These Common Job Description Phrases Are Red Flags


We’ve become a nation of job hus­tlers. only stay at jobs an aver­age of just over four years these days—and drops to just under three years if you’re a mil­len­ni­al or younger. And more than half of all work­ers plan to find a new job in the next year.

That means you’ve like­ly read a lot of job descrip­tions, and know that it’s easy to be fooled. A job that sounds great on can be a night­mare in real life. The good news? There are clues to watch out for—red flag phras­es that point to a tox­ic work envi­ron­ment or an employ­er that won’t val­ue your time or men­tal health. Employ­ers can’t seem to stop them­selves from using these phras­es, and are, in fact, using them more and more often—if you know how to decode the lan­guage of job descrip­tions and spot those red flag phras­es, you’ll save your­self a lot of heartache.

“We’re like a family”

There is like­ly no more trans­par­ent­ly tox­ic phrase in job descrip­tions than call­ing a work­place a “fam­i­ly.” It might be intend­ed to evoke a warm, sup­port­ive envi­ron­ment, but in real­i­ty it usu­al­ly implies a work­place with zero bound­aries and no respect for work/life bal­ance. The phrase often implies an expec­ta­tion to go beyond your actu­al duties, to attend non-work events with no addi­tion­al com­pen­sa­tion, and to accept a warm and fuzzy atti­tude in lieu of actu­al cash.

“Wear many hats”

There’s a rea­son we have job descrip­tions. They pro­tect both the employ­er, who can point to them if you fail to per­form the duties laid out in one, as well as employees—who can point to them when they’re sud­den­ly asked to take on roles they’re not for and don’t want.

The phrase “wear many hats” indi­cates a com­plete dis­re­gard for this key ele­ment. It basi­cal­ly means there’s no defined role, and you’ll be doing what­ev­er needs doing whether you’re capa­ble of it or not. It also pret­ty clear­ly means that if you do man­age to keep all those plates spin­ning, you’ll just get more duties and respon­si­bil­i­ty, most like­ly with zero extra compensation—after all, you were warned.

“Work well under pressure”

This charm­ing bit of psy­cho­log­i­cal manip­u­la­tion should send you run­ning for the hills. It’s a vari­a­tion of a sales tac­tic: It cre­ates a chal­lenge and a sense of urgency. If you pass up the job, it’s because you can’t han­dle pres­sure, not because you don’t want your life to suck—it cre­ates this sense of fail­ure that you want to prove incor­rect. The phrase also clear­ly implies that you’re going to expe­ri­ence a tox­ic envi­ron­ment where bound­aries won’t exist, and any hes­i­tance or push­back will imme­di­ate­ly be judged as you wilt­ing under “pres­sure.” Don’t want to hop on Slack at mid­night? Don’t want to come in for an all-hands on Sat­ur­day? Skip any job that exalts “pres­sure.”

“Fast-paced environment”

Hawk­ing a “fast-paced envi­ron­ment” is a tricky phrase that sounds exciting—you won’t be bored! But it’s a clas­sic sign of a tox­ic work­place. It indi­cates an envi­ron­ment where stress is glo­ri­fied. A healthy work­place should want to avoid stress­ing out its employ­ees, because stress actu­al­ly low­ers pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and per­for­mance. If the job implies that stress is seen as or ben­e­fi­cial, you’ll be miserable—and, worse, you’ll be work­ing for a com­pa­ny that will nev­er under­stand why it has high turnover and low per­for­mance across the board.


Any com­pa­ny that puts this in a job descrip­tion is basi­cal­ly admit­ting that you won’t get much train­ing or sup­port. You might fig­ure things out and wind up enjoy­ing your work—it’s pos­si­ble. But it will be entire­ly up to you to learn just about every­thing, and fail­ures will be entire­ly on you. The phrase can also indi­cate that the com­pa­ny isn’t even sure what your role should be, and wants you to fig­ure it out on the fly.

“Pay commensurate with experience”

Vague­ness about com­pen­sa­tion is always a red flag. The only rea­son you want this job is the com­pen­sa­tion, so any attempt to obfus­cate the pay is a dirty trick from the get-go. Phras­es like “com­men­su­rate with expe­ri­ence” or “pay is com­pet­i­tive” shift all the pow­er to the employ­er. You’ll jump through hoops to get through inter­views and oth­er steps in the hir­ing process, and only when you’re psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly hooked via the sunk costs fal­la­cy do you get to enjoy being low­balled.


When this phrase is used in con­junc­tion with vague lan­guage around salary and com­pen­sa­tion, it’s a bright red flag. Phras­es like this are usu­al­ly paired with wild­ly broad salary ranges, but usu­al­ly mean you’re going to be offered a low rate and all the “poten­tial” involves com­mis­sions and incen­tives you will prob­a­bly nev­er achieve. There’s noth­ing wrong with com­mis­sion-based com­pen­sa­tion as long as it’s clear­ly stat­ed and up-front. But slip­pery phras­es like this are designed to plant the high-end num­ber in your head with­out com­mit­ting to any­thing.


As any­one who has ever had a job knows, when your boss calls you a “rock­star” or a “god­send” or any oth­er sim­i­lar­ly overblown com­pli­ment, you can be pret­ty sure of two things: One, you just went above and beyond in your work, and two, that com­pli­ment is all you’re get­ting by way of com­pen­sa­tion for that extra effort. Using these in a job descrip­tion is sim­i­lar to how poi­so­nous ani­mals in the nat­ur­al world use bright col­or­ing: It’s a warn­ing sign. It usu­al­ly indi­cates that the job will be under­paid and over­worked.

“Flexible working hours”

This phrase’s red flag sta­tus depends on how it’s used. If there are no oth­er red flags in the job descrip­tion and the phrase seems to indi­cate that you can choose your own work sched­ule with­in cer­tain para­me­ters, that’s obvi­ous­ly fine. If there are oth­er prob­lem­at­ic phras­es in that descrip­tion, how­ev­er, ask your­self whether “flex­i­ble” means your employ­er is flex­i­ble about your sched­ule, or whether they expect you to be flex­i­ble about things like work­ing until mid­night or com­ing on Sun­days on a reg­u­lar basis.

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