6 Warning Signs that It Is Not the Job for You

By Linsey Knerl on 2 June 2008 (Updated 12 December 2008) 10 comments

[Editor's note:  If you recently lost your job, take a look at Wise Bread's collection of tips and resources for the recently laid off.]

You’re scouting around for a decent job. While you realize that great jobs are hard to find, you’re avoiding getting into a position that really stinks. Here are 6 tell-tale characteristics of generally lousy jobs, and why it may be best to cut-and-run.

They run vague ads. While you can’t always expect potential employers to give a detailed bio in a 3 inch ad-space, there are subtle ways to let you know who you may be working for. Classifieds that don’t even let you know what industry you’ll be working for are difficult to prepare for, and worse yet, they can often be bait for MLM, or scams (see more info in my other article). In short, you should at least know if you’ll be working in a restaurant, as compared to filing copies of credit applications. Very different ballgames, indeed.

They accept anyone. I once answered a job ad that replied with an interview appointment the same day. Since it was for a mid-level management position, I showed up in my best “interview suit” and brought extra resumes on linen paper. Looking around the reception area, I saw many other “prospects” for the same job I was interviewing for. Many were wearing sweats, and one guy didn’t even speak English. I should have walked then, as they were obviously not looking for a mid-level manager, but door-to-door salesmen. Tricky.

They have no known address. This one seems obvious, but it took me by surprise. That same job I mentioned earlier with the vague address and a waiting room full of unqualified applicants didn’t show up in my local phone book. The interview took place in an unmarked office building, and there was no corporate branding anywhere inside or out. So I shouldn’t have been shocked to find that it was a front for a door-to-door promotions company. When they told me I was hired, and would I like to see the “operations side” of the manager position, I was taken by company car to the dumpy side of town to try to sell pizza coupons. Yikes!

(For a similar story on this kind of job scam, see this crazy video by Fox6 San Diego News. Link at http://www.fox6.com/mediacenter/local.aspx?videoID=418811)

They run the same job ad week after week. And the week after that. Did you ever notice that some big companies run the exact same ad (with slightly different wording) almost regularly? There may not even be a job opening, but the high rate of turnover at this jobs almost guarantees they’ll be needing someone soon. Keeping a constant supply of new hires in the pipeline secures their chances of having someone trained and ready to work these jobs at any given time – if only for a few months.

A google search turns up trash. I don’t believe everything I read on the web, but I am inclined to seriously reconsider working for any company with their own "this company sucks dot com" website. 150+ similar complaints by previous employees should be a sign that things aren’t on the up-and-up. I also check out Vault.com and RipOffReport to see if I’m going to be working for a product or service that generally makes people mad.

They don’t treat you well at the interview or application appointment. I know that when times are tough, it seems like just about any job should suffice. Take it from me, however, that a hiring manager who can’t give you common courtesy probably won’t be the best person to work for. Rude receptionists, inconsiderately late HR reps, and a general feeling of frustration in a potential workplace are usually signs of an office-wide dilemma. Unless you’re craving workplace drama, it might be best to go with your gut and skip a questionable opportunity.

As much time as most people spend searching, applying, and interviewing during the job hunt, you owe it to yourself to be sure you’re next job is a keeper. If you can’t land that killer opportunity without sacrificing your most basic standards, it may be best to keep looking. (And there are plenty of decent gigs to get you by in the meantime.)

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Guest's picture

I once had a company offer me a job after just a short phone interview that pretty much only established I could use Photoshop. I was supposed to go there (out of town) to do an in-person interview but the staffing guy called me back and said they just wanted to offer me a job without the interview and they wanted an answer soon.

This was a pretty big red flag to me--they didn't tell me anything about what I would be doing, the company's website didn't list job opportunities, and I would have to move. They basically waved around a higher salary and relocation assistance in my face. I didn't take the job because the whole thing seemed strange and I knew I would be bored out of my mind if all my job required was Photoshop.

My lesson from this is that if it seems too good to be true, it most likely is. If they want to hire you without meeting you in-person, that doesn't really show they take pride in hiring the best and brightest.

P.S.: I looked up MLM and it means "multi-level marketing".

Philip Brewer's picture

Many of those vague ads are from really crappy employers who need a constant stream of employees.  Others are from headhunters who are just trying to bulk up their resume files.  Others are from scam artists of various kinds.

I saw a book once called How to Steal a Job, that gave me a whole new perspective on the range of possible scams. 

I would not, by the way, recommend the book, although it's kind of interesting to look at--it's full of illegal and unethical things that might help you land a job--but some of the ideas make a certain amount of sense, just before they run completely off the rails.

For example:  Imagine that you want a job doing a particular kind of work, but you don't know what companies out there you might work for.  You could do a bunch of research, but there may be an easier way to get the same kind of info:  Take out a help-wanted ad, advertising for exactly the sort of job you'd like.  If you're very clear that you're only interested in experienced applicants, a fraction of the people who answer your ad will be people whose employers and former employers are places that you might want to work--useful information.  The book then suggests that you rent some office space and actually interview some of these people, pretending that you might hire them, but actually trying to get the inside scoop on the places where they work now. (And then, as I say, goes completely off the rails, suggesting that you actually pretend to offer one of them a job--so that they'll quit, thereby opening up a position at the place where you want to get hired.)

I doubt if many of those vague ads and interviews in anonymous offices are that sort of scam, but it's yet another reason to avoid them.

Guest's picture

I totally got scammed this way out of college and then wised up!! I had answered an ad for a 'marketing specialist.' when i got to the non-branded blank office, where the receptionist answered the phone- "Advertising!", there were notes of thanks framed on the wall, but when i asked if we did work in-house or at the clients, they looked at me funny. Next I found myself driving the 'manager' and two other candidates to Allentown to go door-to-door to sell coupons for cheaper phone service. As soon as we got back the manager told us we had to take a test to see what we learned. Me and the girls told her to piss off. Later I saw them at a job faire, and told anyone walking by that they were just misleading door-to-door scammers. Fine, if that's what you want to do, but it was not legitimate marketing work. Good post!

Guest's picture

Is there any major company without a this-company-sucks website?

Linsey Knerl's picture

I'll admit that most major companies do have a grudge website.  (There are some that don't, but this is probably due to determined lawyers!)  This is why I also added "150+ similar complaints by previous employees should be a sign that things aren’t on the up-and-up."

I have seen attempts at an employee backlash site that just didn't have serious enough complaints.  "My boss made me work Saturday this one time" or "The air conditioner is always turned up way too cold" barely qualify it to be a site that would tip me off to a bad job.

The sites that I have used to keep me from applying were ones that told in detail the hiring and training processes, and had hundreds upon hundreds of collaborated stories of illegal practices and questionable hiring methods.  These sites usually contain real contact info for me to verify anything I feel uncomfortable about.

Thanks for clarifying that just having an "anti" website is not always enough to dimiss an opportunity. 

Guest's picture

This kind of dodgy-employerism is especially typical of writer's job listings, where often the writer is expected to do the work "for the exposure" - and it's not much different for musicians, either. It's a ridiculous notion.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Amen.  If I only got paid for reading all those worthless freelance postings.. I'd retire at 35.

Guest's picture

Is it just me? Or do I notice a lot of this type of job being offered on craigslist? I don't know how it stays in operation with all the scams I keep hearing and reading about. The only bright spot seems to be in the "erotic" section. Prices have seem to come down since the Elliot Spitzer scandal. Lots more girls are putting their ads up, creating an over supply, and then realize they have to lower their prices if they want any business. That's a hell of a way to make money though. Blame the movie "Pretty Woman". Yeah, sure, like that's going to happen to you. Just remember....recessions bring out the scammers, and this is the first really bad recession with the internet hype began in 1995. I don't count they 2001 slow down as a recession. Jobs weren't being off shored to India in droves, gas didn't cost $4.50 a gallon, and people were able to keep themselves afloat by taking out home equity loans. Of course, that was all just a prelude to the problems we have today.

Guest's picture

In addition to the above, Can I suggest a post I recently wrote about on the related topic of knowing when you should be looking for a new job, based on your lack of interest in your current role. I came up with 21 reasons, which include :

- You cannot concentrate on a particular activity for more than an hour or without first having a caffeine induced buzz. This includes getting easily distracted by other's conversations or general office noise

- You look forward to the social interactions at work more than the actual work it self. This is reflected when everyone comes to you for the office gossip and management gripes, and you are more than happy to discuss and complain about how bad the current conditions are

- You actually look at the spam emails talking about made up jobs that look to be too true, like professional chocolate taster. All they want is your email and phone number, to put you on a master distribution list. This also extends to the excessive amount of time you spend on Linkedin or other professional networking sites, to see what your "connections" are doing. Networking is good, but not when it becomes your main activity while at work

So apart from know it is a lousy job, when you are in job maybe you should be looking for signs that it is lousy for you.