Job Doc

Do red flags in job descriptions exist? Elaine Varelas advises

What may be red flags for some could actually be clues to a good fit for someone else. Elaine Varelas says that red flags do exist, but make sure you do your research.

Ask the Job Doc.

Q: You’ve talked about resume red flags – but what are some job description red flags? Does “fast-paced environment” mean “you will be overworked”? When they emphasize “positive attitude” or “team player” as desired traits, do they mean that their environment is already negative or difficult? Alternatively, what might be some signs of a positive place to work?

A: Job description red flags absolutely do exist. One of the goals of job descriptions are to encourage the right candidates to apply and to discourage the wrong candidates from applying. One general job ad might generate anywhere from 500 to 1,000 responses, and if candidates don’t screen themselves out, organizations resort to applicant tracking systems and having a recruiter scan resumes for less than 10 seconds before they decide fit or no-fit. So, you’ll see a range of euphemisms that may cause you to wonder.

You’ve identified some of them here – “positive attitude” and “fast-paced environment” – and some others you might see floating around are terms like “flexible hours.” Another red flag could be a job listing that details the physical work environment and amenities; it can often mean low pay or fewer benefits. You may want to work in beautiful offices, but companies may try show you their gym and meditation room to balance out not contributing as much financially to healthcare. Different generations of employee may also be attracted to different offerings and recruiters know this, and try to use it to their advantage

What the job seeker may find challenging is distinguishing the actual meaning of term used, and they need to be prepared to ask questions that elicit as much information as possible from people who work there, or used to, so they understand what the company really means. Flexible work hours might be very positive for someone with a busy schedule, but to others, it could mean not getting paid for 40 hours every week. If it is fast-paced, that could excite some. Others, however, might want a steadier environment where they know what the work will look like – an organization with a cyclical process, where every quarter, they know what to expect. And then there are always workers who want to be challenged and surprised about what the work brings. What may be “red flags” for you could be the ideal for another candidate.


If your gut tells you there are red flags in the description, research. Try to find out more. The person writing the description may not necessarily be the manager. Reviews on Glassdoor are a good start, or someone you’re connected to on LinkedIn might be able to describe the culture to you. Figure out the environment where you are at your best, with a manager who helps you succeed. These are the keys to success at work.

A big sign of a positive workplace is often tenure. People stay. People are advanced. Leadership may have been home grown. Are they award-winning in some ways? Whether it’s Best Places to Work or Best Product, these can help you understand if the values that you have align with their values.

When you interview, you can look for signs that are people happy to be there. You can also ask about the contributions individuals have made to the company as a whole, and if they can see their impact. Discuss that, then you can often sense whether or not they take pride in their workplace and want to continue making contributions. If they falter, however, and they can’t see their own contributions, that may be a sign that the organization spends more time on ads than the culture so they can keep rehiring for people who have left.

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