5 red flags to look out for in job adverts

Home 5 red flags to look out for in job adverts
29 Mar 2021
For job-seekers
Job adverts are designed to sound appealing, luring you into hitting that 'Apply now' button without stopping to think what the clever wording or casual jargon might be trying to hide. Many of us are guilty of skimming job adverts and descriptions - we tend to check the main things like title, salary, location and the 'essential' requirements, keen to get our applications in ahead of the competition. But this will only lead to disappointment down the line, either when the organisation or recruitment agency rejects your application for not being a good fit, or when you end up in a role that wasn't what you felt you had been sold.
To avoid either of these outcomes, you need to read the full advert and then between the lines, making sure you attention to the subtle clues that really tell you what they're looking for (and what it might be like to work there). 
Here are five of the biggest red flags.
1. Unlawful discrimination
This is the most obvious one and most of us will sit up straighter if we read something blatantly discriminatory, but it can be quite subtle too. Simply put, it is unlawful for an employer or recruitment agency to discriminate against anyone in their hiring materials or process based on nine protected characteristics (sex, race, religion/beliefs, disability, age, pregnancy/maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation and gender reassignment). If you see an advert overtly stating a preference for a woman (sex discrimination), or someone 'athletic' (disability discrimination) or 'young' (age discrimination) then run for the hills! (A quick note here: there are a few exceptions to the rules, of course, and some positions may call for candidates of a particular characteristic - for example, a female care assistant or support worker. However, unless there is a genuine occupational requirement, an employer should always avoid expressing a preference within these protected characteristics.)
2. Vague job descriptions
Okay, let's move on to the more subtle red flags, starting with the overall wording and coherency of the advert and description. It should be pretty clear what they are looking for and what they can offer you as an employer - but more than that, it should be specific. If a potential employer can't succinctly summarise what your job would be, then how might they operate as your manager? A lack of focus and structure in the job advert and description suggests they haven't given the content enough thought, they don't really know what they want, or it's a direct reflection of what it might be like to work there. Whichever way, it's not good for you. Vague adverts can also be a sign of scamming - making the requirements broad and unspecified (for example, just saying the applicant needs internet access and eligibility to work in the UK) easily qualifies a large group of people whose data is then captured and exploited.
3. Poor spelling, grammar and wording
Employers will often reject applications based on poor spelling and grammar - well, it goes both ways! The accuracy of an advert and job description is a direct reflection on the employer's brand and is essentially part of their marketing collateral. There's really no excuse for poor spelling, grammar and sentence construction in business materials and any company who doesn't show this courtesy to its recruitment collateral is communicating something about its professionalism. It's worth adding a quick note on buzzwords here - of course the employer wants a ‘highly organised team player‘ who can ‘work on their own initiative‘ and possesses ‘a high level of attention to detail‘. Who doesn’t? But in reality, all this type of content shows in an advert is that the company is actually unclear on what it wants.
 4. One-sided marketing
Ideally, a job description should be a two-way street, offering not just a laundry list of what the company needs, but also how the role and company stand to benefit you. A few pieces of information to look out for include a stated (and competitive) salary, a list of genuine benefits and the company’s mission and values. A well-written advert and job description should leave you in no doubt that this is a company in which you can develop, progress and be appreciated.
5. Hints of poor work/life balance
Cleverly-disguised references to a company’s poor work/life balance are rife in job descriptions - for example, it’s common for a description to list 'flexibility' as a required trait, but "if flexibility is over-emphasised through repeated references to qualities like ‘able to change directions quickly,’ ‘able to work independently immediately’ or ‘agile’ or ‘nimble’, it may be a sign of chaos in the workplace,” says Amy Gardner, Certified Career and Career Transitions Coach. Another red flag phrase? “Must be willing to wear multiple hats” or “must be able to handle highly stressful environments.” These can be indicators that the company is short-staffed and doesn’t value the work/life blend. They might also be signs of lazy writing (see our note on buzzwords in number 3) - if they're using these kinds of phrases as filler content, that's a warning in its own right.

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