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How to identify a bad employer early on-All the red flags you shouldn’t ignore

Ever been in one of those terrible relationships where you wake up one morning and you ask yourself “How did I end up here?! Why did I ignore all the red flags?” I know of new employees who’ve left jobs just under a month since they started and others who don’t stay long enough to even get to the end of their first week. Well, a new job & employer could launch you into a great career or a terrible depression in equal measure. Just like with friendships & personal relationships. And if we’re honest with ourselves, there are ways you can escape a terrible deal before it even starts or gets worse. So let’s dive in and maybe save you some heartache shall we?

Bad reviews online and offline

Yes, there are people who leave relationships bitter and hurt and will post negative comments about you online or offline out of pure revenge. But it would serve you well to go through as many reviews as possible on review sites like Glassdoor and social media, talk to former employees of the company you’re looking to join, and even use your networks to find out more about what you’re getting yourself into. The more reviews you get, the better the picture. This is because experiences are subjective and can be biased.

The hiring process

We mentioned many times on this blog about the importance of a good candidate experience to the overall success of the hiring process. And as a potential new hire, you can use recruitment to find out more about the employer. Have a list of questions ready and research topics based on the things that matter to you. Be specific in your questioning and remember you have as much bargaining power on the table and that is why you were shortlisted. Also be keen on the interviewing process as well. It can help shed light on many things. Use it to probe deeper beyond hype words and get past common recruiter lies. This also includes judging their communication and negotiation style and language throughout the process until the offer is agreed upon. I’ve got a close female friend who was offered a job and rejected it outrightly during the interview because the interviewer was sexist. I also turned down an offer at a large bank after I asked the panel of 5 interviewers “why should I work here” and none of them could immediately give me a straight answer that seemed genuine.

First impressions matter

The silent treatment

After lies, be wary of HR teams who rush to quickly sweep things under the carpet or completely ignore an issue. This could be around questions, recommendations, legal, salary & performance topics. For instance, if your boss keeps telling you ‘we shall revisit’ every time you bring up your salary review(which you’d agreed to table for discussion after probation) or completely ignore the topic altogether every time you bring it up. Another type is those who will sweep these issues under the rag so as few employees know about the discrepancies or tribulations as possible. Words like “pick your battles” or “We have more urgent matters at the moment” “Let’s discuss this later or privately” are very common when an employee expresses discomfort about an issue. How people make you feel is a true tell about whether or not that issue was resolved for you. Remember the taste a conversation leaves in your mouth and don’t dismiss the feeling quickly. A good employer will be keen on openness and transparency from the very beginning.

A good employer will go out of their way to impress you.

Maya Angelou — ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

The Job Ad says it all

Ever read a job ad that sucked you right in? From the company to the job description, a job ad can serve as a great tell about what you’re signing up for. Because recruitment is a sales play and great salespeople would do everything to convince you about the opportunity at hand. Read more about that here and be sure to tell yourself that you deserve to be courted with flowers and chocolates until you say yes. And the ad is the first touchpoint you shouldn’t ignore as a candidate. If the company can’t invest proper time and effort to put up a good convincing ad, they will most likely not have time for other HR-related functions like career development or training. The best companies & business leaders believe strongly that the company is only as good as its people and invest heavily in their hiring.

Future promises

Always aim to have all conditions of employment indicated explicitly in your offer letter or contract. If the HR team makes any promises regarding changing certain terms as your conditions for accepting the offer, have them written down on paper or email. Do not just trust word of mouth and be wary of any recruiter or company who will seem to dilly dally or arm-twist you if you try to be specific about the details. Any job promises such as promotion, review of salary, or any such terms should be made SMART before you accept the offer. One startup founder took me in circles for over 2 months with multiple conversations on WhatsApp(!!!!) and dinner once yet wasn’t forthcoming when I kept insisting on a formal offer letter on email listing benefits and role profile. Suffice to say, that relationship died before it started during the courting phase.

Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

Site visit

More and more companies have welcomed the idea of providing site visits for potential hires to meet current staff and get a better feel of the company. Companies like Ernest Young are known to do this even for graduate trainees where they organize meet & greets and you can meet people in different departments and make a more informed choice. Others opt to use modern tech including videos, virtual reality, and gamification to achieve this.

I’ve done this myself on companies too. For instance, I once decided not to join a major Tech company after attending a Design Meetup at their offices. I simply didn’t like what I saw or heard and knew that day that they wouldn’t be a fit for me culturally.

Figure out how to learn more about a company by visiting the actual premises. You could do this through a friend, online, scheduled events or at the interview stages.

Bad national press

They say bad press is good press. However, when it comes to seeing your dream company on the news media for all the wrong reasons, you should definitely mark it as a big red flag. Whether it's corruption, harassment, corporate espionage, or sexual allegations, these are all big scandals that are most usually true and should get your spidey senses up.

The on-boarding

Think of this as your first date. You expect the other person to put in the effort and work, dress up nicely and show proper mannerisms. First impressions matter and stick. Onboarding is one of the key ‘Moments that matter’ in the employee journey experience. Most people even years later recall the interview and first week at a new company. If you get bad vibes about the role, team, and company during the onboarding process, be wary about everything else. For more on this, read our latest article.

First 30,60,90 days technique

In the same way, your first 3 months serve as a critical source of information for a new joiner. If you noticed something aloof during the first week or onboarding, it’s easy to convince yourself that it was just a one-off thing or incident. However, if some negative things keep going on a month to three later, there’s high likelihood that you’re experiencing the true nature & soul of the company and team. Veil off and honeymoon phase over, don’t dismiss your feelings around things like bad leadership, diversity, culture, values or systems. These will most likely not change as you may hope early on as you start your new job. It’s also easy for friends and family to dismiss your feelings with some common advice like “be grateful you have a job or it takes time to change things.” It’s easier to leave a toxic relationship as soon as possible rather than later when the exit becomes too complicated. You can use our exit checklist to track your experience or value against the aspects of your job that you deem important, perceived versus reality, as you go along the months.

Your gut instinct

How many times have you ignored your gut instinct only to regret it later? Your conscience and spirit will always guide or warn you. Trust your intuition. It’s almost always right.

It’s also easy to be in a toxic relationship and keep making excuses for others or lie to ourselves that things will get better with time. Push yourself to admit the realities of what is in front of you and staying true to your values, purpose, goals, needs, personality, truth, and shunning anything else that takes the light away from your eyes and the smile off your face. And the start of that and all happiness is by knowing thyself first. Stay true to yourself.

As Seth Godin says in his book Linchpin- “If you need to conceal your true nature to get in the door, understand that you’ll probably have to conceal your true nature to keep that job. This is the one & only decision you get to make. You get to choose.”

Still looking for more. Check out Four Job Offer Red Flags. Congrats! You nabbed an interview — or… | by Elizabeth Jerow | Medium (




Jobonics is a blog centred on all things HR, Recruiting and HR Tech.

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Stella Ngugi

Stella Ngugi

HR Generalist| Founder @JobonicsHR | Where HR, Tech& Entrepreneurship meet| Eat. Pray. Code. Blog. Hire | 🇰🇪 IVisit for more info.

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