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Job Description Red Flags & How to Spot Them

job description red flags

Spotting job description red flags is an art form worth honing. One study found that 72% of workers felt surprise or regret that the position they had just started was very different from what they were led to believe.

But what if you could clue in on job description red flags even before the interview stage? What if spotting these headscratchers prompts you to ask the right questions during the hiring process?

Most job descriptions follow a specific structure providing essential information about the position. You can expect to find a job title, qualifications/requirements, responsibilities, information about the company or culture, and compensation (or at least a spattering of the benefits offered). But what’s said between the lines can offer the most telling insights.

Pick Up on the Clues

Your first read of the job description should be a quick overview to gauge compatibility. You’ll want to pick on specific keywords and use those same terms in your cover letter and resume. Pay special attention to keywords mentioned at the top of each section and ideas that seem to be used repeatedly throughout the job description. Those keywords can help you determine your best fit. They can also be the keys to spotting job description red flags.

In particular, watch for the following clues suggested by the Muse:

  • Subtle indicators of potential challenges or pitfalls. For instance, terms like “fast-paced environment,” “high capacity,” “handles stress well,” or “works well under pressure” could be euphemisms for a high-stress work environment with long hours and heavy workloads.
  • Quirky or cute job titles like “content wizard” or “copywriting guru.” This language may suggest that the organization lacks a clear understanding of the role’s depth and responsibilities or that you might be expected to perform tasks usually assigned to multiple positions.
  • Vague or excessively long listings can be job description red flags. For instance, if a role emphasizes that you’ll “wear many hats” without specifying what those hats are, it could indicate a lack of clarity about the position’s responsibilities.
  • An unusually wide salary range, which could be a sign that the employer has not clearly defined the role’s value or what they expect from the person who fills it. (The lack of a salary altogether, however, may not be the red flag you think it is. In states like Texas, pay transparency isn’t generally required, and employers may have valid reasons not to include it.)
  • Vague schedule expectations. A job description that is unclear about work hours can be a warning sign of a lack of boundaries, which can quickly lead to a toxic work environment. Pair this clue with phrases emphasizing speed and urgency, such as “fast-paced environment” or “high capacity,” and you might be facing an employer who thrives on unrealistic workloads or a high-stress environment.


Here’s a critical point: You don’t need to back away from a job entirely just because you noticed job description red flags. There could be any number of explanations. For instance, it could be that the job description was written by an inexperienced or disconnected HR representative or recruiter, and it doesn’t reflect the values of the job or the team.

Instead, note the clues that make you uneasy and:

  • Do some digging online and in your network. Glassdoor and Austin-based JobSage are great places to find online ratings and reviews to confirm or quell your suspicions. You might also scour your LinkedIn network for people with connections to the company and ask them about the job description red flags you’ve uncovered. Find additional tips in our post How to Spot a Bad Employer.
  • Turn those question marks into actual questions during the interview process. Employers expect interested job seekers to have a few questions, and job seekers, in return, often stress about what those questions should be. This is a win-win opportunity. Think of constructive, good-natured ways to address the job description red flags you’ve unearthed. For example, you could say, “I noticed in the job description that you want the person in this role to be a ‘selfless leader’ and that your culture involves ‘doing whatever it takes to make clients happy.’ Can you explain more? How do you hope those attributes present themselves during the course of a workday?” The BBC offers additional tips here.

By turning job description red flags into valuable opportunities to dig deeper, you might dodge some nightmare-job bullets, but you might also surprisingly uncover your perfect fit. The task is even easier if you’re working with a reputable recruiter. Make them part of your detective team and bring those red flags to their attention first.