehacker also has a great roundup of the most common illegal interview questions. If you hear any of these, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the job is not legit. You might be interviewing with someone who is new to the interview process. The best response is to turn the question into what you believe they might be fishing for, i.e. “what are your family plans?” (illegal question) could be their way of asking if you plan on taking extended absences. Rather than answering the illegal question, simply ask if they want to know if you will need time off.


The second best response to an interviewer asking illegal questions? Terminate the interview, thank them for their time, and consider yourself lucky to have dodged a bullet.


If you think the company does have discriminatory hiring processes based on questions asked during an interview, document the questions and your responses. You can file a complaint with the EEOC (and you might actually have a case). Regardless, consider it a favor to any applicant who interviews after you do.


The job offer.

First, always get any job offer in writing. Your first interaction after the application and interview might be that you nailed it and the company wants to hire you. They may offer you the job over the phone, but be sure to request it in writing if you do accept. If you don’t, and they end up paying you less, changing benefits or perks, or job title, you won’t have a document to fall back on.


The biggest red flag for a job seeker? A company who offers you the job at the end of your first interview. This could be a sign of desperation, of poor hiring practices, or an indicator of high turnover. Sure, it happens sometimes with good companies. It’s possible that you were just so amazing during your interview they didn’t want to let you walk away without an offer. But it’s more than likely a warning sign you shouldn’t ignore. Consider that you probably want to work with coworkers who went through a rigorous selection process rather than a team of people who were hired on the spot.


The bottom line is this: Trust. Your. Instincts. No matter how badly you need a job, having a bad one is not much better than being unemployed. If you have a gut feeling that a job isn’t right for you, it probably isn’t.


We hope you’ve managed to avoid all of the above in your job search and that this is just a good reminder to do your due diligence before applying. If you’re stuck in a bad job because of any the above reasons, hang in there, keep your options open, and check out what’s available (trustworthy, ethical, and the right job for you) at Jobs2Careers!

About the author

Kelly Love Johnson

Kelly Love Johnson is Content Strategist for Jobs2Careers. She's also a shower singer, TV watcher, pop culture junkie, and habitual smirker. She's passionate about helping people find their dream jobs and closing the wage gap. Her book, Skirt! Rules for the Workplace: An Irreverent Guide to Advancing Your Career, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2008.

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