Is This Job Too Good To Be True?

The Warning Signs To Look For in Job Descriptions

Jan 29, 2019

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – At first scan, a new job description might look like the perfect fit. But job hunters should always read between the lines, says Rachel Loock, a career and leadership coach at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Often the standout job description will include signals that suggest you should steer clear – or at least temper your excitement while you do some digging.

Here are a few potential red flags to watch for in job descriptions.

Application fees: “You should never, ever have to pay to apply to a job,” says Loock, who has seen some job listings pop up with application fees. “That means it is not legit from the start.”

An unnamed company, or a company you’ve never heard of: If it’s not a company name you recognize, or it doesn’t sound legitimate, research it, Loock says. Make sure it’s actually a company. Does it have a web presence? Contact information? Can you find reviews or references from current employees? A startup might have little to go on, but could still offer an exciting opportunity. If that’s appealing to you, just be sure you proceed with caution and line up your questions to make sure the opportunity checks out.

The frequently recurring job opening: Some industries or specific types of positions have higher turnover rates than others, Loock says, so you may see similar or identical postings pop up frequently on job boards and company websites. An often-reposted position could indicate the company has a hard time keeping people in that job, and perhaps a bad boss or unrealistic work expectations are to blame. If a job opening has been posted for six months or longer, that could mean that a recruiter collects resumes on an ongoing basis for their files and doesn’t have an actual job to fill right now, Loock says.

The bizarre job title: Interesting word choices on the title for the position offered? That could be a tip off that they are looking for someone with lots of skills, but are undercutting the salary, Loock says, especially in an industry where standard titles are the norm. The title should reflect the level of the job – “senior,” “assistant,” “lead” – to give you a good idea of what type of responsibility you’ll have and whether you’ll be compensated fairly for that.

The phrase “unlimited earning potential:” Be aware that a posting with a phrase like “unlimited earning potential” might mean the compensation is entirely commission-based rather than offering salary, Loock says. “You’ll want to get clarity on that,” she says. Find out if it’s partial commission or all commission, or a draw against commission, meaning that you’ll be paid at regular intervals with the expectation that you will make up that amount of money in sales. A sales position that is primarily a cold-calling job might have this type of compensation. “It’s not for everyone,” says Loock, “but I do know students who have taken jobs like that and found they love it and have done quite well.” Loock says you can find out more about compensation structure online using resources like She also suggests speaking to current and former employees whenever you can.

The phrase “ability to travel:” How much travel? Quarterly? Monthly? Weekly? Or constantly? Make sure you ask how much travel will be involved during the interview phase so you’re not blindsided after you accept a new position, Loock says.

A long, long list of requirements: Often the standout job description will include signals that suggest you should steer clear – or at least temper your excitement while you do some digging. A long list of required credentials or an unreasonable length of experience with a particular technology can signal that the company’s leadership is unfamiliar with the position they are seeking to fill. It might also signal that leadership has unrealistic expectations. If you do apply, be sure to ask the right questions about the position, its reporting structure, and the skills and experience most needed to be successful, says Loock.

Weak grammar and poor spelling: Often the standout job description will include signals that suggest you should steer clear – or at least temper your excitement while you do some digging. If the hiring manager hasn’t taken the time to carefully review this job description, how important is this position? Typos happen, but a description riddled with errors is a red flag, says Loock.

No relocation expenses: This can be a red flag, says Loock. Relocation expenses are often paid for senior-level positions, but that isn’t always the case, especially in the nonprofit or government sectors. Meanwhile, entry-level and mid-level positions that can be easily filled with local applicants often lack relocation allowances. Still, Loock says, it never hurts to ask. Check in advance if they reimburse for parking or public transportation fees on the day of the interview.

Bottom line, Loock says: The best way to avoid a a bait-and-switch between the job description and the actual job is to do your research and ask questions.




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