Job search red flags

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During a job search, the interview, or after being hired, you might see red flags -- warning signs that something is wrong. They could mean that the company is not such a great place to work, or that the job is not as advertised.

1 Job search: Initial red flags

During the job search, some warning signs may appear in the job announcement itself, or when you look online for information about the company and workplace. Red flags may include the following.

  • The job description is vague about the specific job duties. Especially at a smaller or newer company, this could mean you will be asked to do anything and everything. 
  • The job is described as challenging, goal-oriented, or in a number of ways that try to hide or gloss over the lack of work/life balance. It may be a demanding, stressful job where you work over 60 or 80 hours a week, and have no life outside the company. 
  • The job description seems demanding, or it seems like you will have to work a lot of overtime.
  • Vague job descriptions or qualifications
  • The qualifications required seem unreasonable for an entry-level or junior-level position. 
  • A “bait and switch” - the actual job duties are not consistent with what is advertised. 
  • The pay or salary offer (when they offer you a job) seems unusually high. It could be because they want very smart, talented people for very demanding jobs with no work/life balance, and they will work you like a slave. 
  • The company has a high turnover rate - many employees come and go. 
  • A low-ball salary offer - that is, they offer you a job with a salary that is much too low.  

1.1 The interview 

Unprofessional interview questions, or even how the interview is arranged, can indicate problems with the workplace.

  • The interviewers seem rude, aggressive, unprofessional, unprepared, or incompetent; or when the interviewers seem to have disagreements or very different goals. 
  • The way interviews are arranged seem hasty, sudden, or unprofessional (e.g., “Say, can you come in for an interview today?”) 
  • The interviewers do not tell you necessary information about the job, or are not willing to answer your questions about the job.
  • While some application and interview procedures might include an assignment or a short project, if you are required to do a project / assignment that involves a lot of work, that can be a red flag - especially if you are producing some contents for the company that they might use. 

You can also check reviews of companies and workplaces on job websites. In North America, look for sites like, or maybe, for reviews of companies. In Korea, look for sites like JobKorea, 사람인 or 블라인드. 

2 Inappropriate questions 

Inappropriate questions can indicate an undesirable workplace, and could include items like the following.

  • Questions or comments about physical appearance, weight, age, health issues, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race / ethnicity, politics, family, marital status, your children 
  • Gender-biased questions 
  • Overly personal questions that are not relevant to the job, e.g., about family plans (like plans for having children), personal beliefs, marriage plans, your relationships (with friends, family, spouse, etc.), personal plans, your private life, lifestyle, or anything else that is not relevant. 
  • Questions about your specific salary at your current or previous job 
  • Questions designed to shame or criticize you 
  • Questions about how willing you are to work overtime 
  • Questions about your personal or educational background that are not relevant to the job or your qualifications 

Ways to respond might include: 

  • Politely refuse to answer the questions, stating that it is not relevant, or overly personal. 
  • Provide vague answers. 
  • Realize right there that you probably don’t want to work for these people, and you don’t have to put up with their nonsense. 
  • Respond with sarcasm or criticism (especially since you don’t want to work there).
  • Walk out of the interview. Seriously. You can do this politely. Or not so politely, if you wish. 
  • Do not accept a job there if they offer you a job. 

3 Red flags on the job

Congratulations, you have just been hired, and have started your new job. But is everything alright at your new workplace?  Some red flags could include…

  • Too much overtime, especially unpaid overtime; no work/life balance 
  • Inadequate training for the new job
  • Inadequate equipment or facilities
  • Toxic work environment; e.g., coworkers or supervisors seem rude, even toxic; rude behavior as accepted. 
  • Workplace bullying or harassment (by supervisors or coworkers) 
  • Coworkers seem unhappy, unmotivated or tired 
  • A gossip culture 
  • Poor management or poor interaction between workers and management
  • The company or management seem to lack direction
  • Supervisors  or coworkers who micromanage, control, manipulate, or criticize you 
  • Dictatorial bosses  
  • A supervisor who seems incompetent, or selfish, or who is merely interested in himself/herself and his/her own career advancement 
  • Supervisors or management do not clearly communicate or provide sufficient direction or guidance, e.g., about your assignments, how your performance is evaluated, the purpose of work projects, company goals and vision, etc. 
  • Others take credit for your ideas or accomplishments  
  • Job roles and duties seem unclear; maybe you are asked to do anything and everything  
  • No opportunities for you to grow and advance in the workplace  
  • A workplace culture that tolerates disrespect, harassment, dishonesty, or other unhealthy or bad behavior 
  • Excessive 회식 culture, especially with excessive drinking and/or where inappropriate behavior is tolerated 
  • Your concerns are dismissed. “That’s just the company culture here.” 
  • Management does not take your concerns seriously when you bring up problems 

What should you do if you find yourself in such an environment? Really, there’s no reason to put your mental and physical health at risk by “toughing it out” and staying there. There’s no reason to tie your self-identity or self-esteem to a job, even if it’s a prestigious job or company. At a larger company, you might be able to complain to the human resources or personnel department, but they may not do anything unless someone is doing something that specifically violates company policy. 

4 Inappropriate behavior

Imagine a coworker makes remarks that are offensive, sexist, or racist. Can a person get out of an offensive remark by saying such things?

  • “I was joking.”
  • “I was being sarcastic.“
  • “You misinterpreted what I said.”
  • “I was simply expressing my interest in you."
  • "I was just showing you that I like you.”) 

If you are on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior, or if you see it happening to someone else, it is necessary to respond in a timely manner, and not to "brush it off", lest the offender get away with his behavir. Possible responses include:

  • If possible, respond directly to the offender, either immediately, or later in private, to inform him that it is inappropriate. 
  • If you see another person being mistreated, provide support, solidarity or comfort to the victim. Confront the aggressor and tell him that it is inappropriate. 
  • Notify a supervisor or manager. If it is serious enough, also report it to the police.
  • As much as possible, gather evidence so that you can report it to the company or to the police. 
  • One strategy might be to make the person “explain” the supposed joke. “I’m sorry - I didn’t get the joke. Please explain it to me.” “Sorry, I’m a bit naive - you’ll have to explain the joke to me.” “Sorry, but I don’t see why that’s funny - please explain it - why is it funny?”  Being put on the spot and forced to explain an inappropriate comment might help the person see the problem - or at least it can shame him by showing others that he’s an idiot. 
  • In cases of sexual harassment, the offender is no longer playing by normal rules of social interaction, but by more non-scial rules of dominance. Feel free to act by asserting your dominance if possible, e.g., by replying assertively, sarcastically, or even aggressively.  
  • At a larger company, you should be able to complain to the human resources (HR) or personnel department. Hopefully, they will talk to the offender or take action. They should intervene, especially if it is serious, e.g., if it violates the law, violates company policy, or can be proven to negatively affect company performance. We tend to think that such departments exist to protect employees, but they also exist to protect the company, e.g., to protect the company from legal trouble or lawsuits. Thus, keep in mind that some HR departments may not do anything unless they consider it serious – that is, unless it violates company policy or is illegal. 
  • File a complaint with your labor union (if you belong to one), or with an appropriate government agency.
  • If the company tolerates such behavior and does nothing, plan your exit. Make plans to leave the job, and start looking for a better job. 

5 See also

  1. STAR model for challenging interview questions
  2. Job interview question types