Job hunting is a full-time job in itself. You need to spend hours perfecting your cover letter, preparing for interviews, and doing due-diligence on the company you want to work for. All the while you’re being judged and evaluated by potential employers to see if you’re a fit.
But while you’re being asked ‘What can you bring to this position?’ don’t be afraid to ask yourself ‘what can this position bring to my life?’
It’s just as important to judge if the company you’re interviewing with is a good fit for you, based on your lifestyle and values. Red flags throughout the process will often expose a company that has a bad culture, poor work-life balance, or exploitative practices. You just need to know how to spot them.
What are job hunting red flags?
Job hunting red flags are early warning signs or indicators that something might not be right with a potential employer or job opportunity. These can become apparent at different stages of the job search process, from the initial application to the post-offer phase. Identifying these red flags early can save you from accepting a role at a company that’s not a good fit for you.
Red flags during the application process
Unclear job descriptions
One common red flag is a job description that lacks clarity. Vague responsibilities and qualifications can indicate that the employer isn’t sure what they’re looking for. This not only wastes your name, but can lead to serious frustration and ambiguity down the track if you accept the role.
A job posting that lacks clear job descriptions or responsibilities can indicate that the employer is uncertain about the role or looking for someone who can wear multiple hats, potentially leading to overwork.
It’s easy to get caught up in the optics of how you’re communicating as a job seeker (is it better to sign off with ‘Kind Regards’ or ‘Best Wishes’ – who knows!). However, it’s just as important to look for clues in how the talent or hiring manager communicates with you. Frequent delays, unprofessional language, or obvious disorganisation often hints at a chaotic work environment.
If you feel like you’re not being shown due respect in the recruitment process – when the company should be trying to win you over – what will your experience be like when you’re on the books?
Research the company’s turnover rate. If they have a history of high employee turnover, it’s often a sign of poor management or an unhealthy company culture. According to the Australian HR Institute, a ‘standard’ turnover rate in 2023 is 12% annually.
Sure, certain roles will always have high turnover —sales, receptionist and hospitality roles are all examples of this —but if it seems to be a company-wide trend, those alarm bells should be going off.
Red flags during interviews
While it’s normal for interviewers to ask for an overview of your experience in your own words, if they seem unprepared or unaware of your skills, it indicates a lack of effort on their part. It’s also worth evaluating the questions they ask you. Do they have a thoughtful list or do their questions seem irrelevant and scrappy?
Remember: your time is just as valuable as the interviewers. If they demonstrate a lack of respect for your time and attention, that’s a big red flag.
Lack of transparency
The opportunity to ask questions yourself at the end of an interview isn’t just a formality, it’s critical in helping you understand what the role entails – and your interviewer should respond transparently.
Here are some questions that you could use to get a better understanding of the role and the organisation;
- What does a typical day in this role look like?
- How does the company reward employee success and celebrate wins?
- What would you love to see the person in this role achieve in their first 6 months?
- How does the company help employees work collaboratively?
- What is the company’s philosophy when it comes to employee development?
Be cautious if the interviewers avoid answering these questions. Transparency is crucial for a successful work relationship, and any hesitance to answer these questions suggests an unhealthy company culture.
Watch out for employers who have unrealistic expectations, such as demanding excessive work hours or qualifications that are beyond the scope of the job.
While every job will have a long and demanding day every once in a while, you don’t want to get stuck on this hamster wheel. Listen to the hiring manager when they speak about the role’s goals, and what kind of work is required to achieve them.
Extensive unpaid tasks
In the later stages of the interview process, some employers may ask you to complete unpaid tasks. This is a common way for potential employers to see how you think and gauge your suitability for the role.
But if you’re being asked to complete numerous unpaid tasks that take up a lot of time and effort, this is a warning sign. Watch out for employers exploiting your skills and IP without compensation.
Red flags in compensation and benefits
Subpar salary offers
A job with a significantly lower salary than industry standards may be a red flag —not just because they’re offering an uncompetitive salary package. It could indicate the employer undervalues employees or has financial issues that mean they can’t offer market rate for the role.
Go into the recruitment process informed about an appropriate salary. As Swag recruitment expert Kate Jolly explains; “It helps to be well-researched. There are plenty of free resources like Glassdoor and Payscale.com that can help you to research your market rate. Be open about the research you’ve done and how you’ve arrived at your desired figure.”
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How does the employer’s benefits stack up against other organisations? The quality of benefits on offer can be just as important as the salary range. Robert Half research shows two-thirds of candidates have accepted a job offer because of the company’s employee benefits rather than the salary offered.
It’s not a dealbreaker if the company doesn’t offer benefits like discounted healthcare, gym memberships or working from home allowances —but consider whether these perks are important for you.
Swag tip: Swag employers offer their employees a range of perks and benefits to make their pay go further. There’s exclusive offers on essentials like fuel, utilities, and phone bills, plus extra discounts on movie tickets, groceries, technology and more. To explore the benefits on offer, head here.
Red flags post-offer
Onboarding is the first taste of life at your new organisation. It should provide a great first impression that leaves you excited to get stuck into your role.
What makes up a great onboarding process? Onboarding green flags include;
- Receiving all the necessary equipment to do your job (uniforms, laptops, etc.)
- A detailed run-through of the company’s mission, values and processes
- Copies of your employment contracts and the company’s policies
- A ‘who’s who in the zoo’ – an explanation of who does what in the company, and who you can ask for help as you get started
A rushed or disorganised onboarding process can indicate a lack of preparation or support for new employees. While it’s not an immediate dealbreaker, it does not bode well for the experience you’ll have as an employee of the organisation.
Negative company reviews
This is an obvious one, but it’s commonly overlooked —especially with well-known brands. Do your research and read employee reviews and company ratings. Does the company seem to be getting consistently negative feedback from current or former employees? Do they seem unable –or unwilling –to address this feedback? If they haven’t demonstrated a commitment to changing their organisation for the better, this is a significant red flag.
Legal or ethical concerns
This one goes without saying, but if you discover legal issues or ethical concerns related to the company, such as lawsuits or unethical practices, you might want to run in the other direction.
Find your perfect fit
When you’re job hunting, it’s easy to think that you’re in a dynamic where the employer has all the power. But don’t forget, the recruitment process is just as much about the employer winning you over. Don’t lose sight of what you’re looking for; a position that aligns with your career goals and personal values.
These red flags can help you sort the good from the bad, so you can find gold on the recruitment market. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to walk away from an opportunity that raises the alarm bells – and towards a role that’s your perfect fit.