The job search process is an emotional rollercoaster. One second you’re up, the next you’re down, and the next you’re wondering why you ever got on this ride. But one thing that can make it a bit easier is knowing what’s normal (the coaster is supposed to go upside down) and what’s not (however the seat belts aren’t supposed to un-hook mid-ride).
While each step can be different based on the organization, there are some common yet-somewhat-frustrating milestones you’ll experience. It’s important to know the difference between those and the actual red flags that you shouldn’t take the job.
After leading a team of recruiters at a multi-billion dollar organization and helping over 14,000 executive clients make successful career changes at Career Attraction, I can share what’s normal—albeit annoying—and what should be considered a warning sign.
Frustrating, But Normal: Vague Job Descriptions
When you’re applying online, you’ll come across vague descriptions, and while annoying, it’s totally par for the course. Many times, they’re written by recruiters or HR and not necessarily the person who’ll be managing the role directly.
That means the big reasons why a job’s being created or filled may not be represented (which is why you’ll see “other duties as necessary”). So note that you’ll want to dig into this in the interview and find out exactly what a typical week would look like.
(And while on smaller teams, it’s typical for people to roll up their sleeves and help others out, be careful that it’s not simply code for less desirable responsibilities.)
Not Normal: No Job Description
It’s a red flag if an employer refuses to share information about a job until you submit an application. This could show that they have no idea what the role will entail—or that the tasks are so unappealing they think you won’t apply if you find out the details.
Frustrating, But Normal: Waiting to Hear Back
Unfortunately, it is normal to not hear back for a couple weeks or to receive a form email response after you apply. Many companies use applicant tracking systems to automate their communication and manage the volume. Recruiters also work on filling several jobs at once and they aren’t able to review applications every day for every job.
Not Normal: Feeling Like You’re Driving Each Step
Yes, it’s good practice to send follow-up emails and be proactive. However, you shouldn’t feel like the only time you hear anything is in response to your outreach. If you’re told candidates will be contacted about interviews by a certain day, and after that time has passed, you have to follow up and ask—and then this continues throughout the process—it suggests the company’s highly disorganized or you’re not a top choice.
Frustrating, But Normal: Being Asked Your Salary Expectations Early On
When you have a phone screen, recruiters are focused on answering this question: “Are you qualified and capable of performing this job well?” So, it’s standard for them to focus on your resume and job-related experience. They also have the responsibility to make sure your salary expectations are in line with the role and the budget for the position (so prepare an answer to: “What are you currently making?”).
Not Normal: Being Told You Must Name a Number to Move Forward
It’s a big red flag if the recruiter’s using salary alone as a screening mechanism. It’s not standard for them to talk money right away and refuse to go any further with the interview until the candidate reveals a number.
Frustrating, But Normal: Feeling Unsure Where You Stand
It’s ultimately the hiring manager who’ll decide if you’ll come in for an interview. So don’t take as a bad sign if the recruiter doesn’t have any updates for you. This can be frustrating when you’re eager to know where you stand, but ultimately you’re not going to get a lot of transparency from a recruiter because it’s not their choice.
Not Normal: Getting Mixed Messages
Yes, different parties are involved, and yes it’s great to feel a recruiter believes in you. But it’s not OK for him or her to tell you that you’re a shoo-in, and then for you to later learn the hiring manager isn’t interested. This suggests there’s poor communication at the company.
Frustrating, But Normal: Multiple Interviews
Once you reach the in-person interview stage, it’s typical to have multiple interviews with people across different departments and levels in the organization. This will not only help you get slightly differing perspectives about what the job will entail, but also help the company ensure you’re the best fit.
Not Normal: Having the Same Interview Over and Over
If an organization brings you in again and again, they should be able to outline the precise goal and reason for each interview. (For example, if they want you to present for someone specific.) However, if you’re being brought in multiple times to meet with the same people and answer the same questions, it could mean the company can’t make a decision and isn’t respectful of your time.
Frustrating, But Normal: A Day-Long Interview to Quickly Advance the Process
Just like some companies have multiple interviews over an extended period of time, others have a streamlined, single-day process. Yes, it can be draining, but it’s normal to meet with every important party back-to-back. Often it comes down to a desire to fill the position quickly or scheduling preferences of the people involved in the process.
Not Normal: Being Told You’d Need to Start ASAP
Yes, some interview processes move quickly, but you shouldn’t be told an offer’s contingent on your starting within the next day or two. If the hiring manager’s desperate to fill the job and wants you start immediately, it’s a bad sign. That’s because no employer should want you to leave another role without putting in two weeks notice. This shows that they’re in too much chaos to respect professional standards.
Frustrating, But Normal: Not Receiving an Offer at the End of The Interview
The offer should typically come after the last in-person interview. This can take up to a week to get internal approvals, so don’t panic if it’s been a few days.
Not Normal: Waiting Weeks After the Final Interview for an Offer
There are several things applicants think they just have to accept at this stage of the process, but you actually don’t. First an offer shouldn’t take several weeks after your final interview. This could mean the company is highly bureaucratic and there are multiple approvals required before an offer is extended. If you enjoy a fast-paced work environment, then you may want to think twice before accepting an offer when you see this warning sign.
Frustrating, But Normal: Being Ghosted
As incredibly unfair as it seems, “ghosting” can be normal as well. Sometimes, cutting off all communication with candidates who won’t be receiving an offer is company policy.
Not Normal: Being Ghosted and Seeing Your Work’s Been Taken
On occasion, applicants may make suggestions as an answer to an interview question or as part of a take-home assignments, get ghosted, and then see their suggestions taken by the company. That is not normal. (Good news though: This means you dodged a bullet because this is unethical and indicative of a pretty cutthroat environment.)
Frustrating, But Normal: Tough Negotiations
Yes, in an ideal world, the company would offer a competitive salary right off the bat. But often, the employer will start with a low figure. This is totally normal, as they expect you to negotiate and therefore need to start at a lower number.
It’s also normal to be asked repeatedly to throw out the first number so that they can gauge where to begin these conversations.
Not Normal: Being Intimidated Into Taking a Low Salary
It’s outside the norm for a company to completely refuse to negotiate. While many organizations have budgets and salary bands, there’s usually still room for a conversation about the details and other non-monetary perks.
If the organization’s stance is “you’re lucky to have this job, and if you don’t take it we have plenty of others who will” then that’s a bad sign!
It’s worthwhile to know what to expect, but at the end of the day, make sure you listen to yourself when something doesn’t feel right. Many times we tend to rationalize warning signs because we’re eager to start a new job. This mindset can lead to poor decisions and you may end up in a job you’re unhappy with. You’ve worked way too hard to let that happen.