You’ve finally graduated, and now it’s time to do the thing that motivated you to get a degree in the first place — start your career. When you’re offered your first job, it can be tempting to take it without a second thought, especially if you’ve already sent out too many applications to count. You’ve got bills to pay and student debt knocking on your door — we don’t blame you! But accepting the first offer you get isn’t always the right decision. Especially considering women start off making 90 cents for every dollar a man earns in the same job, which leads to a larger and larger pay gap over time — and that just sucks.
When you’re new to the job market, it can be hard to know what to look out for when accepting a job. To help you figure out how to earn what you deserve and find an employer that will treat you right, HelloGiggles spoke with Piyush Patel, corporate culture expert and author of Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work, on signs that you shouldn’t accept that first job offer.
1The company has unusual reviews.
Most of us won’t purchase a pair of socks without reading reviews, and you shouldn’t take a job without researching your potential new workplace either. But just like Amazon reviews can be faked, so too can the reviews on job sites like Glassdoor and Indeed.
“Proceed with caution if you see a series of consistently negative reviews followed by a volley of five-star reviews that can’t identify a single fault with the company,” said Patel, adding that those positive reviews are most likely written by someone at the company in an attempt to cover up bad reviews.
Take a close look at those negative reviews, too. While a few former disgruntled employees can be expected, Patel warns of consistent themes. If multiple reviewers complain about mismanagement or untrustworthy leadership, that’s something you should take note of for the interview. You should also be looking at whether the reviews consistently come from brand new employees, because that could be a concerning sign of high turnover.
Don’t let strange reviews prevent you from going in for an interview, but do keep them at the back of your mind. Be prepared to ask questions about anything that concerns you — especially because your instincts are probably correct.
2Its core values are unclear.
Once you’re in the office for your interview, be prepared to ask questions and observe the office around you. A job interview should be a time for you to learn about the company as much as it is a chance for your potential employer to meet you.
Pay attention to how your interviewers answer your questions. Do they know the company’s core values? Do they even have core values? Companies that support a positive work-life environment will.
3They give negative or vague answers.
As you’re asking your interviewer questions — especially those about work-life balance, team dynamics, and leadership — pay attention to the tone of their answers. They’ll give you clues about the office culture. “For example, if they tend to bad-mouth certain individuals or teams, that shows a clear lack of trust and respect in the organization,” said Patel. Not wanting to answer can be a bad sign, too, because according to Patel, that leaves room for you to wonder about what they’re hiding.
4The team is disconnected.
Find out how often the team spends time together, advises Patel. A team that goes out for happy hour or attends each other’s weddings indicates the quality of the relationships between coworkers. A company that keeps things professional isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but consider what sort of environment you want to spend 40+ hours a week in.
You can also get a sense of the team’s relationship by observing the dynamics of the interviewers. Watch for genuine and friendly rapport, or whether they stay serious and reserved, for a window into the behavior of the rest of the company. And if you do have a chance to see other people in the office, watch how they interact while working and walking around.
“Shooting someone a quick smile takes zero effort, and if people in the company won’t even bother with that level of engagement, that’s probably not a good sign,” said Patel.
5You see sad desk lunches.
If you happen to end up in the office around lunchtime, sneak a peek at your possible future coworkers. If people are eating at their desks, or if you notice that many people are still working, it could mean they don’t have time to take a break. This may be because they’re being overworked or because of the leader’s values — but either way, it’s a red flag. It could be a sign that the job will quickly leave you burned out.
6The offer letter is surprising (in a bad way).
After the interview is over, there are still opportunities to check signs you shouldn’t take the job. If you impress the interviewer and end up with an offer letter, read it carefully.
“If the offer letter details a lower salary or benefits than you originally agreed to, it could be a deliberate tactic to see if you’ll agree to work for less money,” warned Patel. If this happens to you, don’t ignore it. Let them know about the discrepancy while keeping in mind that the company could have made a mistake. If they refuse to honor the original salary, then it’s a clear sign that the company isn’t honest.
7You feel rushed.
When you have an offer (finally!), it can be tempting to say yes right away, but it’s expected that you’ll want a day or two to sit with it before giving your answer. If the company is pushing you to accept too quickly, it could be a sign that something isn’t right. When coupled with other negative signs, a push to make you accept their offer might be a clue that they are looking to fill it with anyone regardless of fit, or they may be short-staffed and need you to start working long hours right away.
While any one of these signs could be a misstep at an otherwise good company, if you see several of them, that’s a clue that you shouldn’t accept the job offer. And when it comes down to it, “[a] great company is one that gives their people a genuine sense of excitement, passion, and meaning,” said Patel.
If you don’t feel excited for your first big job, listen to your gut. Your bad feeling may be more than just nerves.