How to Spot a Dead-End Job

If you’re one of the 6.8 million Americans looking for a job right now, you might be finding some great potential career upgrades. Maybe you just graduated college or recently obtained a professional certificate, or maybe you’re just overdue for a change. In any case, there are seemingly endless opportunities with new businesses opening up and companies expanding their workforce, not to mention the extra help needed for the holidays.

So how do you know if you’ve landed an interview for your dream job or just another dead-end position at an organization that you’ll end up leaving in a few months?

It’s often hard to recognize the signs (especially if you’ve got your heart set on a particular position or company), but I assure you that they are out there. Here are some key items to look out for:

1. Photos/Articles/Websites reflect only the company owner or top management

As you research the companies you apply for, be sure to pay close attention to the “About Us” section of the website. We oftentimes overlook what websites are really telling us about the company. For example, if the “About Us” section is simply a timeline of the company owner’s accomplishments, it’s safe to assume that no matter how many people the company employs, it’s never going to be more than a one-man show.  Another key indicator is if the “Team” section of the website only shows the owner/executives. This could indicate that either the company can’t hold onto any other employees to feature on the website, or that the company doesn’t value the “lower-level employees.” If an organization doesn’t want to feature the backbone of their business (yes, the employees!), you can probably assume that you won’t be of much value to them.

Secondly, pay close attention to the marketing materials the company uses. Do individuals have business cards with their names on them, or are they generic “Sales Department” or “Help Desk” cards? Again, not listing individual’s names could indicate that employees do not stay long at the company, or that the company doesn’t value their employees enough to purchase individual business cards.

Look at articles, brochures, and other print materials as well. Do the brochures feature employees or the services/products they offer, or is it a picture of the company owner? Do articles featuring the business talk about the fantastic customer service or how employees pull together to make the business successful, or is it a story about the business owner and his family? These things are often overlooked, but subtle clues like these can help you identify if you are working for a company that truly values their employees or not.

2. Empty offices or poor décor

When you do snag that interview and go in to tour the office, pay close attention to your surroundings. Peek through open doors and windows as you walk down the hallway. Take note of the décor, colors, and cleanliness. What do you see? Empty offices, multiple “storage rooms,” plain walls, dust and cobwebs… all these things are very clear signs of a company you will not want to be a part of.

Unless the company is just starting up or has recently relocated, there is no positive side to empty rooms/offices or lack of furnishings. The empty offices usually indicate that the company has a hard time holding onto employees. Poor (or no) décor shows a lack of investment in employees. Research has shown that employees are happier and more productive when they feel comfortable in their environment. Empty walls, lack of personality in colors and décor, and uncleanliness shows the company’s lack of interest in keeping their employees comfortable.

3. False advertising in the job announcement

Employers have many tactics to entice quality candidates to their job openings. You’ll see talk about vacation time, excellent insurance benefits, 401K, casual Fridays, game rooms, massage chairs, etc. The key is to make sure the things being advertised are actually being offered. The last thing you want to do is accept a job thinking you’ll have amazing benefits only to find out that these items were highly exaggerated.

Reach out to current or former employees (try LinkedIn) or look up company reviews (Glassdoor and Indeed are useful tools) to be sure that the benefits are actually being offered. If you get as far as the interview, take a look around to see if there is actually a game room or massage chairs or whatever other perk the company is advertising. Last, but not least, ask about the benefits during the interview! Don’t be afraid to get clarification or proof that the perks are a reality. And if you find that the business was less-than-honest about the actual benefits being offered, well, you probably don’t want to waste your time.

4. The company is constantly hiring

It’s perfectly normal to hire based on company growth and customer demand, but it’s a whole other story when a company is constantly hiring because they cannot hold onto quality employees. So pay attention to the job announcements listed on a company’s website, job boards, etc. If you apply to a position and receive an automated rejection letter only to see the same opening posted six weeks later, there’s a strong possibility that the company actually hired a candidate, lost them, and posted the announcement again in attempts to find a replacement.

High turnover is indicative of many things – poor management, low wages, unengaging work, hostile working environment, and especially low morale. When turnover is high, you can expect longer hours, stressful situations, disgruntled employees – all of which will make your life more miserable. So if you see that a company is constantly hiring (and especially for key positions), just don’t do it.

All in all, there are many opportunities in the working world right now, but not all of them are worth accepting. Be sure to do your research and look for indications of what the company is really like before taking on a new role. The last thing you want to do is jump from one bad job to another.

There are “dream jobs” out there, but you won’t find them by idly accepting anything that comes your way. Spend some time truly understanding the culture, benefits, and values of the company and steer clear of those which only seek to fill a vacant chair.


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