Let’s face it: Many of us are guilty of being job description skimmers. Once we see a title that we’re interested in, scan a few of the qualifications and check out the salary, we often want to apply as quickly as possible to get ahead of the competition.
But doing so will only set you up for disappointment down the line. Either recruiters will ignore your application because you’re not truly a fit, or worse — you’ll end up at a job that’s not right for you.
To avoid that hassle, it’s best to look out for subtle clues ahead of time. Fortunately, they can often be identified right from the very beginning within job descriptions themselves — here are a few key indicators to be mindful of.
1. Vague Job Descriptions
Job descriptions should always give job seekers a specific idea of what the role involves and what background and skills are required, so that job seekers can determine whether they are well-suited for the position.
“If the potential employer can't describe what a job entails, how will they operate as a manager? A vague job description should be a major red flag for job seekers, as it suggests an unfocused employer and a job that will lack structured goals,” says Daniel Shoch, recruiter at RippleMatch.
Nebulous job requirements may also signal that the opportunity is a scam.
“Scammers will list job requirements that are simple and easily qualify a large group of people. The requirements may be as simple as being 18 years old, a citizen and having internet access,” without listing prerequisite years of experience or levels of education, explains Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer of BeenVerified.
2. Too Many Requirements
While job seekers should be wary of insufficient requirements, they should also keep an eye out for job descriptions with too many requirements.
“Job descriptions with TONS of basic qualifications indicate that the employer truly has no clue what they are seeking, or what it actually takes to get the job done,” says Jennifer Tardy, founder of Jennifer Tardy Consulting, LLC.
This will either make it near-impossible to get through the screening process, or challenging to meet expectations if hired.
3. One-Sided Job Listings
Ideally, job descriptions should be a two-way street, describing not just a laundry list of what the company needs, but also how the role and company stand to benefit you.
“If the job spec only talks about what they expect from you and nothing about what they can offer in return, this is a definite red flag for a poor company culture that won’t invest in you and your development,” says Karly May Green, HR Manager at Builtvisible. “A good job description should offer a balance of both and leave you in no doubt that this is a company in which you can grow, develop and be appreciated.”
A few pieces of company information to look out for in particular include mentions of competitive salaries, generous benefits and/or the company’s mission and values.
4. Mentions of Outlandish “Earning Potential”
The old saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” definitely applies to job listings, especially when companies mention “earning potential” instead of a concrete salary.
“Job descriptions that state an ‘earning potential’ of a wide range (i.e., $45,000-$200,000) are jobs to STAY AWAY FROM. This almost always means that it's commission-based, and you’d expect to make the lower end of this range, but they want to entice applicants by putting six figures as a possibility on the listing,” explains Val Streif of Pramp, a mock interview platform for job-seeking engineers, software developers and product managers. “Much like a multi-level marketing scheme, very few (if any at all) of the people in this position are earning the top potential. Most make the lesser number.”
“Commission-based jobs aren't always a bad thing, but it's something to be wary of when you first start” — especially if they exaggerate your likely commission, Streif adds.
5. Indicators of Poor Work-Life Balance
Cleverly-disguised references to a company's poor work-life balance are rampant in job descriptions — for example, “it’s common for a job description to list flexibility as a helpful trait, but if flexibility is over-emphasized in a description 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 M. Gardner, Certified Career and Career Transitions Coach with Apochromatik.
Another sketchy 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 work/life blend,” says Kyle Elliott, founder and career coach behind CaffeinatedKyle.com.
Moral of the story? Pay close attention to those job descriptions. You don't have to thoroughly inspect every single job post with the right title, but if there's a position you're seriously considering applying to, it's well worth taking the time to read the description through in its entirety. Remember: A few minutes of extra effort today could pay off in spades down the road.