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4 Red Flags in Job Descriptions That Should Make You Think Twice

Those alarm bells are a-ringin’

Woman holding her finger up the camera
Photo courtesy of Francisco De Legarreta C.

It’s no secret that when recruiters initially review an applicant’s resume, they do a quick, 6-second scan to determine if the application is going in the “for consideration” pile—the selected few they’ll review thoroughly and potentially advance to the screening portion of the recruiting process. 

As a recruiter, I can safely say we are experts when it comes to honing in on what makes an applicant right for a role. We look at their name, location, education, job title, differentiating credentials (professional certifications, licenses, security clearance, GPA), and/or keywords or skills that are prominent in an effort to see how closely that person mirrors the desired and required qualifications as outlined in the job description.  

Read more: How to Use Resume Buzzwords the Right Way

With best intentions and in an effort to “make the initial cut,” job seekers tend to weigh the attractiveness of their resumes heavier than the other parts of their job search. They put a great deal of energy and consideration into following resume tips for tailoring and crafting an eye-catching resume that has the best chances of getting them in front of the hiring team. 

While this approach has served job seekers well for quite some time, job descriptions can be utilized for more than resume creation and tailoring and, when used to their full potential, can help you maximize and streamline your job search. 

One such missed opportunity is that of spotting a job’s or a company’s red flags—whether you’ll wear too many hats, feel excluded, etc. I spoke to an expert in writing job descriptions, Katrina Kibben, CEO at Three Ears Media, to identify common job description red flags that job seekers should be looking out for when searching for the next role.

Common red flags found in job descriptions

1. There’s an abundance of default business language

Job descriptions containing a lot of passive, vague language like “highly collaborative team player” or that look like a “jacked up puzzle” have likely been copied and pasted from various other roles. They should not compel you to click apply. According to Kibben, organizations that take this route aren’t 100 percent sure what they’re looking for. So, in an attempt to mask the uncertainty, they pull in language from their internal compensation documents, outdated position descriptions, and buzzwords and adjectives for added flare. Thank you, next.

2. The job description is lengthy

A long job posting that looks like 1,000 other job postings is another common red flag that should be on a job seeker’s radar, as the main reason posts are too long is because organizations don’t know what’s most important. “Basically, they are filling in blanks,” Kibben says. They get in their mind that a proper job description should have a minimum word count, 500 words, for example. So, in an effort to meet this goal, what job seekers get is a laundry list of “nice to haves” to take up space. Similar to a resume that should highlight your work history and be the trailer that makes you want to see the movie, the job description serves to provide an introduction to the role so job seekers can walk away and say “yes, I want to do this job” or “no, I don’t.”

3. It oversells the company’s perks

Job seekers aren’t the only ones who are guilty of trying to differentiate themselves on paper. Kibben says some organizations seek a competitive advantage by selling their perks before the job. They cautions job seekers to question roles that are saturated with health and wellness benefits, non-salary-based compensation, and describe the work environment as more play and socialization than work.

4. Years of experience are prioritized over qualifications and skills

We talk a great deal about how to recognize gender, age, and racial bias in job descriptions, and each are important considerations and possible indicators of the bias that exists in the organization. Kibben says one more universal and sometimes under-prioritized type of bias that is less obvious in job descriptions is “years of experience” for two main reasons:

  1. There are positions, such as DEI, that didn’t exist years ago;

  2. And, underrepresented groups didn’t and still don’t occupy certain roles at significant levels.

Requiring a finite, minimum number of experience for certain roles excludes talent who would otherwise be qualified. Kibben explains that you could have two people with the same job title who have the same number of years of experience, and because they work for different organizations, their skills could be very different. Consider requiring X years of experience to be a red flag that the company is hiring based on outdated, exclusionary language—in recent research, Kibben’s organization found “years of experience” has been used for a century—and not based on your actual qualifications.

About our sources

Katrina Kibben is the founder and CEO of Three Ears Media, a firm dedicated to teaching recruiters to be better communicators and writers. For most of Kibben’s career, they has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand the real issues and find solutions. Today, they uses their technical marketing know-how and way with words to help both established and emerging brands develop and deliver creative, strategic recruitment marketing that makes the right people apply. Katrina has also spoken at events around the world and written for Fortune, The Chicago Tribune, and many other digital publications.

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