IT leaders on the biggest red flags to look out for while job-hunting

Job applicants should watch out for these signs that a new job could be a nightmare.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

Looking for a new job? The market’s still hot for those with IT or cybersecurity skills.

Not all employers are created equal, though, and prospects should remain on high alert for signs that a new job isn’t going to turn out well. Here’s some of the red flags to look out for, according to IT leaders who spoke with IT Brew.

Toxic work environments. Grant Fritchey, product advocate at Redgate Software, warns applicants to watch out for signs an employer subscribes to hustle culture—phrases like “work hard, play hard,” and “intense culture,” for example.

“Anytime they start talking about how passionate everyone is about the organization, it just means that there’s lots and lots of death marches,” Fritchey told IT Brew.

Management can be “honest in a dishonest way” about culture because their incentive is to hire someone for the position, Fritchey added. He advised asking potential colleagues how long they spend on-call or rolling out deployments, or how easy it is to take vacations without incurring additional obligations.

“Some organizations will throw money to fill a role, especially roles with a lot of churn,” Jason Rebholz, CISO at Corvus Insurance, wrote to IT Brew. “You should ask about role attrition to understand the average tenure and reasons for others leaving.”

Tatiana Becker, owner of tech recruiting firm NIAH Recruiting, observed warning signs can include an emphasis on artificial parts of company culture like “kegs and foosball tables,” or founders who act like their company is the “greatest thing since sliced bread,” which often correlates to unrealistic demands around pay or working hours down the line.

They see IT as just a help desk (or don’t know what it does). Charlie Verrey, who leads IT operations at DIY enterprise app platform Retool, advised that job-hunters should parse job ads closely and investigate any ambiguities. Subjective wording around workload, like responding to tickets in an “effective and timely” manner or within “established timeframes,” should raise questions about expectations laid out in service-level agreements, who is on call for emergencies, and the ratio of employees to IT staff.

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“As a general rule of thumb, 1:100 is great, 1:200 is acceptable, and anything over 1:300 is probably going to lead to burnout after one to two years,” Verrey wrote.

Listings with stacks of excessive or even impossible qualifications often indicate the hiring manager doesn’t know what they want for the role or if their requirements are reasonable, Fritchey told IT Brew.

“PostgreSQL [15] just launched,” Fritchey added. “They’re gonna say, ‘Hey, 10 years of experience in PostgreSQL 15.’ And it’s like, wait a minute, I can’t have 10 years in 15; it’s only been out for two months.”

They won’t support your professional growth. Verrey cautioned applicants to stay away from organizations that don’t view IT as a collaborative partner.

“When you get the sense that there’s no opportunities to partner with the org…when there’s limited or no ability to solve problems with code…[or] there’s no options for further training or education,” Verrey said, he views that as “something to avoid at all costs.”

Rebholz urged interviewees to ask if IT is “just a business requirement, or is it a business enabler? Is it viewed as computer support, or does it help drive efficiencies within the company?”

“These dichotomies can help you understand the level of support you will receive in your role,” he wrote.—TM

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Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to software development and gaming, IT Brew delivers the latest news and analysis of trends shaping the IT industry, like only The Brew can.