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.