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Real-life Clues the Job’s a Nightmare

To honor Halloween, we bring you chilling tales of near misses when it comes dodging a nightmare job. Some of these tips are just plain common sense but, at the moment, they can be hard to spot. Before you say yes to that next job offer, stop and consider these clues. Is the employer sending you signs that should have you running for the hills?

  1. They cancel repeatedly or don’t show up. Listen, things happen. But just as an employer would expect you to arrive at an interview on time—or at least have the courtesy to notify them if something happens—you should expect the same treatment in return. One of our recruiters recalls arriving at a job interview to find the doors locked and no one there. That’s a huge red flag. If it happens once and the interviewer apologizes for forgetting or running late, you might cut them some slack. But if it seems to be a pattern of behavior, stop and consider how frustrating it might be to work in that environment.
  2. They ask inappropriate (maybe even illegal) questions. One colleague of ours recalls during an interview for a summer internship being asked if she and her boyfriend were living together. The interviewer explained that the organization was a nonprofit that worked with children and felt the question was justified because the organization “had certain standards to maintain.” Yikes. This is one of those questions that dances on the line of being illegally inappropriate. Before your next interview, refresh yourself on the types of questions that are not OK. Certain ones—like asking about salary history—are currently only illegal in a few states and jurisdictions. But even if the question is legal, if it gives you bad vibes, consider the possible motivation behind it.
  3. The company seems great, but your potential boss seems awful. You’ve likely heard the saying, “People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.” For the most part, it’s true. There are plenty of great jobs out there marred only by frighteningly bad managers. Early in the interview process, it’s important to identify the organizational structure and who among those interviewing you will be your direct manager. Then observe that person accordingly. This Fast Company article points out some valuable clues that your potential boss is a jerk, an ego-maniac, or suffers from other issues that will prevent you from loving your job. One of our recruiters recalls such a clue when an executive assistant position she interviewed for was described by the hiring executive as being their “work wife.” No thanks.
  4. They lack integrity. This example is as much a warning about working with terrible staffing agencies as much as staying away from awful employers. One of our recruiters once worked through a staffing agency to fill a position she felt she was very qualified for, but they opted to go with a different candidate.  The headhunter at the time knew it was a bad hire and called six weeks later with an interesting offer. The candidate was awful at his job, so they wanted to hire her to work FOR the individual to fix his messes (without the title, money or authority).  “I had to say no to that one,” she laughs. “But the headhunter didn’t want to tell the company that I was turning down the job, so he gave me the manager’s name at the company that wanted to hire me, and I had to call the company directly and decline the offer. That was a weird one all around.” Life’s too short to work for an employer—or a staffing agency—that doesn’t have a backbone.

Have you ever narrowly escaped a nightmare job? Or did you take a job that—in hindsight—should have scared you off? Some jobs are just too good to be true. When that happens, there may be clues that only the savviest job seekers will pick up on.

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