My recent story about leaving a job because it wasn’t the right fit for me generated quite a reaction online. Many people wrote in to say that they saw themselves in similar situations as I was in Six Signs that You’re in the Wrong Job.

Several people asked a similar question: “What about the risks to your reputation or chances of getting a new job that come from quitting without a new role lined up?”

That is a good question and a legitimate concern. It is almost always better to job hunt on your own time and find your next job before quitting your current one. Walking away is a last resort when the job is unsafe, unethical, or soul destroying.

But in the ideal situation you’d be able to avoid taking those terrible jobs in the first place. But how can you tell that the gig is going to suck? Fortunately, in many job descriptions for crappy jobs, employers inadvertently embed clues that can warn you not to work for them.

Red flags in job descriptions

    Double-barrelled / oxymoronic job titles. I’ve seen job postings for a “Bilingual Office Admin/Translator.” What does this mean? It means they want to hire someone on as an office admin and yet have them translate all of the company’s communications at the same time – rather than paying for an actual translator.

    Similarly, you’ll see bait-and-switch job titles like “Novice IT Master.” How can novices be masters? They can’t. The company is looking for someone highly-skilled who will work for an entry-level salary.

    Credential creep. This is where employers tack on advanced degrees and certifications not actually required to do the job. Why do they do it? Often it’s just a filtering tool. They know that the more they ask for, the fewer people will apply, making their selection process easier.

    Other times credential creep can be an indicator that the company really has no idea about the role, which means you’ll be working without proper leadership or direction. You can see this when the job description asks for five-years of experience with a software that only came out last year. Or requests so many diverse skills, credentials, and years of experience that no one candidate is likely to possess all of them – and if this superhero did exist, there’s no way they would work for the amount of money offered.

    The job posting lists earning potential rather than actual earning. Read the job description carefully. Sometimes positions listed as ‘events’ or ‘marketing’ are actually sales roles. The worst of these are the ones that ask you to purchase products upfront yourself in order to resell them to others before you see any profit. In this case, sure you’ll make more money if you sell more, but the risk is all on you. The company made its income the minute they offloaded the goods to you.

    Beware of long periods of unpaid training. Especially for relatively uncomplicated jobs. This can be a technique to simply get you to work for free. It can also mean that the company has a poor working environment with a high turnover rate, so they want to see if you’ll stick around and what you’ll put up with before they actually start paying you.

    The job posting is for unnamed company. Employers can post anonymous job postings for many reasons. However, one that I have repeatedly seen is that the position is to replace a current employee who doesn’t yet know they’re being replaced. The person who gets the job may find themselves walking in on a Monday in the role of someone who was let go on Friday. Depending on how well-liked the predecessor was by the remaining team members, this can be like being thrown to the sharks. (This has happened to me more than once over the years.)

    Another reason for an anonymous job posting is that it isn’t for a current job at an actual company at all. Recruitment agencies sometimes use this tactic to collect resumes and build up their roster of candidates that they can then place for a fee.

    The job posting keeps coming back online. If you have Job Alerts set up, or you regularly check for the latest opportunities in your field and you routinely see the same job at the same company posted, watch out. Unless it’s for a traditionally high turnover position like some in the retail and hospitality industries, this is usually a sign that the company can’t keep people. Approach with caution. There’s a reason employees leave their jobs. (And it’s most often a bad boss.)

Like I said in Signs You’re in the Wrong Job, you can learn valuable lessons about yourself and about work from realizing that where you are is not for you. Recognizing what you don’t want your work life to be like can be a powerful motivator to go out and achieve the circumstances that you do want. Sometimes you have to take a less-than-ideal gig for the paycheck or as a stepping stone. Hopefully at least by being able to spot some of the red flags in advance, you’ll know what you’re getting into from the outset.

Peter Harris

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