10 Red Flags Every Young Professional Ignores

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Posted by The Editors on February 15, 2012
10 Red Flags Every Young Professional Ignores
I’m lucky enough in my professional career to have mentored many capable, even amazing, young men and women. Many have gone on to great achievements – despite some bumps along the way.

One of my biggest concerns, and something we talk about often: it seems many young professionals – from freshman intern to second or third year veteran – tend to ignore certain red flags in their career path (especially in our daunting economy).

The fact is that from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, recruiters sometimes say what we want to hear – and we just buy in rather than recognize when every hair on the back of our necks stands up. Some of these issues can be worked out with a conversation or two with a boss, HR or a mentor. Some might mean a change in your expectations or environment. Others… could be deal-breakers.

Here, with the prerequisite “no particular order” disclaimer, are ten red flags you should watch for as you prepare for, and build the foundation of, your career:

Hype Overtakes Realism
Once a recruiter has identified you as a prime candidate, they turn from researcher to salesman. If it ever appears as though the recruiter is trying too hard – and you sense that insincere, slimy-ish feeling that they are trying “too hard” to sell you on the opportunity, there’s a good reason. Run away.

“We Can Pay You – But Not What You’re Worth”
The business world is full of claims that your pay will go up as soon as the company gets back on its feet, the start-up gets funded or the non-profit finally gets that big grant. You have to offset this red flag with the need to pay bills, and perhaps fill a hole in your resume… but you may want to alter your expectations to  “I’m accepting this offer as is, and if the promise is kept… I’ll smile.”

Promises of Management Roles
Most recruiters don’t hire automatons that will be in the same position seven years from now. They want people who will help the company grow while showing some leadership. Almost always, this gets turned into “you’ll be a manager in less than two years.” Fine, here’s the follow-up question: “What percentage of your entry-level associates ascend to management roles?” If they can’t answer, let the red flag fly!

“You’ll Create Your Own Role”
While this is the perfect intern or first-job situation for some – those who are independent or entrepreneurial by nature – for others this can be a nightmare. Essentially, the employer is saying: “We know what we need, don’t really have a clue how to do it, and are bringing in entry-level talent to get it done.” If this isn’t for you… take your talents elsewhere.

Your Research Doesn’t Back-up Their Claims
You get all excited about the job offer. And then… you can’t find anything online that supports the claims of the recruiter. No press release about that new partnership agreement. No customers that openly champion their products. No sign of their “constant presence” on Twitter. In this case, we want to believe. We do. But if there’s nothing positive about the company online… there’s nothing positive about working for the company.

“This is a Ground Floor Opportunity”
Again, a dual edged sword – depending on your entrepreneurial spirit. If these words are spoken by the Founder of an emerging start-up, more than likely it’s the truth. If you are interviewing at a company that has been around for five or six years or more – or with someone even remotely responsible for recruiting salespeople, however, this is desperate shtick on the part of the recruiter, 99% of the time.

“We’re Changing the World!”
We all want to change the world. And most of us would choose to work for a company steeped in social responsibility. But here’s the fact: organizations that are truly making a difference rarely need to actually talk about changing the world; their actions and reputation speak for them, loudly. All the rest could be accused of spewing buzzwords in hopes of attracting you as an intern or employee.

Creepy is NOT Charming
We all know the type… he thinks he’s Pitt or Clooney, but he’s really more like a Used Car Salesman. You know, the fake laugh; the over-friendly use of “Pal” or “Brother”; trying to appear WAY younger than they are (“Dude!”)… and more. These guys never change. No matter how many drinks or lunches they buy, or how many names they drop. Attach your star to these clowns, and your career will be a 3-ring circus.

The Stalker-Spammer
(This one seems obvious, but YoPros respond by the hundreds…) If you’ve uploaded your resume to Monster or CareerBuilder, you already know this type. The insurance company who thinks you’re perfect for their new sales program. The MLM’er who has a “never seen before” diet supplement. The social networking guy who used to work for Donald Trump. Sounds amazing? No. Huge red flag – maybe the biggest of the bunch.

Gratuitous Nepotism
Especially in start-ups, it seems buddies stick together. In some companies, this works quite well – for a time. If, however, you notice college roomies, frat brothers and sister-in-laws are consistently placed in critical roles despite their lack of qualifications… red flag! This isn’t “cute” or “fun” – it is a sign that management cares little about achieving success – or your role as a team member.

What do you do if you’re already working for a company where more than one or two of these red flags are already waving?

First, go with your gut when identifying red flags that might exist in your career. If it looks like a snake, sounds like a snake, and slithers like a snake – it’s probably a snake.

Second, realize that denial – yours or that of your employer – is not your friend. Debate and confrontation aren’t easy, but you’ve little to lose. After all, not many of these red flag scenarios work out well in the long run.

Third, keep in mind that you do have options – and the opportunity to make the most out of your bad situation. Come up with a plan to create a remedy. Remember… sometimes we learn a great deal from a bad situation; sometimes, we get a PhD in “What NOT to Do”.

Lastly, if the road gets too rough, stay calm while you plan your exit. The old cliché about “it’s easier to find a job when you have a job” is true. Even if that current job is full of red flags.

What red flags have you encountered in your early career? What advice would you give to others? Let us know, either in the comments below or on Twitter at @YouTern.


About the Author: A passionate supporter of Gen Y talent, YouTern CEO Mark Babbitt is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. Mark has been quoted in Forbes, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, and Under30CEO.com regarding internships, emerging talent and the current job market – and was recently honored to be named to GenJuice’s “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors” list.

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