How to Spot and Avoid Red Flags During Your Job Search

It is important to recognise red flags when searching for jobs online to avoid falling victim to job scams or exploitative work environments.
Ivy Simon
Editorial Writer
How to Spot and Avoid Red Flags During Your Job Search

For graduate jobseekers, the internet offers a wealth of opportunities at the click of a button. However, jobseekers also need to be wary, as scammers and unscrupulous entities often use online platforms to perpetrate job scams, preying on unsuspecting individuals in search of employment. Sometimes, if a particular job opportunity looks a bit too good to be true, that might be because it actually is!

Here are some helpful tips on being vigilant in your job search and to recognise the red flags that may indicate a dubious job opportunity.

Red Flag #1: Insufficient Information and Lack of Professionalism

Insufficient or vague information in a job posting is often an early red flag. Job descriptions that are overly hypothetical or lack sufficient concrete details about the role and its responsibilities should be approached with caution. 

Similarly, if you are approached with a job offer, verify whether it’s coming from a professional source. Actual recruiters usually don’t advertise jobs through SMS or WhatsApp messages. If you’ve received a job opportunity in an email, check its source – did the sender use an actual company email address? Can you see some semblance of professional branding guidelines, and does the email use fairly professional language?

Red Flag #2: Requests for Personal Information and Financial Transactions

Legitimate employers will never ask for sensitive personal information, such as your IC number, credit information, or bank account details - especially during the initial stages of the application process. If a job posting requires you to provide such information upfront, it's a significant red flag. 

Furthermore, any request for financial transactions should be met with scepticism. These could be framed as “deposits” for the job opportunity, “purchasing stock”, “training fees”, “relocation expenses”, etc. Legitimate employers will never ask for money from fresh candidates. 

Red Flag #3: Unrealistic Expectations and Overly Generous Offers

Job postings that present an extensive list of requirements and qualifications far beyond what is typical for the role, may be a sign of a company seeking an unattainable "unicorn" candidate. These are most likely not scams, but rather misguided (or toxic) employers with unrealistic expectations. Such job offers usually result in unbalanced workloads, so be wary of these.  

Conversely, offers that seem too good to be true - such as exorbitant salaries for minimal work, or the promise of guaranteed fast income growth - should be approached with caution. If an opportunity appears overly generous or promises quick and easy wealth, it's important to scrutinise it carefully.

Red Flag #4: Lack of Company Information and Negative Online Presence

A lack of verifiable company information, such as a physical address, phone number, and online presence, is a significant red flag. Before pursuing a job opportunity, it's crucial to conduct thorough research on the company, ensuring that it is a legitimate and reputable organisation. Additionally, a negative online presence, such as the absence of legitimate reviews on employer review sites and the presence of numerous scam alerts, should serve as a warning sign.

That said, not all legitimate companies may have dedicated websites. So you can also do research on LinkedIn. Check if the company has an organisation page there. Do they have current staff? What are the backgrounds, qualifications, and past experiences of their staff members? This kind of research can help you better identify how legitimate an employer really is.   

Red Flag #5: Excessive Overtime and Micromanagement

Job opportunities with no fixed working hours or that use language hinting at excessive overtime can be red flags. While some jobs may require long hours or close supervision, it's essential to be cautious if these requirements are not typical for the role or industry. 

Excessive micromanagement is another red flag to look out for. How often and to what extent are you required to report in your future superior? What sorts of targets are set for the role and how realistic do they seem? How does the company treat staff who are struggling to hit their targets? These are points worth hashing out during job interviews. 

Red Flag #6: Unusual Payment Methods and Personal Requirements

Job opportunities that request unusual payment methods should be immediately suspicious. This could be offering to pay you entirely in physical cash, requiring you to sign up for some in-house payment gateway platform, opening a bank account in a foreign country, paying you in cryptocurrency, etc. 

Similarly, be sceptical of unusual personal requirements, such as giving the employer access to your personal devices or social media accounts, enquiries about your credit history, or asking you to refer friends and family members to the employer upfront.

A Quick Note about Unsolicited Job Offers

As a graduate jobseeker, you may receive unsolicited job opportunities directly via email or social media. This is not unusual – employers or recruitment firms sometimes actively seek out potential candidates through job portal databases, LinkedIn, or referrals from current staff members. So don’t be so quick to write off all unsolicited job offers as sketchy off the bat. 

Still, it's essential to verify the company's legitimacy before proceeding. Go through the list of red flags listed above and make sure it doesn’t set off too many alarms. Ask the employer where/how they got your contact information and why they are reaching out to you specifically. 

If the opportunity comes from a recruitment firm, do note that they may not always disclose the identity of the employer they are hiring for until later on in the candidate screening stage. This is a normal practice in that industry. But it’s up to you whether you want to take a leap of faith and give the opportunity a shot if the recruitment firm seems legitimate!