5 Ways to Avoid Falling for the Wrong Company

When looking for a job, there’s sometimes a shining moment when the seemingly perfect job shows up in your search. The pay is right, the title is great, and the responsibilities are right up your alley. But you must not ignore the red flags for fear of butterflies getting you excited about potential opportunity. 

But is the company itself the right fit for you? Here are 5 ways to avoid letting a “dream” company put you through hell.

Believe Patterns, Not Promises (Or Apologies)

One of my favorite sayings is, “One fact is worth a thousand promises.” What you know for sure should outweigh any promises about the future–because those aren’t real. So when you’re dealing with a company, keep your eyes open. Patterns like consistent lateness, not returning emails, not answering direct questions or speaking poorly of previous employees can indicate that a company isn’t going to be a doll to work for.

An don’t fall for the apology trick either. If a company keeps misbehaving (like not updating you on the process after you’ve interviewed) but keeps offering apologies instead, walk away. “Sorry” isn’t going to pay the bills. Watch out for actual behavior, and don’t rely on promises that the future will be different. Pro tip: it won’t.

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Don’t Fall in Love with Potential

“But if they decide to let me work from home, it could be awesome! And in a year I might be able to run my own team! And it’s possible that…”

Stop. Like promises, potential is something that isn’t real. It’s a vision of something that “might” happen. You need to be focused on what’s actually on the table. If the hiring manager says something like, “We can’t make you a manger now, but we can in about one quarter,” then ask for your individual contributory pay now to equal what you will be making as a manager. If they’re unwilling to negotiate on this vector, it’s possible (though not guaranteed) that the line to manager-hood is more out of reach than you think.

When evaluating a job at any company, look at what is real: the location today (not in six months). The benefits package and pay now. The title you are being offered. Anything can happen in the future. Don’t bank on it.

Believe Red Flags

If you’ve researched the company on Glassdoor and your gut tells you to run–run. Other red flags include a mass exodus of employees (high turnover, unless the position is retail or food service or some other industry with naturally high turnover), unwillingness to negotiate, inability to get in touch with the hiring manager once you’ve been interviewed, and job descriptions that don’t align with the salary or responsibilities that are standard for the industry. If something seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

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Know Your Worth

Companies are not looking out for you. They’re protecting their own bottom line. So if you expect fair pay for your labor, you have to ask for it. Take a realistic look at your skill set and years of experience and then research what a person like you and in your city (that’s a big factor) should be making. Then you can determine from there what you should ask for.

And you need to ask for it. Because it only gets harder as you progress through your career to make big jumps in salary. If you don’t ask for the dollars now, you’re setting your own value low, and your next employer will try to take advantage of that. I once had a manager tell me, “Taking a job offer is like buying a house. You make all your money up front; the profit depends on your starting point.”

He’s right: if you’re counting on getting a raise to bring you up to where you should be, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Ask for the right amount of money now to avoid being taken advantage of later.

Don’t Lower Your Standards

Looking for a job can be soul crushing. And it can be really tempting to just take anything that falls into your lap. But keep in mind that you spend more time at work with your coworkers than you do at home with your family. You are dedicating your brain space to your employer for eight hours a day. So make sure it’s worth it. Make sure you evaluate all the factors that contribute to your happiness.

Is your manager a kind person? Does the work satisfy you? Is the pay appropriate? Is there a path toward advancement? Figure out what’s important to you and don’t let go of those values. Keep searching until you find a job you can live with. It’s out there.