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6 Red Flags to Avoid When Applying to Engineering Jobs

Much like hiring managers seem to instantly know which resumes aren’t making the cut, you’ll save a lot of time if you know what to avoid when applying for tech jobs. For example, engineers actively mock job descriptions with the phrase “We’re looking for a rock star” in combination with “who is willing to work for sweat equity to produce an MVP (minimum viable product).” These terms raise an immediate red flag.

Why? While there’s nothing wrong with working for equity if you are so inclined, this kind of position description lets you know that the manager is inexperienced and lacks humility—because he’s basically saying he wants you to work really hard, but you may never get paid. So, it’s a good bet that he places little value on the engineers who might someday help him build his dream product—which makes it unlikely his vision will ever come to fruition.

But startups trying to produce an MVP aren’t the only places you can find red flags when looking for a job as a software engineer. Here are six things to watch out for when you’re applying to your next job in engineering.

1. Lack of Technical Understanding Throughout the Organization

In a tech-driven company, the engineering team shouldn’t be the only people who can give you an overview of the company’s technology. While it’s unrealistic to expect that every person in the organization can explain the entire stack to you, most of the people you speak with during the job interview process should have a basic understanding of what’s going on.

If you encounter several employees who are clueless about what it is that the engineers do—especially if these people are in higher level roles—this might be a red flag that the company isn’t educating its employees and may lack respect for the technology it relies on.

2. History of High Turnover

History is bound to repeat itself—especially when it comes to turnover in an organization. High turnover may indicate bad management, a lack of vision, or impossibly high expectations. No matter the reason, high turnover is a definite red flag for engineers (and really, most job seekers).

Before you commit to work somewhere, try to get a sense of how long the team has been around. Ask how many people have filtered in and out over the past two years. The answer can tell you a lot about employee satisfaction, as well as if the company has recently shifted directions.

3. On-Call Expectation

Unless you want to work all the time—or you’re just desperate for a job—don’t pursue an opportunity that has a 24-hour “on-call” expectation. Even if the hiring manager swears it won’t happen more than once or twice a month, you’re opening yourself up to unnecessary potential abuse.

Remember, good employers that need engineers ready around the clock will hire shift workers, but bad employers will take advantage of (and burn out) anyone they can get their hands on.

4. Unrealistic Timelines

During your interview, you should expect to discuss the projects that you will be tackling in your first few months with the company. While you’re learning more about the scope of work, inquire about projected timelines.

The thing is—it’s a bit of trick question. The best organizations will work with the engineers to develop these timelines, and they won’t put hard dates on items that are too far out. If you’re given rigid, unrealistic deadlines, you’ll probably want to steer clear of the position.

5. Lack of Opportunities for Growth

To stay relevant, an engineer must continue learning new skills. If a job doesn’t offer any clear paths to growth, it’s unlikely to keep you engaged very long—and it’s probably not very good for your career. So, you’ll want to watch for signs that the company is too rigid to try new ideas brought forth by the engineering team.

How can you spot this? Ask about opportunities to move up in the organization, as well as for examples of other engineers who’ve recently been promoted. If you sense an unwillingness to promote from within, you may want to think twice before accepting the job.

6. A Sense of Crisis

Decisions made under duress are rarely good ones. If the hiring process is expedited because you get a sense that the company is in a tailspin and needs an engineer ASAP to stay afloat, don’t plan on working there long.

Well-managed companies have a clear sense of vision, and they approach hiring from a measured sense of need rather than out of desperation.

Finding a job as an engineer may seem easy because technical talent is in such high demand, but finding the right job can be much more of a challenge. Be aware that even good companies can have poorly managed departments, so do your homework, and make an effort to watch out for these red flags.

Photo of red flag courtesy of Shutterstock.