Job seekers know to stay away from bad employers and toxic work cultures, but how will you know when you’ve stumbled upon a nightmare workplace? Unfortunately, no job description will tell you how awful the company is, even if you read between the lines, so what’s the solution?
Why Workplaces Aren’t What We Expect
61% of employees say they found aspects of a new job were different than the expectations set in the interview, according to Glassdoor. Employees noted that morale, job responsibilities, hours expected to work, and the boss’s personality differ the most from initial expectations.
While employers are often the culprits of mismatched expectations, the onus is on job seekers to protect themselves. It’s unlikely that all employers are going to be 100% honest with their candidates, use social media sites to attract employees, or offer competitive benefits packages.
Sometimes you’ll need to wait until the interview stage to get a feel for a company. Other times, the truth is hiding in plain sight. Either way, there are ways you can decode a workplace.
How to Find a Workplace With an Incredible Company Culture
There’s no way around it: you’ll have to play detective if you want to be successful on your next job hunt. Here are some clear signs a company will be a good fit, or if they’re a total miss.
Research Your Future Employer and Company
You should always do your own research ahead of time, starting with the company’s website.
When reading their blog posts, “About Me” section, and company mission statement, try to assess their tone. Are they casual or professional? Does the mission statement match up with how they present themselves? Do they offer competitive benefits, wages, or remote work?
On their social media pages, do you notice a consistent brand identity? How do they respond to negative criticism? How do their clients or customers preserve their brand as an outsider?
While researching a company’s brand is essential, always take what they say with a grain of salt. They’re going to put their best foot forward on their website, so you need to dig deeper.
Employer review websites like JobSage and Glassdoor can give candidates an inside look at what’s really going on in the company. However, it still pays to contact a past employee directly to see what they thought about the organization. Reviews can’t tell you everything.
Take a Close Look at the Job Description
Grab a magnifying glass and pay close attention to the words your future employer uses in their job descriptions. For example, a job may emphasize flexibility, but they probably aren’t talking about flexible hours or a work-life balance. They’re probably referring to adaptability.
As a rule of thumb, assume that the employer means something other than the word used unless explicitly stated. Don’t assume “flexibility” also means they offer remote work, either.
Here are some other red flags to look for in a traditional job description:
- Vague Descriptions: If the employer can’t create a straightforward job description, there’s no way they’ll be able to give clear instructions as a manager.
- Harmful Buzz Words: Phrases like “competitive wages,” “passionate,” and “fast-paced environment” likely mean your boss will underpay you and overwork you.
- Wide Wage/Experience Range: If an employer uses wide ranges (1-5 years of experience, $40,000-$120,000), they’re guaranteed to favor the lower end of the range.
- Too Many Requirements: Are there hundreds of requirements for a job description? That indicates the employer doesn’t know what they want or how to find a candidate.
- One-Sided Job Listing: A job listing should cover what the employer expects from you and what they’ll give you in return. If it’s all about them, their culture is sub-par.
Once done, run the job description through a gender bias decoder. If the description favors men, then they likely receive a lower response rate from females. This could indicate a cultural bias.
Pay Attention to Interview Responses
If alarm bells weren’t ringing before, but you left the interview with a bad feeling or nagging doubts about the employer, you may have noticed a red flag. Some red flags are more obvious, like being late for the interview without an explanation, but what about the other signals?
There’s no one way to reveal an interview red flag with questions alone, but their responses will typically tell you what you need to know. Here are some examples you shouldn’t ignore:
Lack of Accurate Job Description
This red flag may have been found during the last step, but if it wasn’t, ask about the job responsibilities in the role. If they can’t answer, they may need to fill this role quickly.
Valid Questions = Vague Answers
If you’re asking valid questions like, “who do I report to if I have a problem?” and the hiring manager doesn’t know how to respond or gives a vague answer, they’re likely disorganized.
Work Descriptions are Neutral
Ask what the hiring manager likes about the company. If they spend time looking for an answer, they might be dissatisfied with their role. This could signal a bad workplace culture.
High Employee Turnover Rate
If employees are running out the door, this company may not offer adequate compensation, benefits packages, or growth. At the very least, it’s a sign of poor morale and a toxic culture.
Lateness or Unpreparedness
There’s nothing worse than preparing for an interview only to find the hiring manager hasn’t even read your resume. The recruiter should ask relevant questions that assess your fit.
You Have a General Bad Feeling
We often distrust our gut, but you should never ignore it. If you get a bad vibe, see unhappy employees, or witness aloof or dismissive managers, that’s your sign to run for the hills.
The Interviewer Isn’t Engaged
Hiring managers have to read through hundreds of resumes, but they should still care that you’re here. If their body language is aggressive or defensive, they’re probably checked out.