Job Hunting? 5 Red Flags That Tell You a Job Sucks

Little businessman looking at the city
Businessman looking at career options | Source: iStock

In the midst of a job search, it can be easy to get frustrated and take the first offer that comes your way. Maybe you’ve been laid off and desperately need to start getting a paycheck again. Perhaps you’re looking to get a pay raise and are looking to switch companies to make it happen faster. Whatever your motivation, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing the companies have all the power. Yes, they’re ultimately the ones with jobs to offer. However, you have just as much choice in the process, and it’s important to keep an eye out for warning signs that a company might be a dud.
A promotion is great and so is advancing your career, but to make those things worth it, you also have to be at a company that’s a good fit for you and your future goals. In addition, you need to make sure that your next potential employer has a plan for long-term success. It might be difficult to know those items line up 100% before taking a job, but there are definitely warning signs out there for when a company might not be poised for long-term success. All you have to do is look for them.

Job search: Company red flags

So what are some warning signs that a potential job might not be all that it’s cracked up to be? In many cases, it begins with taking a closer look at the company itself. The Cheat Sheet talked with Jesse Siegal, vice president at The Execu|Search Group, a recruitment and workforce management firm, to get a better idea of what to watch for as you’re researching potential new jobs.
“With unemployment being as low as it is, we’re looking at this as a candidate-driven market,” Siegal said. “If they’ve got choices, they should make sure they’re making the best ones they can.” The following warning signs don’t mean you should write off a job or company immediately, but do signal that it might be wise to dig a little deeper, and see if there’s a good explanation for the lapse. If there’s not, it might serve as a reason to choose an equally tempting offer from another company. 

1. The website is outdated

People use their laptops at a Starbucks that offers free WiFi
Surfing the web | Jewel Samad/ AFP/Getty Images

If the website of a potential employer looks like it hasn’t been updated since AOL was the email server of choice, it might serve as a warning that the company isn’t up to date. Maintaining a current website with the latest updates can be expensive and time-consuming, especially since most companies can’t afford to keep a web developer on the payroll full-time. However, if it’s clear the website hasn’t been updated in 15 or 20 years, “It may speak to how that company appreciates technology,” Siegal said.
If your industry isn’t dependent upon current technology, this might not be a deal-breaker. But it might be a reason to look a little deeper at how the company plans to keep current, especially if they’re not paying attention to the driving force of the internet.

2. They’re not active on social media

Facebook app on smartphone
Facebook app | BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages

This can go hand-in-hand with the philosophy on keeping an updated website, and not every firm will be as present on social media as a Silicon Valley startup. However, most companies will maintain a Facebook or Twitter page, if only to share company updates or promotions and allow their customers to reach them through another medium. “Not every industry is going to be as active on social media as another, but it does resonate with an audience,” Siegal explained. 
For the most part, companies will need to have some presence on social media to compete in a new media landscape. If the company you’re looking at doesn’t have a Facebook page, they might have a good reason for it — or it might be a sign the company isn’t prepared to compete online. Either way, it’s worth investigating, Siegal said.

3. They get bad press — and a lot of it

profile of Elizabeth Holmes
Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos | Lisa Lake/Getty Images

If a company has been around for more than a few years, it’s not totally abnormal for them to experience a bit of bad press for one issue or another. But if a firm is consistently finding itself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, it might be a sign that it’s unwilling or unable to remedy deep-seeded issues. “If there are articles all over the internet about an organization’s questionable practices, it may be best not to be affiliated. If the negative press is severe enough, working there could even hinder your ability to get hired in the future,” Execu|Search stated in a release.
Siegal went on to explain that if you see negative news about the company you might apply to, do some extra searching to see if you can spot any patterns, either in frequent problems or underlying themes. Finding multiple instances of employee wrongdoing could speak to larger problems within the company that haven’t surfaced yet — and you might not want to be employed by them when they do.

4. There are numerous customer complaints

Yelp logo and table
Yelp | David Becker/Getty Images for Nightclub & Bar Media Group

Bad reviews on Yelp and the Better Business Bureau are a dime a dozen, and sometimes are simply sour grapes that’s largely undeserved. However, it’s worth your time to at least look at what customers have to say about the company in question. If there are more complaints than praises, it could serve as an initial warning.
Common sense tells us that people are motivated to write reviews when they’ve had an excellent experience, or a truly horrible one. Most times, there’s a little more motivation to write a scathing review, meaning you’re more likely to see those pop up online. “You’re going to want to take them with a grain of salt, but you shouldn’t ignore them,” Siegal said. As with bad press, analyze the complaints for trends and patterns. If you don’t see any, it might add up to nothing. If you do see recurring issues, however, it might mean that the company has systemic issues at play. 

5. Employees complain, too

Businessman stressed and angry in office, bad jobs
Stressed businessman | Source: iStock

With online resources like Glassdoor and PayScale, it’s becoming easier than ever to get on-the-ground feedback about what it’s like to work for certain companies. Based on current and previous employee input, you can learn about the average pay, office culture, and other elements that go into working at a certain company. If a quick search pulls up a company profile with numerous employee complaints, you probably want to tread cautiously before accepting an offer.
“A lot of times, the people who write on Glassdoor are the people who had a negative experience,” Siegal said. However, he also said that numerous complaints — especially about similar problems — are a signal that a company might not be prioritizing the needs of its employees. If you appreciate feeling like an office drone, that might be fine with you, but in most cases you want to know that you’ll be respected in your new position. 

What should you do with these signs?

Fraying red flag
Red flag | Source: iStock

As Siegal mentioned, it’s important to fully vet a company before heeding one or a few of these warning signs and rescinding your job application. After all, it’s impossible to know everything about a company from a few Google searches. “We shouldn’t lose the human element to job searching,” he said. “A lot of times, there’s more to it than what you’re reading online.”
When possible, seek out employees from the company in question and talk with them about their experiences. If you can do this before even stepping into an interview, that can only help you in the long run, Siegal suggested. “Talking to actual people to confirm the things that you’re reading — or maybe to refute the things that you’re reading — is really important,” he said. 
After that, if you still have some reservations but proceed with the interview process, take the opportunity to ask human resources about your concerns. Siegal doesn’t suggest doing so in the first interview, but if you make it to subsequent rounds, don’t be bashful about asking the questions you have in an appropriate, professional way. “You’re in the driver’s seat,” Siegal said. “It’s your career, it’s your future. It’s better that you ask it up front than wait and find out the hard way.” And as long as you’re respectful and present your concern in a constructive way, it can be another litmus test about the company’s culture. “If a company is offended by asking the question, then that in itself could be a red flag,” Siegal said. 

Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS