We’ve all seen job descriptions that include it: “We’re like one big family here!”
For some time now, that’s a phrase that’s struck me as a particularly vibrant red flag. Mostly, it’s because, 10 out of 10 times, it’s a lie. Your company is not your family, and employers that like to position themselves as such generally do so with a couple, likely subconscious, motivations in mind.
“We’re like a family” in job descriptions could be code for: “We have poor work-life boundaries and will expect a lot of access to you.” And it also could be code for: “Because we believe in emphasizing the interpersonal aspect of working, it’s okay that our pay and benefits aren’t really up to snuff. This isn’t a transactional working environment, after all! It’s a family!”
Accuse me of reading into things, but it’s phrasing I’ve learned to grow wary of. And it’s certainly not the only toxic phrase seen in job descriptions today that could be sending job seekers the wrong message.
Below, we heard from experts about 13 other common toxic phrases that have no business being in your company’s job descriptions.
1. “Unlimited earning potential”
“This exaggeration is usually seen as a red flag by many job seekers, as it can come off as surreal or shallow,” Paw Vej, Recruitment Manager at Financer.com, said. “The best way to indicate anything related to earnings is by being realistic. Mention specific ways they can earn more with the job, like through commission.”
2. “Fast-paced environment”
“You might think that this indicates an ‘exciting’ workplace, but to some, it may seem like an alarm,” Vej said. “A fast-paced environment can mean that the organization is understaffed and so the employees do everything and they do it fast. It can indicate a stressful environment where the company expects too much from their employees with too little time.”
3. “Competitive pay”
“If your pay was competitive and a selling point for working for your organization, then you would be willing to share it as part of the description,” Ceasarae Galvan, a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion professional, said. “This is most often found in job descriptions that pay much less than the industry standard and they do not want their job listing to be compared to others.”
4. “We get in the trenches”
The translation, as Lauren LeMunyan, a career coach, put it: “You will work long hours with sometimes abusive behavior from our clients and colleagues because we don’t establish healthy boundaries or scopes of services.”
5. “We’re looking for a self-starter who can make this position their own.”
“Translation: We don’t really have a job description, but the last person who worked here quit before we had a documented process. Essentially, you’re going to need to figure it out because we don’t have a clue,” LeMunyan said.
6. “Rock star”
Essentially, this comes off as: “You’ll be expected to do way more than your job description and like it, otherwise risk being labeled a pariah,” Dragos Badea, CEO at Yarooms, explained. “It’s particularly pervasive in hiring for tech positions by hiring teams that are not tech savvy in the least.”
7. “Requires the ability to multitask”
“Multitasking is a fancy way of saying that the company needs one person to perform three different jobs, which should not be the case,” Chris Lewandowski, President of Princess Dental Staffing, said. “After all, science has proven that the most successful people delegate and do not multitask.”
8. “Degree required”
“Without a doubt, education can be a leverage for many applicants. However, there may be candidates with more unconventional training that are more qualified for the role,” Lewandowski said. “It’s best to write ‘degree preferred’ instead.”
9. “Conflicting or competing timelines”
“It implies you’ll get a workload that’s nearly impossible for one person to do. This will also translate to getting last-minute ‘urgent’ requests,” Rahul Bhargava of PurpleCrest Management said. “Not only will you have to meet unrealistic deadlines and workload expectations, but you will have to sacrifice any semblance of a work-life balance to accomplish it.”
10. “We’re looking for someone who can wear many hats”
“When a business includes the term ‘wears many hats’ somewhere in the job description, proceed with caution,” Samuel Devyver, CEO of EasyLlama, said. “The phrase communicates that the candidate will be expected to do the work of many for the salary of one… You shouldn’t be expected to do more than one role in any given business, and a great leader will design roles that don’t overwhelm each teammate.”
11. “You’re a leader”
Jobs that require candidates to be “leaders,” despite not actually offering a leadership position, are red flags, according to Joe Coletta, CEO of 180 Engineering. “Some companies try to use employees as makeshift leaders in lieu of hiring an actual manager to do the job,” he said. “When job listings hint that this may be the case, candidates today know to steer clear. If a job requires that someone is a leader, that employee should then be compensated and addressed as such.”
12. “We’re looking for a business savvy powerhouse”
“Phrases like these are too vague and make you look like you have no clear idea of what you really need,” Leslie Radka, a hiring manager with GreatPeopleSearch, said. “You might even come across as a toxic person who will start demanding more of employees and expect them to be a jack of all trades. Instead, give a clear straight on description of what you are looking for.”
13. “Works well under pressure”
“This phrase encourages stress,” Steven Vigilante, Head of New Business Development for OLIPOP, said. “While pressure can be a good thing for some people, it can also create an unhealthy environment that leaves employees feeling like they have to solve an ‘emergency’ on a daily basis.”
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