Guest Post: When NOT to Take the Job — Recognizing 10 Red Flags

Unemployed. It’s a word that is used a lot these days. But unless you’ve worn this label (even counting on those meager unemployment assistance checks to keep your lights on and some food in your fridge), it’s difficult to know what it truly feels like to realize that with each passing day, you’re sinking a little bit further into the hole. You begin to question everything — your career choice, your skill set; even your sanity.

Having weathered the storm a few times over my own career, I can absolutely relate to every uncertainty and fear that keeps the unemployed awake at night. On two occasions I’ve accepted a job the way someone lost in the desert pounces on a miracle waterhole, only to regret jumping too soon. To avoid making the same mistake again, I have developed a list of red flags to look for when evaluating job offers. Incredulous as it may seem, there are times when it’s best to walk away from an offer, even though your finances are in shambles.

There are those who say you should take whatever is offered, claiming that, “Any job will do.” To some extent, that’s true. Unemployment is not an option if you’re fresh out of college — you just need to work someplace. If you can’t get a job in your field of study, then go look for something even remotely related. If that doesn’t pan out, flip burgers, stock shelves, be a receptionist — anything legit to earn money. Still, it’s a good idea to evaluate any job opportunity against this list because no one wants to be out on the street looking again only a few months later.

10 Red Flags to Watch for When Evaluating a Job Offer

  1. No defined budget. If the job requires you to spend money to accomplish your goals, then you need a clear understanding of the budget you’ll be given to meet those goals. If they can’t give you even an approximate budget, then they probably have no clue as to what it takes to do the work, and you’ll spend too much time arguing for money that you never receive.

  2. A confusing reporting structure. Do you report to more than one person, like a “dotted line” reporting structure? Is your position funded from one department (like sales) but you’re in marketing? If so, make sure you know which one calls the shots and is the one you escalate problems to; otherwise, you’ll be caught in the middle of managerial turf wars.

  3. Bad fit to your strengths. It may sound corny, but you need to get some joy out of what you do. Notice I didn’t say ‘love’ what you do. No one gets a 4-year degree only to end up folding sweaters at a department store, but it’s a clean, safe job and you can put up with it for the time being. I’m talking about jobs that require you to be so far out of your comfort zone that you have to talk yourself into going to work every day. The stress from a job you dread can make you physically ill; this is no better than being unemployed and in some cases, it’s worse.

    This is a fine line. I’m not advocating turning down every job offer you receive just because you don’t LOVE the work, the people, the pay, etc. Dream jobs are very rare indeed. You know your strengths and fears. If selling petrifies you, don’t take a sales job praying that you can learn to like it.

  4. Long trail of bodies. Find out what happened to your predecessor — how long they held the position, how their work was regarded, and why they left. Be very wary if you would be the next in line after four or five failed attempts by the company to fill your role in a short period of time.

  5. Fuzzy or non-existent evaluation plan. You need to know how you’ll be evaluated in the job so that you can determine if it’s right for you. A good question to ask is, “What are the criteria for success in this position?” If they can’t give you a quantifiable answer, head for the door.

  6. Hidden team members. If they won’t let you speak with at least one of your potential team-mates in a one-on-one conversation, it should make you wonder about overall team morale.

  7. Salary extremes. Know the industry average for the job, accounting for location and experience level, and be wary if your offer is a lot less (is the company about to falter?) or a lot more (they may not be telling you everything that the job entails).

  8. Incomplete compensation plans. If your total compensation package involves a “bonus” that you must attain each month or quarter, then your offer should clearly state how you achieve that bonus, whether it’s work output, dollar sales, customer ratings or whatever. If they’re “still working on the details” of the bonus comp plan, tell them you’ll wait until it’s finished before giving an answer.

  9. Major schedule disrupters. If you’ve got outside commitments — family, kids, whatever — think carefully before committing to a job that will play havoc with your routine. Extremely long commutes, heavy travel or regular evening and weekend work sometimes come with an otherwise excellent job offer. Discuss the impact with the critical people in your life and determine which tasks will now be done by someone else and if anything non-essential has to be eliminated. If this proves to be impossible, seriously consider walking away from the offer.

  10. Pressure to accept right away. Always ask for a day or two to think over a job offer. If they are reluctant to give you the time and start pressuring for an answer right away, give them one — “No, thank you.”

With very few exceptions, I personally consider any one of these to be deal-breakers. But you know yourself better than anyone; you could very well learn to accept or even change some flags that others find impassable. Timing is also a factor — you might have been able to deal with some of these a year ago but not now. Be brutally honest with yourself and with any job offer you receive, and don’t be afraid to pass on any “red-flagged” offers.

Senior executive Anita Brady is the President of They are a leading resource for high quality customizable items like business cards, letterhead and other materials for small businesses and solo practitioners.