Contrary to popular belief, badly managed tech companies will not lie flawlessly about their work conditions in order to trap you in a miserable situation. Granted, they will not be super honest about their shortcomings, but it’s remarkably difficult to hide certain flaws during the interview process. With some experience and guidance, you can learn to decode expressions commonly used in tech job postings that actually mean something very different.
Watch out for these frequent red flags, and learn to understand them in context to know what you’re getting yourself into!
Common Red Flags in Tech Job Postings
No Salary Specified, or Very Wide Salary Range
We had to start with this one because not specifying a salary is, unfortunately, all too common in most job marketplaces. While Tech is certainly at the spearhead of a change towards a healthier and more honest work culture, there’s still a ways to go.
However, even if not many companies are doing it yet, your standards should remain high. Expect and demand transparency from companies regarding compensation: some companies only reveal the final salary when they’ve decided you’re the one, and that is just not ok! You also deserve leverage, and the right to know so you don’t waste your time. Be careful with job processes that don’t reveal the salary early on in the interview process… and be particularly suspicious of job postings that specify a salary range going from nothing to everything.
Absurd Entry Level Requirements
Some recruiters seem to have forgotten what the words ‘entry level’ mean. No worries, we’ll give them a hint: it’s jobs that don’t require previous experience or even education. So, naturally, a job that demands five whole years of experience as a minimum shouldn’t, by any logic, count as one. Simple, right?
The same goes for ‘entry level’ jobs that demand a long list of skills… the type you acquire after a decade of experience. No twenty-something has had time to learn all of that, and entry level positions are for acquiring and perfecting the skills on the job, not for demanding perfection. Call out this type of nonsense!
Unreasonable or Unclear Job Responsibilities
Tech has a bad reputation for demanding that employees carry out way too many responsibilities– the famous demand for people who can “wear many hats”. Most times, recruiters who don’t fully understand the education required for some technical skills and the amount of time they can take are at fault, but companies do take advantage of skilled people to do the work of four for the salary of one.
If the job responsibilities are vague, contradictory, or just too many, steer clear: at best, these people have no idea what they’re doing. At worst, they will have foolish demands from you, like asking you to do customer support even though you’re a dev, or run after the uninformed, nonsensical whims of higher management. And, since they have no idea about what you can actually do with your skillset, you will be given misguided or impossible objectives and then be chewed out when, predictably, these don’t work out.
Signs of Hustle Culture
We’ve all seen job postings asking for ‘high energy individuals’, people who have drive, highly motivated professionals who will go the extra mile to help the company achieve its objectives… but be wary of the language used. It’s one thing to have an energetic environment, and another to stick to the outdated hustle culture and demand workers burn out and clash with each other for bonuses in a toxic, survivalist workplace. Take extreme care if you see oddly competitive language, or demands for high motivation in exchange for a measly salary.
Ambiguously ‘Flexible’ Hours
In the last few years, due to the extreme changes we’ve had to go through with the way we work, job postings have gotten creative when it comes to schedules and workload– it’s not rare to find a surge of remote and hybrid jobs, flexible schedules for teams all around the world, and other shenanigans that, yes, maybe will let you sleep in every day, but can also be pitfalls.
Be careful and double check: many companies throw the word ‘remote’ around without actually having the intention of ever letting you work remotely. But, most importantly, keep a watchful eye over any posting that advertises extremely flexible or customizable hours; ask how the workload and the time-tracking are managed, and inform yourself about alternative work modalities.
Urgently Hiring for a Non Urgent Job
Let’s be honest here: conditions have to really align in a special way for a company to need a UX/UI Designer or Data Engineer urgently, desperately, right-the-heck-now. Even if their technical setup is in shambles, asking for the spot to be filled ASAP won’t improve their situation quickly. So why would a tech job include the word ‘urgent’ in the posting?
Read between the lines: oftentimes, this is code for a high turnover rate, which means people are leaving the company one after the other. And this only happens for bad reasons, like terrible working conditions, unclear expectations set from the side of the company, or straight up burnout. The flag is as red as it gets.
Okay, these are not bad per se. Tech buzzwords became so for a reason: investors listen to trends and try to invest on them, so companies follow suit. However, a job posting that just throws around a bunch of words like ‘web3’, ‘scalability’, ‘Agile’, or ‘cloud-native’, without the job being actually related to all of those, or without some actual, serious, clear job description behind them, that’s a reason for concern. An unclear or long and winding description of a company’s identity and objectives, especially if it leads nowhere (and tells you nothing), is very much a sign that they shouldn’t be trusted. Louder for the people in the back: these people don’t know what they’re doing.
“Rapidly shifting priorities”
This is one of those that might be okay in context. Some businesses really are dependent on markets or frameworks that can turn everything upside down from one week to the next; for example, a company that depends on Google or Meta software or policies might have to change everything when, as they tend to do, these companies pull last-minute changes that impact millions with very little warning.
Being adaptable and tolerant with rapidly shifting priorities is also commonly requested for roles in Customer Support. However, if your work is closer to big, collaborative development projects, an environment or management that tends to make sudden changes can be catastrophic (and extremely stressful!).
Uncertain Onboarding Process
If they can't tell you what your first months are gonna be like, that’s not a great look. Even for roles that are newly created within the company, objectives and responsibilities should always, always –read that again–, always be crystal clear. Even more so if someone held this position before!
You’ve probably seen a company that calls itself a startup, or claims to have a ‘startup culture’, even though they’re several years old, have many employees, and seem to be settled in their niche. This is, more often than not, telling you “We’ve grown enough to be an adult company, but we don’t have established processes yet”. Not having a clear, well aligned onboarding process is a thing that can happen in startups, but never in large, settled companies; and even startups ought to have a one-size-fits-all process to acquaint new employees with the company.
Odd Workplace Culture Descriptions, or Lack Thereof
Along with the job description, it should be commonplace for companies to disclose not just the salary, but also all of the other benefits, and information about their workplace culture, too. To culturally fit with the company is vital to do well and be happy in your job. If there’s no details whatsoever, either on their posting or their website, of what the workplace culture is like (or if there’s empty platitudes and keywords, but nothing that sounds specific), this might be a sign that the workplace culture is terrible here… or that there’s none, at all. Not good.
Specifying benefits and additional conditions can also be a telling sign of complete disregard for employees’ needs, or for their demands for a healthy work-life balance. Even worse if they just say, very excitedly, that they have a foosball table. No mention of parental leave, but hey, office beers every Friday!
Other Red Flags to Watch For
In tech, job searching can take a little time. Searching for several months is expected, and hiring processes can last as long as a full month. But this experience looking for jobs and sending out resumes pays off: soon enough, you’ll have a good grip on what red flags you should be watching for. Some, like the ones listed above, are blatant hints that a company doesn’t have a good grip on their scope or hiring process. Some others can mean very different things depending on context, and it’s up to you to weigh all the pros and cons and decide whether this looks like a healthy fit for you.
While you learn to recognize the signs and nuances of the secrets hidden between the lines of job postings, remember it’s not always a guessing game! Websites like Glassdoor work towards workplace transparency, and you can find honest (and sometimes scathing!) reviews from ex-employees and interviewees. Remember to also watch for red flags during the interview process, like the ones we talked about in this post.
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