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How to Spot Bad Employers

Bad Employers

Bad employers can lurk in plain sight. So how can you spot them before it’s too late? Sometimes the signs are obvious and, other times, it’s more subjective: perhaps it’s a particular manager, team, or division that deserves the bad rap, but the employer has a great reputation. On rare occasions, you may not be able to spot bad employers until you experience them for yourself. Thankfully, though, most cases come with giant red flags. Consider the following steps to seek them out.

Ways To Research Online

Believe it or not, a basic internet search of the company’s name is a great way to start. When you do this, look for two main things:

  1. Internet presence. These days, consider a complete lack of a website or social media presence as a red flag. Even a company without a website should have some sort of online footprint. Early in the pandemic, we reported an uptick in job scams. Unfortunately, scammers are still out there (they’ll never fully go away). Take the clues you’re given on the company and/or the recruiter who reached out to you and search them up to confirm they are who or what they say they are.
  2. News and “chatter.” Besides the company’s own internet presence, what else pops up when you search their name online? Have they made the news recently? Do they pop up in Reddit threads or BBB complaints? The larger the company, the more mixed the news will be, so take it all with a grain of salt (also, be sure you’re referencing the correct company and not a similar-sounding one).

Next, check out your LinkedIn and see if you have any first or second connections to the company. If you do, consider sending each contact a message asking if they could tell you more about the company’s culture and work environment. LinkedIn offers tips on how to do that here.

Then, dig in further with employee reviews. Glassdoor is the best known among these sites, but there’s a local resource, too. JobSage, an Austin-based employer review platform, was designed to help job seekers cut to the truth of a potential employer’s culture without needing to create an account on the site first.

“For job seekers who don’t have friends at a company, it’s hard to truly know what that company’s work culture might be beyond what recruiters and hiring managers are ‘selling’ you,” Kelli Mason, JobSage’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), told us. “Particularly in tech, we see this affecting women, people of color, and older job seekers most.”

JobSage places diversity at its core and gives candidates access to clearer insight into five important metrics of employee engagement: inclusion, purpose, growth, flexibility, and feedback as judged anonymously by the company’s own employees. “This transparency empowers candidates to make more informed decisions, which is better for their career. It also helps employers, who will reduce new hire churn and improve engagement by hiring more informed candidates,” Mason adds.

Questions to Ask During the Interview

Once you get to the interview stage, you can start asking questions and picking up on verbal and non-verbal clues about the employer.

“I advise job seekers to get comfortable asking difficult questions,” Mason told us. “For example, ask the hiring team questions like ‘What is the average tenure for employees on this team?’ or ‘What is the turnover rate at the company?’ Then, be mindful of how you evaluate their response. If they admit to high turnover, do they brush it off or share steps they’re taking to remedy it? Bad employers will blame turnover on the departed employees, while better employers will identify and want to correct the issue.”

Our HT Group recruiters list additional questions to ask here, including “Why is this position open?” and perhaps even “With all due respect, why should I work for you?” If you don’t have a good feel for the company culture, be sure to ask the interviewer to explain it to you in their own words.

And be sure to find out who you’ll be working with. “In specific job functions—certainly software development and sales—your team dynamic can make or break your success at the job. That’s why meet-the-team interviews are typical in the final stages of the interview process. If the hiring process proceeds without this critical component, ask about it,” we advise.  

How To Follow Your Gut

“It just didn’t feel right.” We’ve heard many unhappy employees say those words about bad employers. Following a gut feeling may seem a bit “woo-woo” but there are scientifically backed reasons that it works. One study, in fact, concluded that the higher up in management a person is, the more they tend to rely on intuition to make decisions. The study’s author concluded that “intuition is neither irrational nor the opposite of logic. Rather it is a quicker and more automatic process that plumbs the many deep resources of experience and knowledge that people have gathered over the course of their lives.”

Some of these gut reactions include a sense of foreboding, a feeling that you’re merely settling for the job, or a need to talk yourself into taking the job. Dig deeper and these gut feelings are usually rooted in red flags sent by your subconscious. We listed some in this previous blog post. They include the employer, recruiter or interviewer:

  • Repeatedly canceling or not showing up to interviews.
  • Asking inappropriate questions.
  • A sense that the employees are miserable or that your manager will be awful despite the company culture overall seeming great.
  • Signs that the company or your future manager or teammates lack integrity.

What If You Miss the Clues?

Let’s say you glossed over this advice or read it too late. You’ve received the job offer or have even started the job but now realize it’s not a match. What do you do? Don’t panic. It happens. Check for your scenario below for specific tips:

Some companies you may consider bad employers are considered great by others, they’re just not a match for you. Others are bad employers all-around. In either case, it’s critical to do your research, learn how to spot the signs, and listen to your gut so that you waste no time finding your best fit. It’s also useful to align with a trustworthy recruiter who can help.