is this job description full of red flags?

A reader writes:

I’m a content marketer with a good amount of experience launching new programs successfully.

At the beginning of this year, I connected with a VP of marketing at a start-up. Shortly after, “George” contacted me and said he needed someone to launch a content marketing program and thought I would be a tremendous fit. We had two good calls and were planning for a third with people on his team. Everything seemed to align to what I want next in my career.

After a month of radio silence, today at 2 am, George sent two follow-up emails apologizing for the delay. He also included the job description. Some of the language is troubling:

1) Lives up to verbal and written agreements, regardless of personal cost

2) Social needs met outside work (does not need an office full of coworkers to fill this need)

I’ve managed and suffered through unreasonable expectations at another company, so #1 raises serious concerns about work/life balance and boundaries.

As for #2, while I have a full life, I also like camaraderie with coworkers. Having worked remotely for the last 14 months and in another role some years back, I know what works and what’s possible when it comes to bonding with teammates.

I asked for clarification and some context, but I’m inclined to bow out of further consideration. Either George means what he wrote (scary!) or lacks the empathy and insight to write a more welcoming and respectful job description. It also makes me wonder what the culture is really like. I’d appreciate your thoughts.

Run for the hills!

These are both troubling in different ways, and taken together they add up to a big flashing danger sign that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Let’s take #1 first. “Lives up to verbal and written agreements” is such a basic expectation of any job that it’s weird that he feels he needs to include it. Usually when you see something so basic in a job description, it’s there because the manager had employees previously who didn’t do it … and “regardless of personal costs” gives us a big clue as to why. Of course any conscientious employee will try to live up to verbal and written agreements. But sometimes things come up that mean those agreements need to change — someone gets sick so they can’t meet a deadline, or they have a family emergency so they can’t staff an event they’d planned to be at, or they realize that fulfilling the original agreement will require them working 60-hour weeks and they’re not up for doing that so they want to revisit what’s realistic.

Someone who thinks “you must do what you agree to, regardless of personal cost” is someone who lacks a basic understanding of how humans work and how life works, and who doesn’t even realize he’s advertising that he’ll be a nightmare to work for. He feels that “regardless of personal cost” is reasonable. (In fact, if I know this type, he probably thinks he should take pride in his high standards for others.)

Then there’s #2: “Social needs met outside work (does not need an office full of coworkers to fill this need).” This is another one that sounds like it was born from an experience he didn’t like — like that he had an employee who was overly social at the expense of their job or other people’s work. And that happens! But a reasonable manager trusts themselves to handle that effectively if it comes up again, by talking to the person about the issue and helping them recalibrate their lines between “normal human warmth” and “behavior that’s disrupting the office.”

Or maybe I’m interpreting it wrong and it just means “you won’t be around other people in this job, so you have to be okay with that.” But if that’s what he means, there are far more straightforward ways to say that, ones that don’t sound like he’s implicitly criticizing people who appreciate having some degree of human connection with their colleagues. I’d be interested to know what he says about it in response to your questions! I’m more willing to believe this one is just artless wording than I am with #1, but when you take the two in combination together, it doesn’t paint a great picture.

Ultimately, I think you’re exactly right: Either he means precisely what he wrote, or he lacks the empathy to understand why his framing would be off-putting. My guess is both. Either way, you’re getting valuable info about what it would be like to work for him.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 312 comments… read them below }

  1. 3DogNight*

    #2 looks like “Your co-workers are all hard-asses and no one gets along, so suck it up, buttercup”

    1. Less Bread More Taxes*

      Yeah, it really sounds like there are some difficult personalities on the team, and this is his way of preparing OP so when complains about any egregious behavior, he can say “See I TOLD you to not expect to have your social needs met here.”

    2. Lacey*

      Exactly. I’m envisioning people being awful to their coworkers and then saying, “We’re here to work, not to make friends”

      1. No Name Today*

        I’m picturing the boss walking into a group of people getting coffee in the morning and saying this to them – to the point where people are afraid to stop by each other’s desks for work questions, because CEO (where the E stands for Eagle eye) will stomp over and break it up.
        So there will be less brainstorming and lots more repetition of effort, because people can’t talk to each other.

        1. londonedit*

          I worked for a horrible micromanaging boss once who forbade any chat in the office, and it was a really awful environment to be in. OK, you don’t want too much chat, but she would literally ‘shush’ people if they talked about anything that wasn’t specifically work-related. It felt like being at school.

          1. Just let me talk!*

            I’ve done a lot of in-person exam scoring (think Advanced Placement exams, where open-ended responses require an actual person to assign a score) and these are one-week stints where you are assigned to a table of about 8 people with one table leader. Its a fantastic way to compare management styles, as there are dozens of tables of people doing the exact same task, year after year. My very first time I had a leader who was like this–forbade any and all chat that wasn’t explicitly about an exam. It was so awful–the experience itself is really grueling as it is, scoring responses to the same question again and again for 8 hours a day. Luckily, I never had that person again, and every table leader since has been so much better about allowing table talk and understanding that those small connections with your neighbors are what get you through the day.

            It occurs to me that this would be an excellent environment for some research studies–so many variables already controlled for!

          2. LemonLime*

            I agree- this to me is the sign on a micromanager. My MM hated anytime the staff were warm to one another/talked about anything but work and even work topics had better be short and concise. (We took to talking in the supply closet). He also sent an email that included the line “Must be at your desk and seated by 8AM sharp otherwise it will be considered abandonment of your post.”
            1st: we were not phone/customer heavy so the precise timing to be at your desk wasn’t required by the job. (God forbid you grab some coffee or stop to say hi to someone in the hall!)
            2nd: If late, what did that second part mean? Would we be dishonorably discharged? Shot by a firing squad? Put on trial for treason? Would a replacement be sitting at our desk when we walked in at 8:01?
            the MM had no idea that sort of wording (which happened a lot) was so out there. I could totally see MM writing that job description with no idea how it sounds. RUN OP!

          3. PT*

            I had a micromanaging boss who was involved in some sort of bullying/control issues. She didn’t like people talking to each other because she was afraid they’d be comparing notes on what she said to them (because she was telling everyone different little lies and using them as wedges between people to keep the team fractured into a constantly rotating “in” and “out” group) to the point that she kept the security camera display up on her monitor and then if she saw two people chatting who she didn’t want comparing notes she’d call their desk to give them a task designed to break up the conversation.

            1. DiscoUkraine!*

              I worked for someone who created this exact environment (minus the camera BS) in our department. We were on the brink of either mutiny or a full department resignation before our Grandboss stepped in and removed her.

              1. Sarah*

                Early in my career I worked for a small and long defunct insurance company that I now refer to as the Simon Legree Company. The CEO rarely made an appearance but was controlling as heck. Before my time, someone spilled coffee on some papers, so no eating or drinking was allowed at any desk. I was fairly low level but the higher ups were either frightened by the CEO or on the same controlling wavelength. A calculator went missing one night so security cameras were soon after installed all over the office. I was lucky that my desk was not in the sightline of a camera but others had their very move in plain view. It became known that the senior exec with the monitors in his office would often sit and watch what was going on. The company’s two junior actuaries, a couple of guys in their twenties, had a camera focused on their small corner of the office (and not on the adjacent door and surroundings) and it became clear to them that they were under surveillance. Fed up with being watched for no reason, since they worked hard over long hours, they put a lens cap on the camera. They were fired the next day (and were happy about it!) and it took a long time to find a replacement. I quickly came to loathe the place.

                1. MP*

                  That’s funny! Actuaries are usually in high demand. They definitely don’t need to put with that mess.

            2. R*

              I can’t imagine how you would even begin to keep all of that sorted. As someone who loves making elaborately-colored spreadsheets for things, I can only imagine she has a complex ones with the various variations tracking and there’s a formula to determine which cliques make the most mathematical sense that week.

          4. Chilipepper Attitude*

            There is a manager at my workplace who does this, and managers above her know it and don’t address it. And her staff puts up with it. It boggles my mind.

          5. Sans Serif*

            I’m having an unpleasant flashback to a job I had long ago. We had a great team that worked together well and enjoyed each other’s company. We would also frequently communicate with other depts and get info we needed to do our jobs. In comes the new boss. She saw all conversation as wasted time. She assumed it was socializing when it usually was work-related. If any of us wasn’t at our desk because, let’s say we went to another part of the office to talk to someone about a project, she assumed we weren’t working. Unless we were heads down, alone in our offices, typing away, she assumed we weren’t working. There was no actual reason to think these things – we got our jobs done on time and done well. She just assumed the worst of everyone. Within 6 months, her whole dept had left. She was a miserable person who was impossible to work for.

          6. TardyTardis*

            And this usually ends up with a secret Slack channel that the boss doesn’t find out about for five years. IT people are endlessly resourceful.

        2. Anon Dot Com*

          Same. It sounds to me like a group of (probably) perfectly nice people who are under some ridiculous edict to “focus on work” and never spend a minute of company time chatting with coworkers.

        3. Seven If You Count Bad John*

          I worked for a boss whose office was on the hall between AP and AR. Obviously AP and AR are gonna need to talk sometimes, (file folders needed to change hands physically) but if he saw you walking to the other office he’d get on top of you for not working at your desk “just walking back and forth all day”. I finally figured out that if I needed to deliver a file to my opposite number, I had to carry an extra folder so that I wasn’t coming back empty-handed. He needed the visual cue of “carrying a file” to believe the trip was work-related.

          That place was bad in a bunch of other ways too…

          1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

            That sounds like something you’d do to manage a toddler. Like having 2 identical blue elephant blankies so that when one got washed the other one could make an appearance.

            I seem to remember having a manager (or working with one) who was happy for you to walk around the office as long you appeared to be on the way to the printer – or back. So carrying a freshly-printed document was essential.

            There should be a course for interns called “Permissible subterfuge and sleight of hand for office workers”!

          1. The New Wanderer*

            Boston Rob was pretty successful in his style of being the “manager” who turned people against each other but always kept each on thinking they were his favorite and didn’t allow them to spend time without him so no one could compare notes. Lousy in real life but it did make for interesting watching.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        After I left one firm I got news that the manager had instituted a new policy to ‘cut down on useless chatter’. Absolutely NO non work conversations were allowed in the IT department from that point on.

        Those who remained after that definitely got into the habit of being cold to their fellow coworkers.

        1. Joan Rivers*

          And if he still doesn’t get more clear after she responds, that’s when she has to say he sounds like he’s thinking of specific examples from life, and ask if he is.
          Who knows what he’ll say, but she can put him on the spot, she has nothing to lose.
          He may go away thinking how insightful and shrewd she is and keep her in mind for the future, when possibly he’d grow or hire good people who improve the situation.

          1. Carol the happy elf*

            My big deal breaker here is the orificial stoppage of the kind of person who:
            1) Sends this at all
            2) But at TWO IN THE MORNING!!

            This looks even worse through the bleary-eyed madness. Unless, does he work out of Geneva?
            And forgot the time zone? While trying to assemble a child’s bicycle without proper tools??

            To quote the Goddess of Common Sense, RUN! And don’t leave your
            GPS history for the zombie hordes to find you, either. Stop only to leave warning signs for the innocents who follow.

        2. JustaTech*

          At one point my company tried to ban “unnecessary talking” in the clean rooms (because talking creates too much air movement, uh huh, sure). This is one of those rules that’s impossible to enforce because 1) you must speak with your verifier to do the job and 2) everyone is wearing a mask, so even if someone is watching the security cameras they can’t actually see if you are talking (and there’s no audio, not that you could hear anything over the vents anyway).

          There is (some) down time in the process, and telling people they just have to stand there silently is both mean and pointless. Like, if you’re chatting so much you mess up, then that’s a conversation about task first, chat later, but while you’re waiting for the machine to go “ping!”, why not pleasantly pass the time?

    3. sacados*

      Yeah, I mean taken generously it could mean something more like “we’re not the kind of office to have happy hours/all go out to lunch together/schedule social activities outside of work together so don’t be disappointed wit that” buuuuut….. taken with the other thing it gives me more pause.

      1. Koalafied*

        Yep, it’s just worded in such a… I want to say, preemptively accusatory way?

        Like he could have made it about the job skill, e.g. “Must be comfortable working independently.” Or he could have included a heads-up in the job description instead of in the requirements, e.g. “The office you’ll be working in is typically very quiet as everyone is primarily focused on their own tasks, and there are no company-sponsored social activities. Most employees prefer to go straight home after work.”

        Instead he chose to focus on more of a personality attribute, what the prospective employee “needs” from their job. Honestly, plenty of people like LW who get their social needs met outside of work still enjoy some degree of pleasant socializing at work, so this wording suggests that the employer is mentally categorizing people as “wants to socialize at work; overly needy” and “values little to no socialization at work,” as if all people fall into one of those two buckets…and since he’s explicitly screening out the first group of people, that leaves one guess as to which bucket he puts himself/the rest of the team in.

        1. Artemesia*

          It is the accusatory tone that is the red flag — he is on edge to blame and interpret normal behavior in negative ways. And no normal job expects you to get it done regardless of ‘personal cost’ — yeah that happens in the military in a war zone — but not in a civilian organization.

    4. Allredflags Tome*

      #1: We want you to have no life outside of this job
      #2: We want you to have no life inside of this job either.
      Missing: We won’t pay you (or will pay you far less than you’re worth) because you’re doing this for the EXPOSURE!!
      It makes me wonder which would be worse, this job or being incarcerated.

    5. LifeBeforeCorona*

      It reminds me of signage in a workplace: “Do not put any appendages into the machinery.” If you have to warn people in advance about “personal cost” there is probably a good backstory as to why.

    6. Junior Assistant Peon*

      A weird rule almost always means there was some incident in the past. I’m guessing that two coworkers dated and there was breakup drama, so now this manager doesn’t want anyone saying “good morning” to their coworkers.

    7. Ada*

      Reminds me of a job I interviewed for once where one of their questions was whether I’d be able to get my work done if my coworkers were bickering and screaming at each other throughout the day. I was offered that job, but turned it down despite the fact that my alternative at the time was part time retail work. Never regretted that decision.

    8. An Orb*

      I read this more as somewhere that thinks any moment not spent actively working is “slacking” so if they see you chatting with a coworker, you get scolded. I’ve had a couple jobs like that, with varying levels of severity. I remember one place where after a few months there I had determined that if you stopped working and started counting, you couldn’t make it past 5 before a supervisor would start asking you what you were doing and why you weren’t on task.

    9. Lego Leia*

      Your co-workers are toxic, so just talk to people outside of work. They are a clique that you will never break into, so just give it up.
      Everyone works with doors shut, no interuptions.

    1. TWW*

      I assume that’s how long it took for the first-choice candidate to realize the place was a heckhole and nope out.

    2. Elenna*

      Especially since George contacted OP first! Like, okay, sometimes stuff comes up and the hiring process takes longer than expected. I’m pretty sure there was a month of radio silence after my interview for my current, great, job (although they told me in advance that it was a busy time and I probably wouldn’t hear from them for at least three weeks). But surely if you’ve contacted someone to try to woo them to your company, you owe them a little more communication?

      1. MikeP*

        Yeeepp, that was my thought too. George wants OP to follow through on everything regardless of personal cost, but then was gone for a month. Two interviews and the promise of a third is a verbal commitment, so I’m wondering why George didn’t pay the personal cost to ensure that a month of silence didn’t occur?

    3. Cobol*

      I think it’s a yellow flag. LW describes it as a start-up, which means there often isn’t enough people to do everything. A month of silence means the CEO likely isn’t great at managing that though, so things get dropped.

      1. Mobius 1*

        Honestly being a startup is at least an orange flag for me personally. My personality and startup culture are awful fits.

    4. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. That plus these two…I’d pass. Any job that spelled out “regardless of personal cost” would be a job I would not accept. I’m willing to do a lot for my company, but I have limits. I escaped a manager who I later found out blocked someone from having surgery and made them miss their child’s wedding. I was appalled when I found that out. This guy sounds like he’d do the same. I’d decline to discuss the job further. Also, frankly, if this is a start up, that may come with its own difficulties and it’s all too much.

  2. I'm that guy*

    This is the guy who will show up at your child’s funeral or at the hospital while you are undergoing chemo with questions about a banner ad.

    I agree with Allison – Run for the hills!

      1. Sabina*

        Yeah, well why couldn’t you just schedule that funeral for your spouse for 30 minute lunch break, eh?

        1. No Name Today*

          You are salaried
          I haven’t taken a lunch break in twenty years.
          You don’t need no stinking’ lunch break.
          My wife jokes that i don’t eat; I just plug myself in at night to recharge. Haha.

      2. Pennyworth*

        Or your graduation. I’d like an update from that LW, especially along the lines of ”AAM made me see the error of my ways and I am now a much better manager and human being.”

    1. Susan from HR*

      Having flashbacks to the letter that was published here years ago by an employee whose boss ordered them to leave a work-related note for a bereaved coworker ON THE GRAVE (and they actually did it!)

      1. Artemesia*

        As I recall it was the poor shlub who did it as ordered who got fired too and not the person who sent the note.

        1. Julia*

          Thankfully, the boss who sent the note also got fired. But it was an unfortunate update, all things considered.

          1. Artemesia*

            Good. I had remembered it wrong — but always felt for the poor person so bullied that they would do something so outrageous.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Several years ago, the Washington Post interviewed a woman who did IT and she’d gone on maternity leave. She said a coworker lied about being family to the hospital so he could sneak into her room, laptop in hand, and ask her to fix it. She was on so many drugs that she barely recognized him.

      I didn’t believe it then, but I do now!

  3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    “regardless of personal cost” sounds like something you’d agree to when joining a cult, not starting a job.

        1. Laura*

          That was my very first red flag. Emai in the wee hours of the morning? Ummmmm, that says it all about “no social life”.

      1. JustaTech*

        This is why I insist on paying my coworkers for their blood. Asking for it for free is creepy, weird and invasive. (Everyone who gives blood is a 100% volunteer and gets paid and there’s an ethics board.)

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Yeah, the only thing that leaps to mind as what I would do “regardless of personal cost” is along the lines “defend the lives of my children.”

      I picture “If we can’t meet the fourth quarter projections, OP will make up the money out of his own pocket” and if George didn’t mean that at all and couldn’t foresee this, it goes to Alison’s point about empathy.

      1. NoMoreOffice*

        I was picturing skipping doctors appointments and treatments, but yours sound more likely.

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          My first thought was “we will expect you to compromise your ethics for our bottom line.” On second thought, unreasonable amounts of overtime seems more likely, but with this guy I wouldn’t rule out the first one.

        2. Antilles*

          I think your mental picture of skipping doctor’s appointments and treatments is probably firmly on the table as well.
          Maybe not necessarily “skipping” the appointments, but with a very clear expectation that you’re not letting your personal life get in the way of work – only scheduling appointments during free blocks in your schedule, then rescheduling the appointment if a work need comes up.

      2. Anon for This*

        I once had a potential investor expect any losses in my start-up to be paid back to them. That included the right to seize my house. Needless to say, I ended that discussion as fast as I could.

        1. Artemesia*

          When my husband’s law business was getting a loan they wanted all the wives of the partners to sign on to the loan. I refused; the other wives surrounded me at party and demanded to know why I wouldn’t support the business and sign. I told them ‘I got better legal advice than you did — talk to your husbands.’

          what a great deal — if your business succeeds I the investor will make money – if it doesn’t, I will take your house.

      3. Paulina*

        That these items sound like they’re in reaction to past issues points to it not being a lack of understanding of how they could be interpreted. Job descriptions should not read like “ensure that you’re not like my ex” dating profiles. (Neither should dating profiles.)

        It’s also quite common in startups for deadlines to have to be flexible because a lot of other things have changed. George sounds like the sort of person who’d want the content marketing strategy at the initially agreed-on date even after he’d made a lot of changes to what he’d wanted or been late with information that fed into it. You’re supposed to work the weekend to make it happen, and he won’t care that you have important plans with your kids. (Just ensure that they meet your social needs, even if you hardly ever see them.)

    2. Lacey*

      Seriously! I can’t imagine them requiring that when you sign up for the military, much less some start-up!

    3. Nicotene*

      Those four words are what stops this dead for me. The rest of it doesn’t really flag me as much, but that phrase is just so inappropriate for a job listing (in … social media … not like the Marines or Doctors without Borders or something – and it would also be inappropriate there) that I’m just out.

      I guess if you wanted to be really kind you could ask about that phrase but …

      1. Rebecca1*

        “Kind” as in “kind to the AAM readership because I would love to know the story behind this.”

    4. Queer Earthling*

      Seriously, are you applying to be The Chosen One in a really mediocre fantasy novel or what?

        1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

          Harry Potter and the Accelerated Amortization Schedule
          Harry Potter and the Sexual Harassment Seminar

          1. A tester, not a developer*

            In the US they call the first book Harry Potter Pays Things Off More Quickly (cultural differences). :)

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        The Lord of the Three-Ring Binders
        The Lion, The Witch and the Filing Cabinet
        The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Supply Cupboard

    5. sacados*

      Yup. Which … a lot of startups can have that culty-feeling culture so it may not be wrong.
      Not holding out hope, but if I were OP I would go back to George and just say — “The JD says lives up to agreements ‘regardless of personal cost,’ can you explain to me what that means to you in practice” and see what he says. Should be an enlightening response either way.

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yep, that was the phrase that would make this a hard no from me (and I work in an industry with notoriously bad work/life balance!). They’re clearly stating that they expect you to give up your life for their business, so believe them and decide if that’s what you want.

  4. irene adler*

    The interview for this position would yield interesting responses to the “what separates the good from the exceptional in this position” question.

    1. cereal killer*

      I selfishly want the LW to pursue this through an interview just to get more details on the bizareness of this workplace. But the original advice of “run for the hills” sounds more kind to LW.

      1. irene adler*

        Oh, me too!
        In fact, I’ll show up for any interview that I’m asked to participate in. I always learn something -either about myself or the company. And yep! Sometimes the crazy comes right out for display.

    2. SlimeKnight*

      “The exceptional candidate would dedicate their life to the job to the exclusion of anything else. If you aren’t estranged from friends and family within two years, you haven’t succeeded.”

      1. Nicotene*

        “The exceptional candidate would sacrifice a kidney, small child, or beloved pet for this ad copy. The merely acceptable candidate would only work 70 hour weeks with no time off for five years.”

        1. MightBeJeb*

          Ohhh, see THAT makes the two tie together, in my mind. If by “personal COST” he meant “personal EXPENSE,” and he’s also telling OP not to expect to work with friends… I wonder if the position would even HAVE any coworkers. Or is the small “start up” office a cover for OP potentially being the entire office?

          1. irene adler*

            That’s exactly what I thought too! LW is hired to do content marketing, and admin, and janitorial, and receptionist, and AP and AR, and, and, and…

          2. Paulina*

            Quite possibly OP would be in an office solo, expected to make things happen (at any personal cost) without coworkers or other help.

            I took it more as “we want your nose to the grindstone for however long it takes to meet deadlines, but we don’t do any of those other things startups do to keep employees at work longer.” No games in the break room to relieve the monotony before going back to the salt mines; it’s just all salt mines all the time.

          3. JustaTech*

            I have a friend who was a very early employee at a startup (promised lots of equity) and among other things the “company” put a lot of their necessary operating costs on her personal credit card. Some months she got reimbursed, but not all.

            When she left (after far too much turmoil in my opinion) they just expected her to keep paying for all of these absolutely necessary things (their domain) and refused to respond to her request to transfer everything. So she just stopped paying and moved to another country.

            Moral of the story: a bad startup will *mess you up*.

            1. The Prettiest Curse*

              I hope their website disappeared from the internet after she stopped paying for their domain name. Especially after she moved to another country!

      2. Catalin*

        Reminds me of The Devil Wears Prada, “Let me know when your entire life goes up in smoke, means its time for a promotion.”

        1. Really Just a Cat*

          I was thinking of that too, but the scene where everyone changes all their behavior once they get word that the boss is about to arrive–all conversations cut off.

          This boss is the guy who reads the posts about the boss requiring everyone to test to see if they are an organ donor match for their relative and says ‘now that’s good management!’

      3. Anon Dot Com*

        But you also aren’t allowed to form any human connections with coworkers, because complete social isolation makes more productive workers!

  5. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    #1 You agreed to this job and you will need to provide for all of your own business needs — BYO phone, internet, computer, desk, chair, travel expenses — whatever the business needs, you will provide at your own personal cost.

    1. Dasein9*

      To riff on your translation: We want people who are passionate about their work. Vacation? Why would anyone need a break from their passion?

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Right? If you are on your vacation and they need you back at the office, you better be willing to buy that extra plane ticket or eat the cost of a change fee, or lose your non-refundable deposit. You agreed to it…

  6. Person from the Resume*

    I don’t see #2 as much of a red flag. They are directly addressing a problem with a particular employee or former employee. It’s not ideal, but not a warning for applicant.

    #1 blinding bright red blinking red flag and all applicants should run away.

    1. Czhorat*

      #2 is very weird.

      A job description is usually, you know, the job description. What you’ll be doing. Who you report to, who reports to you. What kind of client engagement is expected. Where you’ll be working, and for what hours.

      “Don’t make friends here” is, quite frankly, bizarre.

      1. serenity*

        I’m glad you mentioned that, because that’s the first thing that jumped to my mind.

        Regardless of how alienating and inappropriate both #1 and #2 are, they’re not remotely part of a “job description”. They’re part of maybe a code of conduct or employee manual. And yes, that goes double for #2. “Don’t expect to socialize with other employees” is not a job description.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          It’s true that it shouldn’t be in the job description itself – but a lot of postings have a paragraph of information about the company and/or team, or preface the job description itself with more of a “come work for us” type statement, and this sort of information is a natural fit there.

          1. serenity*

            I don’t think these points as presented to us are “a natural fit” for anywhere in any good job description.

            An “about us” section of a job description can certainly go into detail about what the culture is like or what the company values. I’ve seen plenty of those. But the problem here is these are finger-wagging statements saying “you are expected to sacrifice for this job” and “socializing is frowned upon”. “Come work for us” language is typically inclusive, not aimed at rebuking applicants.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              Very true! The way they’re phrased as requirements for the applicant and not description of the company culture is really bizarre.

      2. An Orb*

        That’s an excellent point, I was thinking of this like a job posting rather than a job description since that’s what it sounds like. It’s extra weird in a job description.

        I think if that was the only weird thing in there, it wouldn’t be a massive red flag. You’d really have to ask what they meant by it, because it could be a sign of something really bad or a sign of something pretty mild and it’s hard to tell the intent from the phrasing. On the bad end it could be that they consider any time not proactively working to be slacking and frown on any chatter whatsoever between employees. On the mild end it could be that they’re trying to avoid hiring people who do use their job as their primary social outlet, which isn’t necessarily nefarious. That’s not a good fit for all workplaces. I have worked jobs where coworkers are each others’ entire friend group and ones where no one is friends outside work, and if you take someone who wants the former and plop them in the latter (or vise versa) they’re gonna have a bad time.

        But once you put that first line in there, hoooooo no.

    2. Threeve*

      I don’t know, I feel like like #2 is saying “we communicate even normal things in a weirdly combative way” at the very least.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        That’s a good way to think about #2. But I think it shows that the culture is more Hunger Games — don’t get attached to anyone, they won’t be here later, maybe you won’t either.

      2. LadyByTheLake*

        I agree with Threve. If the issue is that the office isn’t very social (or that isn’t encouraged) then there are other ways of saying that without being so confrontational and weird about it. Something along the lines of “Candidate should be comfortable working on their own” or “Candidate should be comfortable working in a quiet office of self-starters” — anything else other than what was said.

        1. londonedit*

          Yes – I once applied for a job that would involve working in a very small office with only one other person, doing quite technical editorial work, and they made it clear that the successful candidate would need to be a self-starter who would be happy working alone a lot of the time. That’s fair enough – it’s an unusual situation and they wanted to make sure candidates were aware of the setup. But ‘Social needs met outside work (does not need an office full of coworkers to fulfil this need)’ is just oddly adversarial from the start – like ‘You’d better not try to make friends with anyone’ or ‘We do not allow chat in the office and everyone must work in silence at all times’ or whatever.

        2. Guacamole Bob*

          “Quiet office of self-starters” is a great phrasing! That’s the kind of thing I was trying to get at with my comment below, but you said it better.

        3. Smithy*

          Absolutely. I once joined a very small team in a larger organization – where the larger organization did have a more social dynamic, but our team did not. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it did share a lot of language about how despite the size of the organization, we actually did a lot of solo work and our networking/team work opportunities would be more remote in nature.

          I do think that a number of people are looking for work to include a social component. Even if it’s not completely looking to make outside of work friends, the desire for social camaraderie is quite common – so to note if that doesn’t exist is fine. But that language is wildly hostile.

      3. Guacamole Bob*

        Yeah, there are so many more benign ways to describe a culture where people aren’t really friends and there’s not a lot of socializing. Instead of listing “social needs met outside of work” as a requirement, you describe the culture as “collegial” or “formal” or something rather than “fun” and “friendly”, or “independent rather than collaborative project structure” or something.

        This can be easier to convey in an interview, but there are ways to hint at it in a job posting that aren’t nearly this abrasive.

        1. Nicotene*

          You could also just plan to ask candidates about their social expectations in the workplace! To put it in the ad is just so weird. I agree with Alison that it’s probably in response to a past employee being too social/needy/whatever but that still shows clouded judgement here.

      4. Czhorat*

        Those two points themselves are weirdly combative.

        It’s as if they don’t trust and barely expect to tolerate their new hires.

      5. Susan Calvin*

        yeah, good point – I was inclined be soft on #2, because office culture around socializing can be hard to effectively communicate (I’ve also had a hell of a time trying to come up with wording to that says we’re nice and sociable and like to do team events, but not in a Mandatory Fun kind of way). But this is a really odd angle to take.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          I totally agree. There are so many different permutations of this — where I work, there are a lot of people who I enjoy interacting with (and I think the feeling is mutual), but 99% of our conversations are on-topic and we don’t know a lot about each other’s lives beyond the basics. But the vibe of those interactions is still warm and friendly. And there’s a range of office cultures I could see myself being OK with, so it’s not like I wouldn’t be able to adjust to another culture (as long as there was no mandatory fun ^_~).

          As someone said below, for this employer not only to phrase it this way, but to put it in the *job description* (instead of, like, having a conversation about culture in an interview), is pretty strange.

    3. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I think #2 *is* a warning, at least if the applicant prefers a collaborative and positive environment.

    4. Coder von Frankenstein*

      I see #2 as more of a yellow flag: It isn’t an unreasonable expectation, but putting it in the job description smells a bit passive-aggressive, and you DO NOT want a passive-aggressive boss. I wouldn’t consider it a deal-breaker by itself. But I would take it as a sign to be cautious about moving forward.

      Of course, that is obviated by #1, which is not a sign to be cautious about moving forward but a sign to be hasty about moving backward.

    5. Daisy-dog*

      I think #2 could be explained in the interview, not the job description. There are ways to warn people of issues that former employees have run into without doing it in this way. Questions like, “What type of work environment do you enjoy?” or just flat out explaining, “We are a busy team and we rarely see each other other than brief work-focused meetings. We pride ourselves on a strict work/life balance, so we don’t do any social activities like happy hours or birthday lunches.”

      1. SansaStark*

        I completely agree. Years ago I had an interview where my would-be boss was really up-front with me about how the office was very small and made up of people who were much older than my 26 year old self. She just wanted to make sure that I knew it wasn’t a “happy hours after work!!!!!” kind of culture. It ended up being a great fit because I had a busy social life and frankly didn’t want to have to include coworkers in it, too. I think it’s a reasonable thing to bring up in an interview as part of the office culture so that there can be nuance, room for clarification, etc. in way that making it part of the job posting just can’t have.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        If your office culture is really different than the typical range for your field, I think it can be helpful to put some signifiers in the job description to get people thinking about it. Like if you reference that the company does lots of team-building activities then people who are really not into that can opt out of applying or at least know to be alert for more info about culture fit once they get to the interview. Or use terms that indicate culture: quiet, enthusiastic, highly collaborative, flexible, structured, process-driven, “everyone wears many hats.” It’s not the whole story, but those things do convey useful information.

        But you’re right that these team culture components are often much more easily conveyed in the interview itself.

    6. Sara without an H*

      You have to be careful when replacing a bad hire. I once worked at a place where they were desperate to NOT hire a micromanager (after the micromanager-in-chief finally moved on). The new hire was so hands-off he created a vacuum.

      But no.1 — that is definitely a big flashing red light.

    7. Kiki*

      I think #2 is concerning (albeit less-so than #1) because it’s not completely clear whether the particular employee or former employee was being wildly unreasonable OR if the employer is wildly overreacting to a normal variation in employee behavior. And even if the employee was being wildly unreasonable, it seems like the employer has a worryingly low level of self awareness to put this in a job ad the way it was phrased.

      Kind of like if you go on a date with someone and they start the conversation with, “I hope you’re not like my EX who expected me to pay for everything and stole all my savings!!! Separate checks?” Even though I do not expect him to play for everything, have no plans to steal all his savings, and am totally cool doing separate checks, it does not bode well that he started the date on that note!

    8. Cobol*

      With regards to #2 it depends on the field a lot to me. Content Marketing can have some very “outgoing” people. If it’s a medical/law/accounting/small tech office, they may have had a very bad experience with somebody who thought nothing of talking somebody’s ear off when they had better stuff to do. It’s not eloquently worded, but if writing was a strength they wouldn’t need a content marketer.

  7. Neosmom*

    Follow up at 2 a.m.? Did this person utilize a delay / send option on their email? I think not. That time stamp plus the “regardless of personal cost” shows you who they are. Do not jump into this pool.

    1. Jellyfish*

      The timing alone isn’t necessarily a red flag. I wondered about that with my current job as I got several late night emails from the person arranging my interview logistics. Turns out they have pretty flexible hours here, and that person just prefers working at night.
      In combination with the rest of OP’s experience though, it’s one more potentially worrisome element that adds up to something alarming here.

      1. Nicotene*

        Yeah it’s not the timestamp – although really people, use the schedule-send option if this is an early interaction with someone – it’s the combination.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah. Each of the points is alarming on its own, but taken together, they need to hire robots. Most people need at least some socializing to thrive. In this environment, they’re going to be working long days that don’t give employees a lot of time to socialize with other people outside of work, but then they aren’t going to be allowed to socialize at work, either.

        Run for the hills, LW!

  8. londonedit*

    This is so bizarre. Point 1 says ‘be prepared to dedicate your entire life to this job’ and then point 2 says ‘…but we don’t want to be friends with you’.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      George: “I don’t understand, why is everyone having a problem seeing how these things fit together?”

    2. Elenna*

      “Must have a social life outside work, except we will require you to sacrifice it at our least whim.”

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        “We once hired Daphne, who agreed to sacrifice her social life outside work and then it turned out she didn’t have one. The other employees turned on her in their bitterness, so we added part (b). Also, totally unrelated, do not look behind the wallboard in the third floor conference room.”

  9. UKgreen*

    Point 2 doesn’t really strike me as too awful – it seems a badly-worded way to say the role might work alone a lot (or that there might not even be an office, and the role might be fully from home or with diverse time zones).

    But point 1?? Yeah, no, I’d delete the email and run directly away from this job. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200…

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Agree. It’s pretty blunt, but it’s a good way for those candidates who need a lot of watercooler talk or social interaction with coworkers to self-select out. I’d be happy knowing that upfront.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. But it does jive rather badly with the first point, in that candidates are expected to be willing to sacrifice everything else in their lives for work.

        Most startups where people are expected to work long hours and prioritize work above everything else at least take a lot of pride in providing amenities and opportunities for socializing for their employees, at least those who fit the bro demographic, to encourage them to they feel like they never need to go anywhere else. Why else would free catered meals, gyms, gaming rooms, and nap rooms be so popular in those environments?

        I’m wondering exactly who they’re hoping to hire. A hermit who doesn’t want to be bothered by human contact and who’ll happily spend years doing nothing except working, eating, and sleeping?

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Oh yeah, the first point would make me run for the hills: been there, done that in my 20s and not willing to do that at this point in my life at 46.

  10. SheLooksFamiliar*

    George might be overstating his preferences because he got burned by gossipy employees, or he might be clueless, or he might really believe his ‘hard line’ is appropriate. Whatever the reason, I would take his words at face value: When people tell you who they are, believe them. George is not going to be a good manager, and even a great job and team can’t overcome poor management and leadership.

    If you really like the opportunity, OP, maybe you could float the idea of being a contractor. That could make the arrangement easier for you to manage and escape, if needed. Just a thought.

      1. Artemesia*

        ‘high standards’ means ‘rigid’
        ‘High moral standards’ means ‘prig’

        took me years to figure that out — it is particularly damning in a reference

    1. Aron*

      When people SHOW you who they are, believe them. If George responds back to OP, he can “tell” whatever he wants and give every excuse under the sun for those two bullet points and/or office culture. I’ve been burned too many times by toxic rationalizers when I listened to their subjective “tell” (i.e., BS excuses) and ignored their objective “show” (i.e., objective behavior before the BS excuses).

      OP, this is not the job you want. Even as a contractor, you’re liable to get sucked in and normalize what will undoubtedly be a strange, if not messed up culture. (Been there, done that, too.)

    2. Le Sigh*

      I had a boss who felt burned by someone on our team (he’d argue it was all my coworker’s fault, I’d argue it was more 70-30 boss/coworker). The lesson he took from that was to grill interviewees about their ability to show up on time, ask personal questions that absolutely veered into discriminatory territory (our poor HR recruiter…), etc. He acted like his last girlfriend cheated on him so now he was going to take it out on all future girlfriends.

      Unsurprisingly, several interviewees saw the parade of red flags and declined the job offer. Hmm.

    3. Antilles*

      I wouldn’t want to be a contractor for this place.
      If this is how George presents the company to candidates who they’re trying to woo, they probably treat their full-time employees worse and I don’t even want to imagine how much more miserable they treat their contractors.

  11. Dasein9*

    I’d lay money that when you decline, George laments to someone in his life that, “Nobody wants to work any more!”

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Yeah. Our state legislature wants to take away unemployment benefits for people who turn down job offers. It’s a policy meant for people like George.

  12. Dust Bunny*

    #1? I’m thinking about the time I talked my way out of a write-up because I was late, because I had to pull over for shelter rather than drive in during a blinding rain storm. Sorry, but I’m not willing to die for $9 an hour–you can pay the person on the shift before mine that much overtime for once. I got out of it because one of my bosses slipped and said that she had waited an hour to drive home because of the weather oh hey yeah maybe we don’t have a case for this disciplinary action after all.

    1. PT*

      We ran into this one place I worked. A blizzard was forecast and they told everyone to plan on coming into work, so my boss and I got the job of calling all of the people below us to notify them to plan on coming into work. We were mad *we* had to come into work, and we thought it was ridiculous and unsafe, and then we got yelled at by everyone below us for this decision.

      They then, of course, decided to close halfway through the day…so people got nearly stranded there.

  13. Keymaster of Gozer*

    It’s like if you got a job description that included ‘must NOT harass women’ or ‘must not EVER complain’ – okay, there may be a story behind why they said that as a key point but it’s exceptionally concerning that they DID feel a need to make it a key point.

    Once got one from a recruiter that had, in big letters, ‘must not be relying on this job to pay essential bills’ which….ooooookay.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yeah, the recruiter did actually answer my question about it with ‘they sometimes have cash flow issues so they’d feel bad if you lost your house because they were late on payment’.

        Definitely recommended that they stop trying to find people for that job then. You don’t look to hire full time expensive technical experts when you don’t know if you can pay them.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            True! Although I was on unemployment benefits at the time which meant I had to apply for X jobs per day so I really had to think hard about even submitting an application. In the end, decided the headache of ‘but you were offered a job and you turned it down, why?’ was gonna be worse than ‘why didn’t you apply for X jobs on Tuesday?’.

        1. Let's Just Say*

          Whaaaaaat! That is bonkers. I guess at least they warned you? But who in the world thinks that’s an acceptable way to run a business, let alone hires more employees when they can’t even pay the people they have??

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Well, I respect the recruitment firm for giving me the information when I asked but I *did* have to ask.

            Looked up the firm just now (this was…5 or 6 years ago?) and it should come as no surprise that they went bust.

        2. Another health care worker*

          That’s hilarious, and I almost appreciate that they stated up front that you can’t necessarily expect to be paid. Consider this position for covering your optional bills, then!

        3. it's me*

          At least they warned you in the ad? Lol. I worked at a place that paid on the first of every month. …Until they didn’t because they couldn’t! Surprise!

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Definite shades of ‘we want you to have a spouse who pays all your bills’ coupled with ‘if you have a passion for your job you’ll do it for free!’

          (Always love your username btw :) )

          1. Queer Earthling*

            CLEARLY an ideal option.

            (Thank you! It’s the name of my [nsfw pls don’t google at work] blog, and I use it everywhere because I’m extremely boring, or because of branding, or something.)

    1. Observer*

      Once got one from a recruiter that had, in big letters, ‘must not be relying on this job to pay essential bills’ which….ooooookay.

      Only someone really inexperienced is going to take that job. Or someone who is totally incompetent and out of options. Which is a good way to drive this already shaky business over the edge.

  14. Sharrbe*

    Regardless of personal cost? That is truly bizarre. “Sorry, Lou, I know you’re in the ER and your appendix is about to burst, but you CAN’T get emergency surgery because you told me three months ago that you weren’t going to take any time off until this project is finished.”

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Lou, I know we pay you $100M/year, and this year’s operating budget is $125M short… regardless of personal cost, you’ll understand.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      “Sorry, I won’t be available for phone calls, I’m going into the hospital for emergency kidney surgery, but I’m gonna have them do a local anesthetic so I’ll at least be able to answer emails.”

      1. LadyByTheLake*

        The thing is, I worked at a place where this was the actual expectation. They told stories of associates continuing to research and write legal memos while in labor and a story of an associate who continued to work while in the hospital for a burst appendix. The firm (this was BigLaw) thought that those were inspiring tales of dedication — not horror stories.

        1. Susan from HR*

          Yup. My “favorite” memory of this time was the screaming meltdown I witnessed by one partner when a second partner wanted to take a 10-minute break at 10 PM PST during a marathon trial prep session to Facetime with his toddler on the East Coast at her bedtime. The partner was shrieking I BARELY SAW MY KIDS WHEN THEY WERE GROWING UP and I was thinking….that’s supposed to be aspirational?

        2. EchoGirl*

          Geez. I mean, I know my mom (a lawyer) has stories of doing legal work while on bedrest before my brother was born, but that’s *bedrest*, not actual labor, and it was only asked of her because of bad timing of a coworker who had literally started six weeks earlier getting most of her case load. (Plus she was bored out of her mind, so I don’t think she minded that much anyway.)

  15. SlimeKnight*

    I’m thinking about adding “regardless of personal cost” to every line of our job descriptions.

    “Will groom all llamas…regardless of personal cost.”
    “Will glaze all teapots…regardless of personal cost.”
    “Will perform other duties as assigned…regardless of personal cost.”

    1. Susan from HR*

      I’m adding that phrase to every sentence I write….regardless of personal cost.

      1. Dragon_Dreamer*

        Add it to fortune cookies! “… regardless of personal cost… in bed.”

      2. Regardless of Personal Cost*

        New name? New name. I’m claiming this, regardless of personal cost.

    2. Let's Just Say*

      Now I’m just imagining someone struggling to finish grooming after the llama bites off their hand or something.

    3. Spencer Hastings*

      One neat trick to make anything sound ominous with just four extra words! :D

    4. The Prettiest Curse*

      This is even funnier if you imagine it being said in the deep, booming voice of that guy who voices all the movie trailers while the camera zooms in excessively dedicated llama groomers and teapot glazers.

    1. Been There*

      I had a boss email me at 10:30 pm on a Friday, and then be angry when I didn’t respond until Monday. It was not an emergency. That place was so toxic.

  16. ENFP in Texas*

    “Regardless of personal cost”? And this verbiage is coming from someone IN MARKETING, who, in theory, should be highly cognizant of words, audience, and messaging?

    Oh heck no. Not even a question. You’re looking for employment, not for somewhere to sign your life over to.

      1. quill*

        I mean, Satan theoretically would not care if you took a vacation or had an appendix removed if he’s got your soul on lockdown. He can wait, lol.

  17. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I think it’s easier to identify all the things about this that are not a red flag:

    List begins
    His name is George.
    List ends

    Flee in terror.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I have a good friend named “George,” so at worst it’d be a yellow flag?

  18. hbc*

    I love the combo of the two items. How are you supposed to get your socialization from your personal life when you’re going to have cancel on plans last minute because of work? “Socialize on your own time! Of which you should have none!”

    As I think about it, even if it’s a lonely and stressful job, this would come off so much better as part of the job description than as an applicant requirement. “In this position, there will be long stretches of solo work without much interaction with colleagues. The work is strongly driven by deadlines, which doesn’t allow for a predictable 9-5 schedule.” Let the applicant decide it’s not for them rather than being so aggressive.

  19. Magenta Sky*

    #2 sounds like it’s mostly, if not all, remote work.

    #1 sounds like a dumpster fire. In an oil refinery.

  20. Mental Lentil*

    1) start-up
    2) month of radio silence
    3) 2 a.m.

    This was a big NO for me before they even got to the job description.

  21. Miss Muffet*

    Alison had a slightly more generous reading of “regardless of personal cost” than I did. Seeing it as a work/life balance thing is somewhat better (?) than what I was thinking: bending ethical and/or legal rules, sacrificing your reputation for this job, etc.
    Either way — yeesh.

    1. mlem*

      In my brief, unlamented attempt at grad school, I was in an acting class. The “instructor” told us to play a scene as a reporter who would “do anything” to get this scoop. It later turned out that he’d indicated to the women that he meant “do anything” to include offering sex.

      I honestly have to wonder where “regardless of personal cost” stops, in George’s estimation.

  22. Coder von Frankenstein*

    If George does respond with “clarification and context,” I would love to hear his explanation of these requests.

    (Not that any response on his part should change Alison’s answer. When people tell you who they are, believe them. George has told you who he is, and no amount of walking back or justification should make you take this job.)

    1. Kyrielle*

      Agreed. Walking back and/or justification he may present is good for entertaining us (and hopefully you, LW!), but not for changing teh calculus about this job.

    2. hbc*

      An explanation that *might* work for me: “My cat walked across my keyboard in the middle of the night, pasted a section of my collection of Bad Job Posting lines, and pawed Send. The unmodified job description can be found below. Sorry for the inconvenience!”

  23. HereKittyKitty*

    Ah marketing jobs where you have to figure out if it’s real, a scam or a cult.

    I was totally interviewed by what I believe to be a business-centered self-help cult (or cult in the making) and the CEO who interviewed me used similar, weird language. Ran for the hills.

    1. Self Employed*

      Someone keeps posting ads for an “assistant trainee” for what I suspect is something like that — on NextDoor. Yeah, the app for posting lost pets, complaining about trashy people, and asking what the police activity is about. I’m a moderator and keep voting to remove the ads (they’re posted in General) AND reporting their profile because that’s all they post. They don’t even comment on other people’s posts.

    1. JanetM*

      Yep. Although my absolute favorites are the ones where the answer starts with, “What?”

  24. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — I suspect that the fact that this is a startup is significant here and that George has no idea how to hire.

    Here’s what I think happened: 1) George hired another candidate he was interviewing (and didn’t have the courtesy to tell you, hence the month’s radio silence); 2) The new hire fled screaming after about 3 weeks; 3) George pulled up your resume and contact information and sent you the 2:00 a.m. missive you described in your post. The language you quoted tells you indirectly why the new hire fled the premises.

    So if you think you’d like to work with someone with no boundaries and among surly/unpleasant/combative coworkers, go ahead and follow up. We at AAM would love an update about how the interview goes.

    But if you really set a high value on your time and self respect, take Alison’s advice and run for it.

    1. sofar*

      I think this read is spot-on.

      Besides focusing on two VERY weird things in the job description (as in, things that don’t need to be explicitly said if you’re a reasonable employer hiring reasonable people), the two biggest red flags to me were:

      – “VP of marketing at a start-up.”
      – “Launch a content marketing program.”

      I’m in this field. I’d be VERY cautious about any startup that wants to “launch” a content marketing program. I’d be suspicious that they’re looking for a plug-and-play person who will handle all their problems and carry the entire program on their back. It may not always be a definite “no,” but I’d be having some serious discussions with what, exactly, the employer considers to be “content marketing” and other heads they are planning to fill on that team.

      1. Artemesia*

        And because it is a startup, this person will work for minimum wage and be fired after setting up their entire online business, the day before his stock vests. I know two people who lived this in two different organizations — one of them literally created the on -line presence for an entirely on-line business and then got fired the day before he would have had partial ownership.

    2. HR Exec Popping In*

      I agree. Start ups are notorious for being a hot mess without social norms or strong people leader skills. So here is George who doesn’t know how to lead well trying to manage through a job posting. I expect the start up is in a fast acceleration period which means people are working like crazy to meet commitments.

      These orgs really are not for the average person so believe what he is telling you. I wouldn’t consider these red flags, but more of a flashing red light with sirens going. (Note, some people would be fine with what George is looking for – and those are the types of people he should hire.)

    3. Danish*

      I think this is a good read on the situation that takes the entire picture in – the delay, the 2am, the extremely stringent “job duties” that sound like someone recounting a personal grudge…

  25. Caroline Bowman*

    Re point 2, it might simply be that it is a tiny office and there simply isn’t a big team and collegial atmosphere, so working independently / happy to be working alone is where it’s at for the ideal applicant… but point 1, yikes!

    In my experience this usually means *you* must do everything you agreed, to the letter and more, regardless of literally anything, including limb amputation or having to work 200000 hour weeks continually, but *the company* can more flexibly change what they want / intend / need and that’s fine, because of business.

    Run. Far.

  26. Peridot*

    Run, girl. Those are so far beyond red flags, they’re red sheets. Red quilts. Giant red tarps that cover buildings.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      +1 on this! Speaking from my own experience, whenever I see a company send me an interview request after midnight and they’re not abroad, I turn down the opportunity. I work in recruitment and if I see an email after midnight from a recruiter for an interview, I don’t even consider them. Work-life balance is crucial for me.

  27. Paul Pearson*

    The only reason you’d ever accept this job is because you want lots of material to send in future AAM letters – because I think you’d become a regular!

  28. Susan from HR*

    George sounds like he’s been hurt, y’all. Hurt people hurt people, so nope out of this one.

  29. Melissa P Cooper*

    My first thought was Captain Awkward’s famous phrase about this place being “full of evil bees” (I know that’s not verbatim, but you get the idea) Run, OP, RUN!

  30. BRR*

    1) This is the reddest of flags to me. Invent a new shade of red for how red this flag is. This is extreme language for a job posting and I bet it’s even worse if you’re an employee.

    2) I think it’s probably a red flag in relation to number 1. I would place money that it means no socializing because it distracts from work. On its own in a different job positing, I would only call it a yellow flag because whatever it’s trying to get across would be better conveyed through professional wording (this job involves working in solitude most days) or through good management (telling an employee they’re socializing too much an distracting their coworkers).

    1. Danish*

      New Sephora colors –
      scary interview sanguine
      Bad manager magenta
      Run run ruddy
      Horrid florid

  31. Run for the Hills*

    I would really like an update to George’s response to your questions. It’s all very “The Devil Wears Prada.”

  32. DG*

    The combination of the two is even worse than each sentence individually. If I’m taking a job that requires excessive hours and provides poor work-life balance (I wouldn’t at this point in my life, but for the sake of argument…), then I hope I’d feel enough camaraderie with my coworkers to enjoy the occasional lunch or water cooler chat to break up the day and give me some human interaction.

  33. IndustriousLabRat*

    This is a lot of red flags, in close proximity to a bunch of Bull. Does the company dress code include a cropped jacket and a velvet toque?

    Seriously, run like you’ve got a Picador hot on your tail. The “regardless of personal cost” statement is… disturbing.

  34. Business Socks*

    An issue I would have is that such specific things points to an office that is way to hung up on a specific former employee, which suggests to me some residual toxicity, or being to immeshed in each other’s lives.

    “We are looking for a motivated self-starter with 5 years industry experience and a level of professionalism who can be relied on not to stab people in the back by doing things like agreeing to go on a date with the CFO and later on saying she ‘just wants to be friends’ even though it’s clear that they are soulmates….SASHA”

  35. Susan from HR*

    There needs to be a master list of all red flag phrases culled from website

    – regardless of personal cost
    – we’re like family here
    – rockstar
    – many hats

    1. DG*

      I would absolutely download a browser extension that picked up on these words and phrases in job descriptions and calculated how likely it is that you should “run for the hills.”

    2. AnonRonRon*

      I work at a (thankfully functional) startup and I cackled at this list! “Rockstar” is ubiquitous and ughhh I hate it.

      1. Artemesia*

        I belong to an. on line group where a member handle/rockstar created a second persona who was an EMT, killed off that persona in the line of duty with ‘we have lost one of our own’ and had the whole group in paroxyms of grief and ‘what can we do for the family’ before it unraveled. First clue being ‘oh she wouldn’t want the family to know about this group’ and then people said ‘gee wouldnt’ we have seen the death of an EMT in the news?’

        That has forever cemented ‘rockstar’ and ‘BS’ for me.

    3. Business Socks*

      “Many Hats” – we are hiring one person to replace three people we laid off last year.

      1. TechWriter*

        My favourite was the government job postings wanting “yodas” and “jedi”. Criiiiinge.

  36. I edit everything*

    This sounds like the office where Linus works in “The House in the Cerulean Sea.”

  37. KimberlyR*

    I will always consider the personal cost to me when considering work items. The vast majority of the time, the personal cost to me is factored in (standard work hours for the job/industry.) Sometimes its more (an unexpected evening event or overtime) and I decide to accept it. I would never agree to do anything for work, regardless of personal cost. But in my current job, the personal cost is acceptable to me and the work they get from me in return is acceptable to them. If either changed, one of us would change the business arrangement with the other. I really think thats how everyone operates and thats how it should be.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      “Work your fingers to the bone… What do you get? Boney Fingers!”

      1. JustaTech*

        “Saint Peter don’t call me because I can’t go;
        I owe my soul to the company store.”

  38. Sparkles McFadden*

    I am assuming that the LW wrote this to ask “I’m not the crazy one here, right?”

    So…LW, you are not the crazy one. I can’t believe anyone would agree to take that job unless they are in dire straits.

    That said, I kind of want to start a Go Fund Me to offer you money to take this job for a few weeks just so we can get an update.

    1. MightyRosebud*

      Lol. if you can raise the massive salary he’s offering, I’ll do it! Thanks for the chuckle.

  39. DeeBeeDubz*

    I’m looking for a new job right now and I’ve seen variations of “regardless of personal cost” written into some job postings on public job boards. Some are tempting because they’ve listed the pay rate at a slightly above market range for this type of work, but even with that, I still don’t apply. There is no job and no amount of money you could offer me that would make me want to give up work-life balance and with wording like that I know I’ll be guilt tripped from day 1 for not being dedicated enough. Those types of jobs are for the “live to work” types, not the “work to live” types like myself.

    1. Kiki*

      There are a lot of jobs where this is an unstated expectation, so it sort of makes me happy that some jobs are explicitly stating it so I know to avoid them. But it also highlights the ridiculousness of the trade-off for so many jobs: “be willing to sacrifice your personal life so you can *checks notes* make Facebook ads for electric scooters.”

  40. irene adler*

    Sounds to me like the candidate will be working entirely alone -because there’s no one else employed by George.

    That “team” George references consists entirely of George and whomever he hires.

    This candidate will be doing Every. Single. Thing. needed to make for a successful start-up. Admin, janitor, receptionist, content marketing, building a market, finding customers, AR, AP, building maintenance, planning, pest control, travel, George’s laundry, etc. No job too small, no job outside the realm of this job description.

  41. Dorito Child*

    ” regardless of personal cost” sounds like a former boss I had, who just couldn’t fathom why her underlings didn’t want to come in early, work through lunch, and stay late every day at our university. She often reminded us people would “kill” to work there, and she was very sad and disappointed that we wanted to leave work at the end of our shifts and not live our lives up at work. P.S. She herself never came in early, worked through lunch, or stayed late.

    1. Allypopx*

      I had a “if you want to move forward in your career you’d be willing to do work off the clock” boss who regularly didn’t show up until 1pm. Apparently he’d gone as far as he cared to in his career.

  42. Polecat*

    RUN. It is rare that you can see so clearly that something is gonna be a disaster. This is one of those times. Run. Run fast and run far.

  43. Brett*

    #1 is a huge red flag.

    #2 I would actually welcome from a startup VP. Too many startups make the company also your social life, e.g. hard liquor in the fringe, extended happy hours, brainstorming dinners, etc. #2 Sounds like someone who has been in startups a while (especially in a non-tech role) and does not like the “the company is your social circle” attitude that can prevail at many startups.

    But #2 plus #1 sounds pretty bad.

  44. Observer*

    I just want to point something out. Alison usually says things like “consider very carefully” or “if you can afford.” It’s not often that she is this strong about avoiding a job.

    This is a job you cannot afford to take, even if you are desperate for a job.

    1. JustaTech*

      I’m at least partly reading “regardless of personal cost” as “put basic operating expenses on your personal credit card” so the OP would be left holding the bag when the startup implodes (as they often do).

      Absolutely not.

  45. Troublesome Cataloger*

    I recall a story from a very old retiree who worked in my department (library cataloging) back in the 1960s. She said that the head of the department at the time was very strict about workplace chitchat and limited people to 5 minutes of smalltalk in the morning and 5 minutes in the afternoon. “You’re here to work, not to chatter” and I keep picturing this when reading #2.

    (I do like meeting my social needs outside of work, but I also enjoy a little more chitchat than strict 5 min segments)

    1. Business Socks*

      “Hey, did you get that project done I was asking about?”

      “Nah… I was too busy monitoring everyone’s chit chat with this stopwatch”

  46. Bumblebee*

    This guy doesn’t want staff, he wants robots. I can’t imagine working for him would be at all a pleasant experience.

  47. EmKay*

    Is this the same dude who runs the ice cream shop, desperately looking for hires WHILE b!tching about teenage girls’ ‘drama’? (just the girls though, teenage boys are always model employees)

    Or perhaps they’re related?

  48. Cooper*

    This description is not full of red flags.

    It is full of bees, and each bee is waving a red flag.


  49. MightyRosebud*

    LW here. First, thanks to Alison for featuring my letter and responding! (Lawdy, some of the comments had me howling. Thank you all. )

    Given the rapport we’d established, I asked Geroge for context on both bullets. Worst case, I could simply say I’ve decided to stay where I am. (Not a stretch, as he knows I’m (relatively) happy at my current company.) We had a good chat and he agreed that the JD was written terribly. He also said – this is why we need you! (They’ve also hired a people experience leader, so hopefully, this person can advise them on how to optimize their message and expectations.)

    He doesn’t expect crazy hours or to give up my personal life. It was more around communicating dependencies and risks. The issue around socializing was more about working remotely. This is a fully remote role, so opportunities for socializing outside of work would be nill.

    As for the radio silence, they closed another round of funding and made some changes in sales leadership. He was in the weeds with that.

    1. Tom*

      That’s still not a good sign, though. If you don’t realize that “Lives up to verbal and written agreements, regardless of personal cost” gives off the vibe that the company is going to demand the impossible of you rather than the company looking for people who will keep their word even when it inconveniences them, that indicates that something is wrong. (Especially when there’s no guarantee that the company will keep its word if it would inconvenience the company.)

      At least he seems to be willing to learn from his mistakes, but I would not recommend that you take this job.

    2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      The job title of “people experience leader” is a new one. Wha?

      1. Pennyworth*

        I think it come from the same job description generator as ”chief impact officer’.’

    3. Observer*

      He doesn’t expect crazy hours or to give up my personal life

      Is that what he said. Because, that is meaningless. There are so many to “communicate risk”. And I would REALLY want to know what risk he is worried about that he needs to say that you will keep your word regardless of personal cost. SOMETHING is very, very off with that.

      1. Artemesia*

        Yes — it doesn’t add up does it. It feels like something illegal or immoral might be requested — very odd locutions for just ‘hey come and do good work.’

      2. Observer*

        Let me put it a different way. He is communicating to job seekers that there is a risk that this job will have significant personal costs well above the norm and / or what reasonable people are willing to take. Even if it’s not about crazy hours, that’s pretty concerning.

        1. MightyRosebud*

          It got even weirder. The JD was finnally posted and it’s NOTHING like the one he gave me. It’s written like something I would have expected to see. Anyway, I’m speaking with other start-ups (I’m tired of the enterprise world) and will see where those opportunities lead.

  50. Heffalump*

    The poor work-life balance in point 1 doesn’t sound conducive to nurturing your relationships outside of work. I’m sure the irony of this completely escaped the guy.

  51. Richard*

    This job description sounds like it was dictated at a bar the evening after the last person in this position quit/was fired.

  52. I'm just here for the cats*

    I really hope we get an update about what George said about the job descriptions

  53. LifeBeforeCorona*

    It reminds me of signage in a workplace: “Do not put any appendages into the machinery.” If you have to warn people in advance about “personal cost” there is probably a good backstory as to why.

  54. fhqwhgads*

    It’s a really weird combination of red flags too.
    Like, #1 basically implies “you will work all the time, never stopping, and that’s totes cool”.
    But #2 is like “you will not make friends here, do not expect any bonding of any kind”.

    So….spend allllllllll your time working (so you’re either alone or with work people), but also, make sure you have friends and those friends are not from work, because you need to get your socialization fix in your non-existent free time.

  55. OhHoneyNo*

    Lines I’ve learned are code for “Run screaming from this job and don’t look back” include:
    1. “must be willing to go the extra mile” or “must be willing to do what it takes”- translation: must be willing to stay late every weeknight, and come in every weekend, because “that’s what it takes”
    2. vague stuff about working with little direction or being self-directed – translation: we have bad management that is passive and disengaged or just plain clueless on how to lead, so you’ll be left afloat in the middle of the ocean and told to paddle home and you must be on dry land in one hour or the business will suffer and it will be your fault

    I finally moved on from a job that was brutally bad about #1 (example: making an employee work on her weekend birthday and MOther’s Day because “that’s what it takes” when this employee generally worked every weekend to begin with). When I told the owners I was leaving, they were livid, called me a “rat bastard”, and said I had a “bad attitude”. Whatever, I was outta there. From that day on though, I don’t bother applying to anything with the phrase “must be willing to go the extra mile”.

  56. R. Andrejczak*

    I think this guy is my former boss. I can’t make this stuff up. I quit because my mother died and he kept shoving work onto me… he called during the funeral even.

  57. Jennifer Juniper*

    #1 sounds like something from a Stephen King movie about cults.

    #2 sounds like the perfect job for my asocial wife and my own autistic ass. We both prefer to work when we’re at work and not be interrupted by inane chatter.

    1. allathian*

      I can see that #2 would be attractive for some people, but would you enjoy it if you had no time for anything else in your life except working, eating (at your desk), and sleeping?

      That said, the LW commented above and #2 refers to the job being full-time remote. Lots of people would jump at that, even if it meant working long hours, as long as expectations are otherwise reasonable (like not paying business expenses with your own credit card or getting subjected to abusive rants from your boss if you don’t answer an email sent at midnight until the following morning).

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