Job Posting Red Flags

Everyone has had that one job – a position that sounded inspiring, where the pay seemed high, and the culture looked wonderful. But upon hire, you were moved to the basement, earned far less than expected, and worked among people who didn’t want to be there. Where was the job to which you thought you’d applied?

Fortunately, the internet can and does help with this situation. With review websites, it’s harder for companies to hide the truth. Applicants can read verified employee reviews and compare job postings instantaneously.

So, with these tools at the disposal of the modern job candidate, we wanted to know which red flags are stopping people from applying in the first place. We surveyed 1,001 people who had applied to a job online in the past year to find out. Continue reading to see what applicants had to say.

Warning Signs

First, we asked recent applicants about the red flags they’d witnessed when browsing job listings. Most often, they encountered posts where the salary or benefits information wasn’t listed at all. Although smart negotiation tactics help to make salary more of a starting point than a hard number, it can be difficult for an applicant to discern a ballpark figure without a salary range listed. Moreover, a complete lack of salary information could mean the company is worried about scaring away applicants with a low number.

Encountering posts over a month old was also common, with 53% of respondents saying they’d seen them before. Similar to a lack of salary information, an old post may have certain implications, such as nobody wanting to work for the company. If the job was so desirable, wouldn’t it have been filled by now? If a month has gone by, an employer may want to consider updating the listing or working with a recruiter to help fill the vacant seat.

Forty-nine percent claimed they read an unclear job description. While there are reasons an employer might withhold salary information or take more than a month to fill a role, there really is no excuse for writing a vague job description. Beyond being a turnoff for potential applicants, an unclear job description can indicate the company hasn’t thought through the job role and nailed down what the position’s core responsibilities should be.

Too Bad to Apply

Most applicants were used to finding red flags online, but they also shared how much these red flags impacted their decision to apply. At least a third of all respondents said they were unlikely to apply to a job posting due to any red flag examined. This means that as an employer, you can greatly eliminate applicant interest just by having one red flag in a job posting.

The most significant red flag was the mention of a low-paid or unpaid trial period before hiring. Trial periods can be an infraction on workers’ rights, depending on the situation. Seventy-six percent found these trial periods bothersome enough to diminish their likelihood of applying.

Asking for sensitive information also lessened the likelihood of applying for 73.8% of people. Forbes has called data privacy the single most important issue of our decade. Moreover, Varonis’ 2019 Data Risk Report found that companies “still keep thousands of files unprotected and open for anyone inside the company to access.” People seem to be aware of these risks, and it’s impacting their perceptions of job postings.

How to Handle It

Only 15.7% of respondents were completely unwilling to apply to a job post containing a red flag. The other 84% were at least slightly willing to apply even after encountering concerning things in a listing. And more than half – 58.5% – admitted to applying to positions presenting red flags.

Younger, more inexperienced applicants were the most vulnerable to these types of jobs. Even if they encountered a red flag, people in their 20s were the most likely to apply anyway. While we understand a young applicant’s desire to get their foot in the door, there are other ways to do so. Start by finding contacts. LinkedIn’s mutual connections feature is a great way to not only remind yourself of whom you already know but also to see whom you might easily get to know through a mutual friend. Alumni pages and shared business interest groups on this site and others can also help with networking without having to accept worrisome red flags.

Looking the Part

The job posting wasn’t the only thing that needed to be in order for people to trust a potential employer. The company website, or lack thereof, perturbed 68% of people and made them think the business wasn’t trustworthy. Most experts will tell you about the importance of a website. They not only help to market and brand your business but also establish credibility, and our respondents echoed this sentiment. Forty percent were unsure of a company if its digital presence didn’t extend to social media.

Grammar and spelling issues lost company trust from 61.9% of applicants. Since a typo drastically diminished their chances of getting a job, it’s fair for applicants to expect the same attention to detail from employers.

Filling in the Details

Even with a perfect job listing, intriguing social media content, and a top-notch website, employers still have to pass one final test: employee reviews. These reviews provide color and credibility to the job listing and give an applicant a better idea of what it’s really like to work for the business. Nearly 85% of people told us they read reviews before deciding to apply. 

Negative reviews from employees and customers lessened the willingness to apply for 68.7% and 59.9% of respondents, respectively. Online employee reviews are absolutely crucial to your brand, but employers still seem reluctant to believe this, as only 34% of HR managers agree that unflattering online reviews matter. They’d be wise to think again, as even the absence of reviews was off-putting to roughly a third of applicants.

Cleaning Up the Job Application

Interactions between employers and job applicants should be simple. The former wants to hire, while the latter wants to be hired. But our data shows things can get complicated. The majority of respondents found job postings to contain red flags and be untrustworthy and were often discouraged from applying by poor websites and negative employee reviews.

To be a desirable employer today, your job listings must compete online. Consider what it is you’re really looking for and what a good fit really feels like as you write your post. And to be a good employee, take tips from our respondents and do your due diligence. If a company is not willing to put in any work to find you, you may want to consider other options.

With SimplyHired, the process finally becomes simple again. Millions of jobs can easily be filtered by locations, skills, and companies, while salary and company information is made readily available. For employers and employees alike, SimplyHired is your key tool for filling your business with the people who matter most.


We surveyed 1,001 people who reported applying to at least one job in the last year and had conducted their job search online. Respondents were comprised of 54% men and 46% women. The average age of respondents was 35.5 with a standard deviation of 10.3.

Respondents were asked which red flags they had encountered in job postings. They were instructed to select all that applied. Therefore, the percentages for that data will not equal 100.

Respondents were then asked to reflect on how likely they would be to apply to a job posting that included specific red flags. They were asked to rate their likelihood on the following scale:

  • Totally unlikely
  • Unlikely
  • Slightly unlikely
  • Neither unlikely nor likely
  • Slightly likely
  • Likely
  • Totally likely

In our final visualization of the data, we chose to present the percentage of respondents who said they would be likely to do something. This group was made up of all respondents who selected totally likely, likely, or slightly likely.

Respondents were also asked how trustworthy they would think a company was based on particular characteristics and things said in job postings. Respondents were asked to rate trustworthiness on the following scale:

  • Very trustworthy
  • Trustworthy
  • Slightly trustworthy
  • Neither trustworthy nor untrustworthy
  • Slightly untrustworthy
  • Untrustworthy
  • Very untrustworthy

In our final visualization of the data, we chose to present the percentage of respondents who said they would consider an action or characteristic trustworthy. This group was made up of all respondents who selected very trustworthy, trustworthy, and slightly trustworthy.


The data presented rely on self-reporting. Issues with self-reported data include selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

Fair Use Statement

Even in a good job market, finding the right fit for you and your skills can be difficult. If someone you know would benefit from the information in this project, you’re free to share for noncommercial reuse. Please be sure to link back here so that people can view the entire study and methodology. This also gives credit to our hardworking contributors.