“Do you thrive in a fast-paced environment?”
Job descriptions or role profiles tend to start with some form of this kind of question/statement. If you’ve spent any time reading job descriptions or applying for jobs you probably already know what this kind of question/statement means … but what are more common red flags in a job description you should look for, and what do they mean?
- “Fast-paced environment.” This can be a genuine alert to the nature of a start-up or early-days business where everyone needs to be able, and willing, to get stuck into tasks that may not naturally be thought of as part of the list of responsibilities you would expect to perform, but it is also used to describe a business where there is a lot of pressure to meet deadlines and where it’s employees are expected to work long hours on a regular basis.
- “Must be able to handle stress.” As above, this statement is another way of saying that the job will be demanding and that employees will be under a sustained level of pressure.
- “Vague job duties.” If the job description doesn’t clearly outline the specific responsibilities of the role, it’s a sign that the business doesn’t really know what they’re looking for. This could lead to a lot of confusion and ambiguity about what the job actually entails.
- “Must be a self-starter.” Often used to describe a workplace where employees are expected to work independently and without a lot of guidance – this can be a good thing for some, but it can also be a sign that the company doesn’t have a strong support system in place.
- “Flexible hours.” This statement can be a red flag if it’s used to describe a workplace where employees are expected to be available 24/7. This can lead to burnout and can make it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Needless to say, not all of these red-flag statements are necessarily bad, or actually mean the same thing between different roles or businesses. For example, a fast-paced environment can be a good thing for people who look for and thrive on excitement and challenge. Similarly, citing flexible hours can be a genuine attempt to show there is a company culture where individual employees are able to work around personal responsibilities (school run, medical appointments, caring duties, etc) and the individual is given the time and respect to handle this in a supported environment.
However, it’s important to be aware of these statements in advance so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not a particular job is right for you.
Here are some additional tips for spotting red flags in job descriptions:
- Pay attention to the tone of the job description. Does it sound positive and enthusiastic, or does it sound negative and demanding?
- Read between the lines. What are the business’s values and priorities? What are they looking for, from you?
- Do your research. Read reviews from current and former employees. If you know anyone who works or has worked there, reach out and ask them for their (confidential) thoughts.