Red flags: Signs you shouldn't take the job

By Elizabeth Bromstein
Oct 31, 2022
Photo credit: 666991708/E+/Getty Images

When job hunting, we tend to focus our attention on how we can make a great impression and whether someone will want to hire us to the detriment of all else.

We spend so much time trying to make ourselves appealing to employers that we might forget to ask ourselves whether the employer is someone we want to work for. This is understandable. We can get distracted by the need to do things like feed our families and pay the bills. But it is important to pay attention to red flags signaling that a company might not be one you want to work for. Stories abound of tenures at companies that begin in a fairy tale of enchantment and end up mired in back-stabbing, incompetent management, toxicity, and company failure.

A red flag doesn’t necessarily mean you should absolutely not take the job. Some are just warning signs that you might not love it and should keep your options open, even after you accept an offer, while others are definite DANGER signs. Hopefully, this article will help you to spot the difference.

Here are some red flags to look out for that could be signs you shouldn’t take the job. 

  • The job smells like a scam
  • Signs of a job scam include:
  • They offer you the job immediately, without even interviewing you
  • They ask you for money or your credit card number
  • It seems too good to be true and/or pays a strangely high amount
  • They ask you to receive money or deposit a cheque and forward the funds
  • Unprofessional written communication with typos and grammatical errors
  • The company isn’t on LinkedIn or has no employees on LinkedIn
  • The company website has little to no information
  • Employee photos on the company website look like stock photos (Google reverse image search can help with this)

These are signs a job is not legitimate and, in most of these cases, you should not proceed. Never give an employer money or cash a cheque for them and never give your credit card number. There are a lot of scams out there and you need to be aware of them.

The job has been open for a long time

Check the amount of time the position has been vacant for. It's not always a red flag. Sometimes a job is just hard to fill or they keep it posted because they are growing and always looking for new people to fill new roles. But a job nobody seems to fit can be like a property that never seems to sell: it’s vacant for a reason. If employers have been trying to find someone for more than six months, and the position has been vacant that entire time, there may be something less than great about the job or company.

Maybe the company culture is toxic or the management team is bad at making hiring decisions. Maybe people keep quickly quitting or getting fired and the job keeps getting reposted. Try to find out who held the job before you and how long they stayed. This information may be found on LinkedIn.

The hiring process takes forever and is wildly complicated

Sometimes the hiring process seems to drag on for an eternity. If you’ve waited weeks or even months and gone for five, six, seven interviews, taken aptitude tests, and given the green light for a background check, and still haven’t received conclusive news, that’s a pretty demanding process, and, dare we say, a bit much.

A company that makes job candidates jump through impractical hoops might also make unreasonable demands on the job and be impossible to please.

Also, if you’ve been given the green light, or what appears to be the green light, and the process continues to drag on, be on your guard. There may be legitimate reasons for a delay like a restructuring or waiting for approval from higher-ups. But if it’s been more than a couple of weeks, they might be leading you down the garden path.

Asking for unpaid work or trial shifts

A company might ask you to do an unpaid project to see if you’re a “fit” or have the ability to put something together. If you’re a recent graduate, don’t have a lot of experience under your belt, and think it would be worth your while as a learning experience, it might be fine to do the work. But in many cases, your past work should be a good enough example. Don’t do anything that takes more than a couple of hours and be wary of a company that appears to be mining you for free ideas.

Unpaid trial shifts, meanwhile, are downright shifty. They are illegal in Ontario. To be generous, an employer who asks you for unpaid shift work may be genuinely trying to test your mettle, but may also be unscrupulous.

A negative interview experience

If the hiring manager(s) are late or rude, don’t seem interested in what you’re talking about, or you just don’t like them, listen to your gut. Maybe they interrupt you when you’re talking or clearly haven’t bothered to read your resume beforehand. There are a number of ways an interviewer can be off-putting.

These people will be your superiors and your direct managers and, if it doesn't click, it’s possible that things aren’t going to get better.

Our coworkers are, for better or for worse, our second family, and we usually spend more time with them than we spend anywhere else. It’s best if you feel a connection with the hiring manager and even admire them. It's definitely not a good sign if you can’t stand them.

Bad online reviews

Check online company reviews. A company with one or two disgruntled former employees isn’t necessarily a bad company. Some people might be bad workers. Or they might chafe under management styles that you personally would find perfectly acceptable.

But, when there’s a slew of bad reviews and it looks bleak, you should take another look. A sustained pattern of disappointed former employees that goes back a year or more and negative comments about management can be a sign that not all is well at your potential future employer. If it’s all bad and no good, you might want to think twice about signing on.

There’s a revolving door of employees

High turnover is often a red flag. Job-hopping has become pretty standard practice these days, particularly with younger workers, but nonstop turnover is too much. After all, some people should want to stick around for a while. You can see employee tenures on LinkedIn, and if people are entering and exiting through a revolving door that appears to be a blur, there may be a good reason.

It could be incompetent management, a stressful boss, or other hallmarks of a toxic workplace. Whatever the case, the sign of a truly great place to work is one where employees struggle to get in and are reluctant to leave.

As we stated, not all of these are definite signs that you don't want to work for a company. But most say you should proceed with caution.

Author info

Elizabeth Bromstein is a recognized author and career strategist with more than 10 years of experience in the field and the goal of helping people land their dream jobs, optimize their potential and make the most of their careers. She is the co-founder the Yackler Corp., the former Business Editor of, and the current Editor in Chief of Spa Executive magazine, the go-to news resource for the hospitality wellness industry.

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