Workin' Girl

Searching For Remote Work? Look Out For These Red Flags

Living through a pandemic has many of us wondering how to find remote jobs, and since everyone seems to be working from home (or are now privy to the wonderful world of flex hours), the allure of the seemingly countless remote work opportunities is definitely there. I mean, you can't go online without seeing some pop-up ad, YouTube video, or social media webinar touting the freedom, demand, success and "can't miss" dream of remote work.

Well, with anything that seems to be in-demand and full of fantasy, there are always red flags. The scamming is real, and even in the world of regular recruitment, you've got to be careful. Here are a few red flags to look out for so that your desire to pursue remote work doesn't lead you to new and avoidable problems:

1. The salary listed is too good to be true.

This one is a doozy because we could all use a few more coins. Here's the thing: The company could offer you that salary but never pay you for the work. Why? Because it was a farce in the first place. Or worse: The job never existed, the "recruiter" actually doesn't even work for the company, or the listing was fake. Scammers will use tactics like offering a high salary that is not even commiserate with the industry nor does it match with what you've researched online. According to reports, job scams have increased during the pandemic, and this is a major tell-tale sign that you're dealing with a counterfeit professional or fraudster.

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2. They ask you for an upfront payment or "investment."

When you're unemployed (or even when you're not), you definitely don't have money to waste, and there are so many free resources out here for finding work. No reputable company will ask for an upfront payment to interview you or to give you access to more information about the job. Also, no company will need your debit or credit card information in order to vet you for a position. Sis, don't even question this. It's a scam. Period. Case closed. (If you need even more information about this or you want to find out if you've been a victim—and what you should do—check out the Federal Trade Commission's website or consult a local legal professional, several of which offer free consultations.

(Now, hiring a career coach, headhunter, recruitment consultant, or leadership coach is a different story. In this case, you're paying for actual services and time, but you still need to vet these professionals as well.)

3. The company's online presence is a tad sus, at best.

No matter the industry or type of work: If the company's website has not been updated and the information on their site is old or sparse, raise more than an eyebrow. (You can check these things by looking at the year listed at the bottom of the home page of most reputable businesses' Websites.)

Furthermore, if the company or brand doesn't have a presence on LinkedIn, writes you from an email address that includes misspellings or is mostly used for personal correspondences, or if you can't verify its financials, team members, or management via several online sources that you trust, sis, walk away.

Most companies have social media accounts and Websites that are actively updated, and company information is usually readily available on the Web, whether it's on their own site or via Forbes, Inc., the Better Business Bureau or local news outlets. Use sites like Yelp, Glassdoor, and Indeed to read reviews about the company or brand, check online for applicable licenses or certifications or visit the attorney general's site for where the company is based. It's also a good idea to Google the names of the people emailing you about the position and see if they have their own LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. If they don't, again, that's a red flag.

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4. Their payment process is sketchy.

As a remote worker, you should have a clear understanding of how you'll be paid, via what platform or means, how often, and how your taxes will be handled. You should also be able to get this in information in writing, and feel comfortable offering information required for payroll or tax purposes (such as your address or social security number.) If you ask questions on this and feel like you're pulling teeth to get answers, chuck the dueces. Also, if you're given vague insights in reference to pay or you just don't feel comfortable with the payment method or process, you might want to just reconsider working for the company or brand altogether.

At reputable companies, many remote workers are paid through the same processes as regular, in-office workers, so keep that in mind. If they don't have an in-house HR and payroll team, they'll typically contract with companies like ADP or offer to pay via platforms like PayPal. Also, I love a company that is super-responsive, especially when it comes to payment issues or questions, so having a direct phone number for talking to a live human or at least a chat option where you can get real-time responses is a good look.

Might I add, as a freelancer, this doesn't just apply to major corporations or brands. It's also in reference to small business owners or solopreneurs who contract you for work. That still counts as remote work, and when you depend on this to pay your bills—and your taxes—you'll want to be sure you're not setting yourself up for nonsense and drama.

5. They are asking for personal information—like a social security number—up front.

Again, fraud, fraud, and more fraud. This information is typically not required until after a job offer is made, according to experts, and that makes perfect sense considering that the social is often needed solely for payroll purposes or background checks. Some companies ask for a social during the application process, but I'd side-eye considering the privacy and ethics issues. (Also, it's a practice that is highly discouraged.)

Vet companies and get to know who you're corresponding with before you give out your personal information, especially your social security number. In some states, asking for the social before an offer is made is a big no-no and could put a company in a position to face fines or legal action, so be sure you're aware of the the statutes and best practices.

Before offering this information—and only after you've gotten that congrats email—ask about the companies' cybersecurity policies as well as their privacy efforts in storing your information. Ask them how the information will be used, and get details of this in writing. And even if you get pretty comfortable with the interviewer or recruiter, verify if it's even necessary to give out that information. Some contract workers who are self-employed, for example, use EIN numbers.

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6. You have no idea who handles HR or tech issues.

As a remote worker, you can sometimes feel super-displaced, almost like a distant cousin or step-child who is part of the family but not necessarily acknowledged and almost always forgotten when it's time to send out those family reunion invites. Having an HR professional to address questions or troubleshoot any problems that might arise with management, work hours, pay, expectations, or grievances is always a good sign that the company values all its workers—not just those who come into an actual office every day.

Companies that don't have at least one neutral party you can talk to about the usual everyday work-related issues you're confronted with that actually affect your work can create cultures that facilitate toxic, unfulfilled experiences. When there is no unbiased, professional party to turn to for recourse in resolving challenges or addressing unprofessional behaviors, the situation can turn into the remote job from hell. It's good to take note of who handles these issues or ask questions related to human resources before moving forward.

And when it comes to tech, companies that actually have a dedicated team, hotline, or person to handle IT issues are great to work for, especially since many remote jobs require use of a laptop or computer and some sort of Internet connection. Who wants to have to worry about not being able to get their work done because they can't get in contact with an actual tech professional to find out why their email isn't working or why they're locked out of certain platforms? Again, it'll be the flex job from hell. Run.

7. You are required to use your own equipment or buy equipment to do your job.

Unless you're a freelancer or small business owner by trade and you're able to write off your equipment as a business or work expense, don't accommodate requests to go out spending your own money for a job. Once your home computer breaks down, gets a virus from something you were required to download, or is overwhelmed by constant file-sharing and video calls, you're left holding the bag while the company doesn't have to invest a penny in providing proper equipment or compensating you for your losses.

If there are special tech accessories, hardware, or software requirements, reputable companies will provide without question. I know plenty of people whose jobs suddenly went remote and their companies provided headsets, computers, keyboards, phones, and other items needed to make the transition seamless. I've also worked for companies that have provided a laptop, phone, and reimbursements or discounts for expenses related to remote work. It was part of the offer package and I would never ask for anything less.

8. The job duties are vague, even after you've asked specific questions about them.

To start, it's a good practice to ask about the everyday tasks, the success metrics, the communication requirements, and the work hours. I mean, the title might sound good, but if you don't know what you'll actually be required to do and how you can't really thrive. When employers want quality candidates, they'll be super-clear on the qualifications, the daily duties, and how a candidate's performance will be reviewed. If they're being mum or you're still confused after corresponding with a prospective employer, just say no. You want to avoid being catfished at all costs.

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9. You can't pinpoint who your manager is or who will be evaluating your performance.

Again, this goes back to quality of experience and thriving in your career journey. You'd hate to be in a remote job experience where you've got one too many bosses to answer to (with nonstop, conflicting emails or Slack messages from each), or you have no clue as to how good or awful you're doing at a job. In a remote situation, this can be both devastating and mentally draining. You should be able to inquire about who your direct manager will be, how they communicate, and what their specific expectations are for the position. This will also give you the information you need to research your potential manager by looking up their social profiles or reading reviews of their leadership on job search sites.

10. It's remote... until it's not.

Yep, some companies will pull the ol' bait-and-switch with you where they initially advertised the position as remote but during the interview slide in a mention of the possibility that "once everything gets back to normal" you will be "asked" to come into the office. There are also those recruiters and managers who will use very blurry language when asked whether the position you're interviewing for will remain remote. It's the "For now, we all work remote, but we have offices in..." for me.

If you enjoy working remote, still don't feel comfortable working in an office, have a health issue, or want to continue having the flexibility to home-school your children or to travel, this is definitely a red flag to consider. In weeding out these sorts of fuzzy and potentially problematic employers, I just ask about the remote aspect of the job three times in at least three different ways, and I will even politely require the remote guarantee in writing before accepting an offer. When asked if you'd be OK with coming into an office, be honest and either go the direct route by simply saying, "No," or tell them why you prefer remote work.

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