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by Rob Porter | January 26, 2024


If you’ve ever conducted a job search, you already know that it requires dealing with numerous emails, phone calls, flaky hiring managers, and multiple interviews. Finding a great job takes time, so it’s important to learn how to avoid putting yourself in situations where you’ll waste energy or wind up in a workplace that’s stressful or toxic. Today, we’re going to talk about how to identify warning signs in a company’s job listings. Let’s begin.

Spelling and Grammar Mistakes

Potential employers will often skip over a candidate if they see a resume and cover letter that are littered with silly spelling and grammar errors. As a job seeker, you should treat potential employers’ job descriptions the same way. When scanning over a job listing for the first time, keep an eye out for spelling and grammar mistakes, as they are often early warning signs of a disorganized and unprofessional company.

Keep in mind that in this situation, you’re looking for patterns. It’s entirely possible that the hiring manager made one silly mistake on the job listing before posting it, so if everything else looks great, you’re probably in the clear. In this case, make a note of the company that had the grammar or spelling mistake in its job description, and be on the lookout for any additional red flags.

A Lack of Maturity

If you’ve ever been locked into a serious job search, you might have come across some of these. When a job description says the company is looking for a “rock star” for its marketing department, or an “accounting wizard” for accounts payable, it’s almost always a bad sign. A job description is meant to be a representation of the company you’re applying to, and there should always be a certain degree of professionalism involved.

A job description that relies on silly language to attract talent could be indicative of a company that is unsure of its own identity. Worse yet, the job description might be a not-so-veiled attempt to mask a role that requires lots of overtime, or a management style that runs the company’s employees into the ground. Companies that resort to this practice to hide a toxic workplace culture are predatory, and should be avoided at all costs.

Crazy Salary Ranges

A company that knows what it wants in a candidate and that is serious about attracting talent should have no problem providing salary details in a job description. If you come across a job description that says “Starting Pay: $40K - $100K,” there’s something wrong. Along with this, keep an eye out for job listings that don’t provide any salary information or that say the starting salary is “commensurate with experience,” as this could mean the pay is very low or it’s based on a candidate’s skill and experience, rather than on the role and its responsibilities.

No Mention of Employee Benefits

When a company posts a job description, the goal should be to provide clear details about the role in question, while also giving potential applicants an idea of what they can expect in terms of benefits and workplace culture; in essence, a company is trying to sell the role to potential applicants.

If you come across a job listing that talks a whole lot about qualifications and what you’ll be doing, but doesn’t provide a list of employee benefits, something’s off. Things to watch out for are listings that don’t mention PTO or sick time, or that don’t talk about healthcare benefits, retirement planning, or employee assistance programs. Again, we’re looking for patterns here, so use your own discernment when checking out job listings.

Work/Life Balance Problems

Some sneaky companies like to disguise toxic workplace practices with language that makes applicants think they’ll be working in a particularly exciting and rewarding role. If a job description says you’re required to “handle stress” or work in a “fast-paced environment,” it could be code for “we’ll work you to burnout” or “we don’t respect your time.”

Another thing to watch out for is a job listing that brazenly tells you to expect to work weekends. Any job could require its employees to put in extra hours once in a while, but if a company is telling you this in a job description, it’s basically saying “you’ll go home when we say you can.” Good employers respect your time, and they understand that you need to rest and recharge to be productive—never allow a company to rule your life.

“We’re a Big Family”

This one could go both ways. If you’re applying for a startup and you see lots of “family” language, it’s probably safe, but if you’re already seeing red flags in a job description, “we’re a big family” is the head of the serpent. This is another sneaky tactic that companies will use to lure candidates in when they don’t have much to offer. If the job description looks good but also includes family talk, just be cautious and keep an eye out for any other warning signs.

During your job search, do plenty of research into the companies you’re planning on applying to. If a job description seems off, dig a little deeper—you might be able to find honest reviews from ex-employees that can provide further insight into a company’s culture and what it expects from its employees. In time, you’ll learn to recognize the warning signs quickly, and you’ll easily avoid job descriptions posted by toxic companies.