The Way We Work
October 4, 2011 by Stephanie Gonzaga

Searching for online jobs can be an adventure: Click on an interesting job title, read the job post, contemplate the project details, then take action. If you get the job, congratulations! If not, your journey continues.

Now and then in your adventures, a few bad apples may rear their heads. Fortunately other freelancers have gone before you. They’ve learned how to spot potential trouble in a job post, and now you can too. Here are some job post red flags you don’t want to miss.

Red flag #1: Hints of Illegal Activity

internet illegal activityWatch out for job posts that involve illegal activities, such as buying pirated software, plagiarizing content, answering surveys falsely, providing personal information, etc.

You wouldn’t want to get yourself into trouble, especially if a lawsuit could be slapped your way. If you feel that the job post is just going to lead to malicious software, plagiarism, or a legal case, move on to the next post or flag the job post right where it hurts.

Red flag #2: Unreasonable Budgets

So you’re looking at a job post one day, and you noticed that the job requirements are pretty heavy.

The employer needs 100 500-word articles per month.  It’s going to be a long-term fixed price project, and he promises that there will always be a stable stream of work for the contractor hired.

As your eyes scan through the post, they spot the ultimate catch of the deal: The job poster won’t accept bids over a certain (terribly small) amount — an amount lower than you have ever agreed to before.

You have two choices at this point: 1) apply and potentially accept the job and work at that unfortunately low rate or 2) reject the unreasonable budget and move on to other sensible job posts.  If you ask me, I’d rather find jobs that require work of the same intensity, but that will compensate me well for it.

Red flag #3: Simply Inappropriate Posts

policy violation stop There are job posts out there which are simply inappropriate because they violate the policies of the job post host. On oDesk, it’s appropriate to flag the following:

  • Job posts offering payments outside of oDesk
  • Job posts asking for help with school work
  • Job posts with profane language
  • Job posts asking you to pay a “fee” of any kind

You can take a look at oDesk’s list of violations in the Job Postings Policy.

Red flag #4: Bad Employer Feedback

Every job post has a bit of background info on the employer hiring, such as the verified payment status, how much the employer has spent on oDesk, and most importantly the employer feedback ratings.

If the employer’s feedback isn’t very good, and feedback from past contractors that go along the lines of “This guy didn’t pay me for my work!” or “Very uncooperative, demanding, and does not treat his contractors well,” it may be best to stay away from this employer.

Red flag #5: A Non-Verified Payment Method

pay onlineBe wary of employers who prod you to work, if their payment methods aren’t verified. On oDesk, without a verified payment method, an employer can’t pay you for your work no matter how impressed he is with your performance.

The best way to handle a situation like this is to remind the employer about it.  You can say something similar to:

“Thank you for hiring me to work on the project! I noticed though that your payment method hasn’t been verified yet.  Please understand that you won’t be able to pay me for my work if it isn’t verified by oDesk. I can prepare the materials needed for now, but will only start working as soon as your payment method has been verified.”

By making sure that your employer’s payment method is verified, you can rest assured that he will be able to pay you for your work once you start logging hours.

Keep an eye out for these red flags in job posts whenever you’re scouring the job boards for jobs to apply for. It will save you a lot of time and from a lot of stress and problems. Good luck!

Do you notice these or any other red flags when browsing for jobs? I’d love to hear your stories and experiences!

Stephanie Gonzaga

Freelancer, Blogger, and Creative Writer

Stephanie Gonzaga is a freelancer on oDesk and blogger of The Freelance Pinoy, a freelancing blog for the Pinoy solo professional.

  • http://google Gopakumar.B.K.

    Hi Stephanie Gonzaga,
    while exploring o desk blog site I happend to read your instructions too which dropped me in this
    blog and also I couldn’t resist JOINING face book too.
    A virtual Container full of thanks sent to you for that .
    From the Picture you looks like younger than my kid
    but sounds BIGGER. GREAT COMMENTS.

    • Stephanie

      Thanks Gopakumar, I’m glad you found the post useful. I appreciate the compliments as well, haha! :)

  • Stephanie

    @Sumon Rahman: Thanks! I’m glad that you found it useful. Pass it along to your other freelancing friends, if you’d like. :)

  • Stephanie

    @Cartrell: Thanks Cartrell for pointing out 3 other red flags that we can watch out for in job posts.

    In my case, I don’t normally encounter job posts with tons of typos, but I have been seen job posts that barely had any information at all. That signals a warning to me that maybe the client isn’t as serious as I’d hope him to be.

    As for 7 and 8, I too feel hesitant when there are too many applicants or when the client offers me a project that require services outside of my skill set. It’s great that you emphasized that freelancers also have the power to set instructions.

  • Sumon Rahman

    This article is a real fantastic experience. I

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  • Cartrell


    Nice article, Stephanie.

    I’ve encountered red flag #2 once or twice. I’ve also encountered #1, where the employer was having people fill out surveys for $5 or something like that. I declined the invite, but probably should’ve flagged it, as I did keep tabs on it, just to see what would happen. Soon enough, the job was removed, although a ton of applicants were at this job.

    I have some other potential red flags to watch out for, although like #4 and #5, they are not really violations, are:

    #6 – Overall quality of the job post. Just like freelancers should have a nice profile, employers should also ensure that their job post up to par. Things like being free of typos, and having enough details so you don’t have to guess are good to have.

    #7 – Job posts with lots of applicants. For me, these tend to be red flags. More often, I’m invited to this kind of job, and I get the impression that the employer is just spamming to get a freelancer.

    #8 – The job doesn’t really match what you’re looking for, which tells me the employer isn’t following your instructions. I’m _always_ invited to this kind of job for some reason. If the employer can’t follow instructions here, I can’t imagine what type of working relation you might have with them when the work actually begins (assuming you defeated the masses to get the job).

    – C. out.