As a career coach, one of the big things I help people with is figuring out whether they even want to work with an employer or not. After all, nobody wants to work at a company with a bad culture, depressed salaries, or unreasonable expectations. Even when unemployment is high, accepting a bad situation that you just can’t live with can create a bigger problem than having no job at all.

Not convinced? Let me regale you with some help that I recently gave a friend of mine…

To set the scene, “Tracy” (not her real name) was working at a job she absolutely hated in a call center environment. The money was good, but the work itself was a soul-sucking grind, constantly dealing with unreasonable customers and a non-supportive management team. Needless to say, she was desperate to change jobs.

As part of her job search, Tracy found a company that looked like a dream. Sure, the money was considerably less, and the benefits were practically non-existent, but it was as a Case Manager for people in crisis with addiction issues, a cause she personally believed in. She did the math and felt that she could make the stated salary work.

The problems started even in the application process.

First, the salary range was $14.78 – $14.78, an hour, just outside what Tracy could afford to take. (Yes, this is in 2020 numbers.)

“Hey Donna,” Tracy stated when she called me. “They are asking for my desired salary on this application. Can I say $15 to $16 an hour?”

“Sorry, Tracy, no,” I replied. “If the range is to the penny, they are not willing to negotiate. If you put anything other than that salary in the job description, you will be screened out.”

“Are you sure?” she pleaded.

“Yes, absolutely. Otherwise, they would not list it to the penny on both sides of the range.”

Not only this, the job had been posted for months before Tracy found it. That usually means one of two things: Either they are always looking for talent in this area, just like many sales organizations do; or they have a high turnover rate and need to be constantly recruiting.

  • Red Flag 1: Posted salaries with no room for flexibility or negotiations can be a sign of disrespect to employees – not to mention that these salaries are usually below market value.
  • Red Flag 2: Jobs that are relisted multiple times can indicate high turnover.

Tracy did land an interview, but more red flags could be seen instantly. First, the HR Manager was rude and distant. The Executive Director was flaky and disorganized. Both seemed to rush through the interview, as if they had somewhere else to be. While it was a virtual interview, it probably only lasted 20 minutes.

When asked how long the position had been open, the Director blurts out, “We have been trying to hire someone for this role for MONTHS.” They would not answer follow-up questions to see if people had been hired and left or if it had just been left vacant. In fact, most questions about the job were ignored, including inquiries about the next step in the interview process or when Tracy could expect to hear an answer.

Finally, they let Tracy know she was being considered for two different positions, even though she only applied for one. The second role was a lower-level position that only paid $13/hour.

  • Red Flag 3: Rude HR people will tend to treat employees the same way. You should hope that HR is the professional face of the company.
  • Red Flag 4: Managers who do not bother to prepare for an interview are usually disorganized leaders.
  • Red Flag 5: Being rushed through an interview means they don’t respect your time.
  • Red Flag 6: Jobs open for a long period of time either means that the company has impossibly high standards or that they have difficulty making decisions.
  • Red Flag 7: Look out for a “bait-and-switch” on a job. It can be encouraging to be considered for a second option at a company, but it should not be sprung on you during the interview when you have no time to evaluate the position.

After a couple of weeks, the company got back to Tracy. They wanted to hire her! Unfortunately, it was for the lower-paying job. She crunched the math and thought she could possibly make her budget work. When asked about a possible start date, the company wanted her as soon as possible, even though she had not given notice to the current employer yet. Unfortunately, Tracy hated her current job so much that she seriously considered walking into work that day and quitting on the spot – without having a written job offer in hand. In fact, the new company was pressuring her to decide on a start date WITHOUT sending anything in writing; they wanted a commitment first. Of course, salary was completely non-negotiable.

  • Red Flag 8: A new employer should never pressure a candidate to quit a job without notice. It’s just unprofessional.
  • Red Flag 9: HR should always send a copy of the job offer in writing before making a candidate commit. You need to see the terms to make an informed decision.
  • Red Flag 10: Non-negotiable salaries are another sign of disrespect. Even if the company can’t give more money, they should not be offended or rescind an offer just because a candidate tries to make a counteroffer.

Despite all this, Tracy still wanted this job because she felt it was her “calling.” Yet over the course of 24 hours, the red flags got worse. Now, this job offer came in the first week of December. Tracy had a routine, minor surgery scheduled for the middle of December. When she mentioned that she would want to wait a couple of days to rest, the company PULLED the job offer. No exceptions. No waiting. No debate. No mercy.

Tracy tried to state that she would be ready for work the week before Christmas, but the HR Manager would not listen to any argument and became even more insulting.

“Donna! What can I do to convince them to hire me?” Tracy said.

“Don’t! Run away! This company is going to treat you like garbage!” I answered. “Besides, it could even be argued that their act of cancelling a job offer for a non-relevant medical issue is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Do you really want to work at a place that would treat people like this?”

  • Red Flag 11: Pulled job offers without reasonable discussions are the worst thing a company can do to a candidate.
  • Red Flag 12: Any company that wants to skirt around with potentially skirting employment regulations such as the EEOC, ADA, or anything else doesn’t have respect for their employees.

In the end, Tracy let this horrible employer go away. Within two weeks, she found a better job in a similar field for more money. Their interview process was quick, but they were respectful, honest, genuine, and appreciative of her talents. She loves the new job and feels that she is truly following her calling.

So, remember, don’t ignore red flags!


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