how should I balance workplace red flags vs. the necessity to get a job?

A reader writes:

I’m searching for a job in the real workplace for the first time — previously I’ve only been family-employed and self-employed. So I have work experience, but not necessarily in an official workplace context.

I’ve been job-searching for four months and haven’t gotten a job yet. I’m moving to a different state now, and I’ll continue job-searching there. I already have some options to try out. My question is: is it possible to know in advance whether or not a workplace is toxic, and if I have an inkling that it is, is that something I should avoid at all costs? Or should I give it a fair chance?

I have a cool job prospect that I know I’d be qualified for, with a luxury cabin rental business. I grew up working in a family-owned cabin rental business for 16 years. This particular business is generally very well-reviewed by its guests and is considered a high-quality place.

But I know it’s possible for a business to be adored by its customers yet still have a toxic interior. I’ve read a couple reviews from people who’ve worked there, reviews that were very negative (about how bad management is, how they work you to death, etc.), with no corresponding or larger amount of positive reviews. I’ve also talked on the phone with one person in the business about setting up an interview once I’m in their state, and even the vibe I got from her on the phone wasn’t super great. But I could also be reading stuff into it, and I’m not sure how to tell.

Do I trust those reviews and my instincts and not even try for a job here? Or do I give it a chance, go for an interview, and hope I can pick up on any actual red flags during the interview?

The thing is, I genuinely wanted to work at this place. I think it’s awesome from the outside. But these things have given me pause, and I really would love to stay out of toxic work situations.

I also really need a job, though. Soon. Is the necessity of getting a job ever a good reason for getting yourself hired at a place you already think might have bad management?

I have another job option that looks better as far as workplace culture and management goes, at a library. I’d love working at a good library. It’s about twice as long a drive, though, and has lower pay from what I can tell. So I’d be spending more to commute and getting paid less than with that cabin rental business. Is better pay and lower gas cost ever a good reason for getting a job at a potentially toxic workplace?

I’m pretty terrified of potentially landing myself in a bad workplace. But I also know that I can’t be picky forever, and if I’m just not getting a job, am I being too selective in my desire to avoid difficult environments/situations?

Well, there are lots of flavors of bad management, and some of them are more tolerable than others. There’s management that’s bad because they won’t set clear expectations, or flip-flop on decisions. There are managers who won’t deal with problems, or don’t recognize good work, or don’t train people correctly. There are managers who expect unreasonably long hours, or don’t pay fairly, or make promises they don’t deliver on. There are micromanagers, absentee managers, lazy managers, tyrants who yell … and on and on. You might be able to work reasonably happily in some of these scenarios and would be miserable in others. And there’s variation from person to person; some people are perfectly happy in cultures that others can’t stand, and vice versa. (Although I would say unreasonably long hours should be on everyone’s “no” list, unless you have deliberately agreed to that in exchange for commensurate pay.)

So just hearing somewhere has bad management doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. It’s absolutely a sign to be cautious — something’s going on there that you need to dig into more. But the specifics really matter.

And of course, the more options you have, the pickier you can be. Sometimes, yes, people do take jobs that they can see are likely to be a trash fire because they need income, and they have limited options for getting it. As you build more options for yourself, you can be choosier.

Also, though, you’re probably going to land at a bad workplace at some point in your career, just because there are a lot of them out there. And even workplaces that lots of people love could have elements about them that don’t work for you. Rather than being paralyzed by fear of finding yourself in a bad job, a more reliable move is to build trust in yourself to handle it well if you do. What that looks like will vary by person and by situation. In some cases, it will mean getting out as soon as possible. In other cases, though, it could mean detaching emotionally, maintaining appropriate boundaries, being assertive when you need to and letting the rest go, staying clear in your own head on why you’re there for the time being (like great health insurance or good pay or, hell, it just being the only thing you could find at the time), and being vigilant about not letting it recalibrate your sense of normal.

In your case, with the two prospects you’re considering: trust your instincts, but also don’t veto anything prematurely. Interview, talk to them, raise concerns if you have them (it’s perfectly okay to ask about the online critiques you saw; their response might tell you a lot), talk with others who have worked there, and gather as much data as you can. You will always be choosing between imperfect options and you absolutely shouldn’t dismiss your instincts, but the more info you can get, the better equipped you’ll be to decide what matters most to you and what trade-offs you’re most willing to make.

{ 248 comments… read them below }

  1. CheesePlease*

    Just another note OP, disgruntled employees are more likely to leave a review compared to employees who think “this job is fine”

    1. SMH*

      Came here to say the same thing. Especially for smaller companies, someone who had a positive or neutral experience is very unlikely to leave any kind of review. Only disgruntled (rightfully or wrongfully) employees are motivated to seek out Glassdoor or whatever and leave a review.

      I would totally discount it. Keep it in mind. And the larger the company is, the more likely I would be to take into account the reviews.

    2. Managing While Female*

      Yep – came here to say this as well. Some of them are absolutely legitimate, but usually it’s the disgruntled ones who run to write a poor review of their workplace. Those who think it’s fine or even are happy don’t necessarily think to go online and write a review.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Ironically, a company having a lot of positive reviews–particularly if they seem to be repeating a party line and don’t mention any downsides–can be an even bigger red flag. It can indicate an attempt to bury negative reviews under fake or coerced positive reviews.

        If you see something mentioned in both the positive and negative reviews–for example, busy times of the year or the company growing rapidly–you can usually trust that. In general, though, review sites should be the start of your investigation, not the end.

        1. Bast*

          I worked for a company that forced its employees to go on Glassdoor and the like and write about how amazing it was working there. Unfortunately for them, the turnover was high (surprise surprise) so it wasn’t uncommon for someone to go back and edit their review after they quit/were fired and explain that we were all forced to write these reviews in order to keep our jobs. While there were some people who willingly wrote somewhat nice reviews about working there, if you really read in between the lines of all of the “good” reviews, you’d see that people only hit on surface level things and refused to address the real workplace, which I’d see as a giant red flag. For example, in the positives category, we had a lot of “Pizza Friday!” comments and “Great restaurants in the area for lunch!” and the negatives would be “Bad parking” or “Nothing.” People dodged what it was really like to work there which is pretty suspicious and says a lot without outright saying, “RUN!”

      2. Ritxa*

        Or it could be someone who is on Glassdoor looking for reviews on their next gig and who are required to participate and review their past and actual employers…

    3. Awkwardness*

      Because of that, it is important for me to look for common themes in the review as long hours or erratic management decisions.
      Depending on the size of the company, it is also possible that one departement has no problems, but another a massive amount. So if you ask for an org overview, some of the reviews suddenly can seem a lot more reliable.

      1. Language Lover*

        Good point about departments. I worked at a company where some departments had very low morale, and mine was fine. Upper leadership did cause some anxiety overall but I had a good manager who made the day-to-day stuff fine.

      2. sparkle emoji*

        Yes, if the reviews have include the reviewers department or location, I’d care more about feedback in your targeted role/location. I’ve had jobs where my location had decent management and other locations were awful with awful reviews. Red flags won’t always be consistent across a whole company.

      3. Daryush*

        Agreed. And keep in mind, some reviews are legitimate complaints that are specific to this workplace, and some might just be a fundamental “culture mismatch” between the reviewer and the industry as a whole.
        For example, a coverage-based job is always going to be more strict with their time off policies. If you see a review, “it’s impossible to get time off here!” you don’t necessarily know if that’s true or if the person in question was always trying to take off last minute without giving the required notice. You would have to ask in the interview what time time off policy is and, whether time off requests are generally approved when someone follows the proper procedure.

      4. sofar*

        This, so much. I once took a job at a place that had awful Glass Door reviews, but they were clearly from a specific department. A friend of mine who worked in that department told me to “run and don’t look back.” But I got good vibes from the hiring manager and his team, so I accepted the job. I stayed there seven years (that other department was a dumpster fire, but run by one of the company’s founders’ friends, so he was never going to get fired).

      5. TrippedAMean*

        I would add that it depends on other things too, like management, coworkers, etc. I took a job with a boss I got along with well. He left after a year or so and I got transferred to a boss who gave me a huge raise and respected my ideas, but was higher up in the orgs so less accessible. Then he got offered his dream job in another state and I ended up under someone who didn’t understand my work at all and was more concerned with whether or not I was in the office (at a salaried job) than actually getting my work done. All within the space of a few years. Just because the job looks one way now, doesn’t mean it will stay that way for long.

    4. Stoli*

      Absolutely. There is no perfect job. You can be waiting forever because every single workplace has red flags. Take a decent offer and jump in.

      1. Librarian*

        Libraries can be tocic too, but I’d recommend applying for the job just in case. But then, I’m a librarian and might be biased. :-)

    5. Sloanicota*

      True, but that should be equally true for most workplaces of comparable sizes (ignoring outliers like places that ask all employees to submit a review in order to get more average/satisfied ones). I think it’s fair to notice if one place has many seemingly not sockpuppeted poor reviews.

    6. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah 100%, most of the reviews for my former employer were full of complaints. Valid complaints, but still complaints. There weren’t many positive or neutral reviews because those people didn’t care enough to give reviews at all. The people who were upset or (felt they were) treated badly or unfairly were the ones who took the time to complain.

      This seems to be the case a lot of places that aggregate reviews, but especially so with workplaces. So a lack of positive reviews doesn’t necessarily mean that the workplace sucks and everyone is/was miserable. It’s just another data point to take into consideration.

    7. jasmine*

      I think the key is patterns. I’ll disregard one review highlighting a negative thing. But if multiple reviews mention something consistently, I’ll take it very seriously.

    8. Knope Knope Knope*

      Yup. Reviews are for three kinds of people: Reallt angry ones, really ecstatic ones (and I feel that’s more for products than jobs), and people getting paid to leave them. A few reviews and a “vibe” are reason for caution, but way premature to bail.

    9. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      Those are good points, y’all—about how the disgruntled ones are more likely to go leave a review and how it might be different for different departments. Thanks for chiming in!

      1. mskyle*

        I think there’s often also a divide between “high drama” and “quiet misery” workplaces – you might be equally unhappy in either type of workplace but the quietly miserable people are less likely to leave bad reviews.

  2. Buffalo*

    “I also really need a job, though. Soon. Is the necessity of getting a job ever a good reason for getting yourself hired at a place you already think might have bad management?”

    Any place *might* have bad management. Every place has management that would be bad for somebody. I’m in management – I’m somebody’s dream manager and I’m somebody’s nightmare manager. It sounds like you’re really overthinking this and experiencing disproportionate anxiety over it. If you’re at the point where you *really* need a job, go get a job and see what happens.

    A few years ago, I was at going-to-be-homeless-in-a-week levels of needing a job. There was a job in my field that was famously bad – not just slightly dysfunctional, but borderline evil. I took the job, lasted five weeks, made enough money to delay homelessness briefly, and kept a roof over my head. Now I’m in a much better place. Sometimes, you do what you have to do.

    1. ferrina*

      Yep. Sometimes you pick the least-bad option. One of the great skills in life is knowing what you can survive and for how long, and go in with open eyes and an exit plan (that exit plan can be 1 year or several years- just know to start looking and don’t think that the toxic place is “normal” or “the best you can do”.)

    2. Beth*

      Very much this. Of course we want to avoid bad workplaces where we can! But sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. When the world puts us in a position like that, where we don’t have any good choices, I think there’s power in seriously considering all of your options and making an active choice on which is the least-bad for you.

      In your current case, it sounds like your choice is between a library job you’re worried you can’t afford (given the lower salary and higher commuting costs) and a cabin rental job you’re worried will have a high workload and poor management. Which of those would be easier easier for you to live with for, say, the next 4 months? You can always continue job hunting in the meantime; maybe you’ll find that the one you pick is more manageable than you expect, maybe it’ll just be something to tide you over until a better opportunity comes along.

      1. Norm Peterson*

        I would guess the library job goes to someone who is already known to the library AND likely has a degree in library/info science – just a cynical glance from someone who has an MLIS and has successfully worked in a library and now (happily) does not. Don’t get attached to that job as your other option! I’d take the cabin job if offered, and plan to look for other options that may not even be visible online after you move, if it turns out you don’t like it there, or want more money/free time/any myriad of other things different about your employment.

        1. Buffalo*

          I agree with most of this advice, but I’m a librarian myself, and where I come from (Canada), the MLIS is mostly for library management and/or specialists. There are tons of library jobs where an MLIS would be “overqualified”. That said, library jobs are competitive as heck, so the LW shouldn’t put too many eggs in that basket.

    3. Sloanicota*

      Agree, since OP is just talking about *applying.* She doesn’t even have a callback at this point, so it’s really too soon to worry. Apply widely since you say you need to find something, and then evaluate the actual options.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. She isn’t choosing between two job offers. At the application stage, you cast your net as wide as possible. Library jobs go to insiders. That occurs in many other companies as well, so you need to be applying to 10 places in the area to which you are moving, not one or two. Assume you won’t hear back; keep slogging.

        1. Great Frogs of Literature*

          And, in many markets, it might be 20 or 50 or 100 jobs, unfortunately.

        2. PB Bunny Watson*

          Exactly. There are some libraries where people without the MLIS are only be able to get a part-time job–even if they have experience in another library–just because of the number of internal part-time candidates ready to move to FT.
          Also, libraries are GREAT, and I love my field… but we are also having a hard time right now across the country. Even before the book banning and censorship wave trying to drown us, people had a tendency to think libraries are a lot less stressful than they really are. It can be emotionally taxing in even the best libraries if you’re working with the public. Good luck, though, OP!

    4. sparkle emoji*

      Agreed, to me this letter reads like LW has a lot of fear for the unknown. Getting more experiences at more workplaces will lessen this. LW, even if you don’t love the job you choose, you’ll learn about what you want and the next time will be easier.

      1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

        – sparkle emoji – You’re right, LW does have a lot of fear for the unknown. ;D Something I let hamper me WAY too much. Thanks for sharing your insights! A lot of times I do need to just get out there and do the thing instead of deliberating over it so much for fear of potential outcomes.

        1. sparkle emoji*

          It’s great to hear from you! I really believe you’ll find a place you’re happy with, you just need to get out there. Good luck!

          1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

            Thanks a bunch! Yep, gotta learn to take those risks and move forward.

    5. Melicious*

      It’s really hard to advise because each situation is unique and different people have different priorities. I once worked at a bad job for 3 years. I saw some flags in the interviews, and yup, I dealt with exactly the issues I expected. It sucked. But I don’t regret it because that was a better option FOR ME than living apart from my husband for longer than we already had.

    6. Serious Silly Putty*

      Yes! Also- you don’t know how insulated you’ll be from the chaos.
      A well-meaning family member warned me to stay away from an institution in our field. I heeded her advice for quite some time before finally thinking, “eh, I’m young & desperate; I can handle a bad boss for a bit.” Turns out her warnings were all based on one particular person, whom, in 4 years of working there, I never even met!
      There were systemic issues that I became more aware of/ upset by over time, but for the most part MY manager sheltered us from the BS and I had a fabulous experience there.

      1. Artemesia*

        And I had the world’s greatest boss in my very first job; then he was replaced by the world’s worst boss. Change in management happens all the time.

    7. JustaTech*

      Yes about doing what you have to do!
      There are two employers in my general field in my area that are known as the employers of last resort. One is a miserable place lead by miserable people who periodically fire all of their non-immigrant employees to prevent unionization.
      The other place carries strong stigma in the general public, very real risk of serious damage to your health and the risk of ending up on the front page of the newspaper.
      I’ve known people who have worked a both places and for everyone it was “this or food service, which wouldn’t cover my student loans” or “this or couch surfing”.
      No one makes either place a career, and everyone in the industry understands why people work there and don’t hold it against them.
      You have to weigh your needs against how bad a job is – food and shelter have to come first (at least until we get UBI).

      1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

        Oof, that’s tough. But yeah, totally makes sense. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Falling Diphthong*

    My daughter was job searching with little result, then had a week with three interviews. When we talked over the options, they settled into: Good work-life balance; good salary; engaging work. Each job offered two of the three.

    How people weight things will vary. How she weights these things will vary over time. It could be that a job is so good on one aspect that it pulls other aspects from negative to okay. Or so bad on that aspect that it pulls everything else down. There is no one formula that works for everyone in every circumstance.

    Even if you do a great job at weeding out bad management, three months into your new job something that made it a great fit could change. That’s why I think AAM is right to focus on the tools to handle a situation if it becomes bad, rather than avoid all situations that might become bad.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Money and engaging work. Figuring she’s young and can do some long hours; she really clicked with her soon-to-be manager; it’s easier to get flexibility when you’re a proven quantity. And I think overall the “engaging” aspect was really high with this company.

        Will note that of the two options with engaging work, the work was extremely different.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          This is where I would have landed as well, ESPECIALLY at her age. Good luck to her!
          (Long hours doesn’t always mean bad work environment, either.)

        2. Lozi*

          This makes so much sense … we often have different values at different life stages. Come to think of it, I’ve had very similar decisions to make: as a young adult I had a job with good pay, good engagement, bad balance; when my kids were young, it was good pay, good balance, most boring job in the world. Now that my kids are older and my spouse’s income is higher, I do interesting work with good balance but mediocre pay.

      2. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

        I’m gonna post an update comment once I finish going through the original comments!

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      This is a good model. My current job offers a fairly good work-life balance, but the work is not engaging, nor is the pay great. A good work-life balance is a must for me, so any job I take has to offer one of the other two.

      I have some debts, so I need to find something that pays well until I can work them off. Then if I’m bored, I can find something that pivots the other way.

      Thanks for posting this!

  4. Lalalala*

    Ask them questions during the interview!
    What is your management style?
    Do you have an established process for goal setting and performance reviews?
    What do you value in an employee?
    What kind of skills/knowledge/communication style would compliment this team and help everyone be more successful?

    1. pally*

      Good questions! I like to ask:

      To hiring manager: how do you support your reports?
      To HR or other management (not the hiring manager): how do you support your managers? How do you train or impart management skills to your managers?

    2. ferrina*

      “I read some reviews about this place on Glassdoor, and they raised concerns about X. Can you tell me about that?”

      Say it in a casual way, like you’re asking what software they use. If they get mad that you did your research, that’s bad. Sometimes they’ll brush off the concerns or blame someone, sometimes they’ll minimize it, and sometimes they’ll fully cop to it. Either way, this question gives you very, very valuable information.
      (that said, if you know you’d take a job just to have money, leave this question out. Some managers will hold this against you)

  5. Diana*

    You don’t say if you’ve worked at a library before, but they too can have poor management and lots of other issues, as the librarians on this site can tell you! So go into any interviews with your eyes and ears open, like Alison says!

    1. LaFramboise, academic librarian*

      Diana is so right! Just bc you might love libraries, doesn’t mean that as a library worker you’ll love it. Library management can be really bad, and the cognitive dissonance of bad management happening at a place you love (personally or conceptually) can be pretty jarring.
      However, if it’s a good library, you’ll probably have a good time. Read reviews of your library system as well.
      Good luck!

      1. Recovering Librarian*

        I can’t tell you how many times I told people about my toxic workplace and they were shocked. “Really?! At the LIBRARY?!” It’s like the adage about not seeing in the kitchen of your favorite restaurant. I won’t even visit libraries in-person now.

    2. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      Oof, thanks for pointing that out, about libraries having potential for bad management too. It’s more this library in particular that I sense has good management, not libraries across the board, so that’s cool.

  6. Throwaway Account*

    Alison gave such a great answer!
    I think when you hear the horror stories, and if you have a certain kind of personality, you think you have to be perfect at figuring it all out before you take the job. Like you failed if you did not figure it out before you took the job.

    Yes, do your research, but you are human and are sort of new to figuring this all out since you worked in a family business. So give yourself grace!

    Also, one of those places could be great, and in a few months, get a new manager who does not work for you. So even if you are perfect at figuring it out, things change!!

    Alison is right, work on learning how you can manage a workplace!

    Wishing you the best on your adventures!

    PS – libraries can be really toxic!!

    1. My Cult Didn't Even Have Good Cookies!*

      Your first paragraph said it perfectly! There’s so much anxiety, and so little grace for themself, in the original letter.

      We don’t have to know before we know. We don’t have to make perfect decisions. We get to learn life lessons the usual way, like everyone else. We do the best we can and that’s good.

      1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

        Thanks for sharing this! Got a long way to go in giving myself grace and not feeling like I have to make perfect decisions. I appreciate the perspective.

    2. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      Eheh, and I think I do have that particular personality and the problem you mentioned. Thanks so much for pointing that out, and the encouragement and perspective!

  7. Stuart Foote*

    Assuming the reviews were on Glassdoor or a similar site, I have noticed a big drop in the number and quality of reviews there. It used to be that even smaller companies had a decent number of reviews, a decent proportion of which contained useful info. In recent years Glassdoor has many fewer reviews and the ones there are are much shorter one sentence reviews. Also, Glassdoor is pushing their useless Fishbowl app which is supposed to be anonymous but will eventually have a catastrophic data leak which will dox everyone. Considering people on that app have no filter, that will not go well for a lot of folks.

    1. Lisa*

      People have been removing reviews/accounts due to the Glassdoor policy change to require a real name. There’s also their thing that to read reviews you have to write one, so people write a meaningless review like you’re seeing just to get access.

    2. Pretty as a Princess*

      There’s a huge uptick in fake/spam reviews too. There are at LEAST 50 fake reviews of my employer on Glassdoor. Some of better “quality” than others. There are some really fantastical ones about our site in India.

      We do not have a site in India.

    3. JazzyHamster*

      I will say though that when I contacted Glassdoor to remove my personal info, they did so. I had to push a bit as they first said ‘no’ but eventually they made my account anonymous and I can continue to use the fish bowl.

  8. beepboop*

    I’m a librarian and while I love my job, it can be really hard and toxicity in the workplace still exists! You have to put up with a lot from the public (assuming it’s a public library) and it’s not uncommon to deal with decisions from upper management that feel very dismissive of frontline staff. Not to discourage you from applying, but just to remind you that no job is all sunshine and rainbows!

    1. Managing While Female*

      Librarian is actually a fantasy job of mine and I have to remind myself that the realities are more along the lines you mention rather than the ‘get to be around and talk about books all day’ that I daydream about.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        “What do you mean, this isn’t a cover for a fabulous magical travel system hidden in the depths of the “W” fiction stacks?”

        1. Managing While Female*

          Oh hang on, I get even worse than that — my OTHER fantasy job where my daydream is nowhere close to the reality is academic/professor! *Cheshire Cat Grin* We’re aalll mad here!

      2. too many dogs*

        I work at a library, and MANY of our applicants state they want to work here “because I’d love to be paid to read all day!” Then we get to break their hearts and tell them they will be helping people (yes, all day), shelving materials, and more. There will not be time to sit and read, because you’re,… you know, …at work.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          I never understand this, because presumably these people have BEEN to a library, right? And did they see any of the employees sitting around reading? I am guessing not. Maybe they didn’t realize that the people you do see sitting around reading at the library are patrons, not staff.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            If a person wants to be paid to read all day they can join a publishing house where they can plow through the slush pile for chicken feed to their heart’s content.

          2. Troubadour*

            I do spend a lot of time reading actually, it’s just that it’s generally meeting minutes and draft memos for comment and organisational policies and vendor licences and other vendor documentation and technical standards which the _vendor_ clearly hasn’t bothered reading and so forth.

            The last time I read any fiction in the library was when I grabbed a book in preparation for a planned lockdown drill. About five years ago I think.

        2. Jill Swinburne*

          Yeah, you do all your reading outside work time and have to read a bunch of stuff you wouldn’t otherwise (and don’t enjoy, like for me Amish romance novels of which there are a surprising number) because you need it for readers’ advisory. Working in a library put me right off fiction for years.

        3. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

          Yeah, I don’t quite get that either. XD You’re there to help people, not read books all day.

          I’m a freelance proofreader on the side, and that’s more like getting paid to read (although it’s not as relaxing and dreamy as just sitting down to read for fun).

      3. ferrina*

        I like to volunteer at book sales so I get to live out my librarian fantasies and then go back to my higher-paying, lower-stress day job (librarians do amazing work, and I could not do it day-in and day-out)

      4. hereforthecomments*

        I worked in a library and it is astonishing the amount of patrons who don’t read and don’t use the library for that purpose. In my years there, I can count on one hand the conversations I had about reading and/or giving recommendations. The reading/book groups we tried to start every so often had the worst attendance. Depending on the type of library and the position, you will be dealing with the homeless, porn on public computers, parents leaving the building and expecting the staff to babysit their kids (“I pay taxes and they pay your salary”), books that are returned smelling like smoke/animal urine and sometimes sticky. And no matter how many wipes you use, there are so many people in and out and touching everything that you will catch every contagious sickness that’s going around the community. I don’t regret my time there, but anyone who hasn’t worked in a library shouldn’t go into it thinking it’s always a magical place (but when it is magical, it makes you remember why you wanted to work there in the first place).

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Even the dream reading conversations can be a little maddening. I once had back to back conversations that went something like this

          1: I want a historical mystery set in the Hawaiian royal court of the 1800s. She had just returned the only book in the system to meet those criteria and would not bend on genre, setting or time period.

          2- I want a mystery. I asked a million follow-up questions (cozy, historical, noir, procedural, fair play, funny, which authors have you read or enjoyed?) and never got anything beyond “I don’t know, just a mystery.”

    2. ecnaseener*

      Related, aren’t library jobs typically super competitive? If LW gets an offer without any related experience or education (which I assume is the case from the letter) would that be a yellow/red flag in itself that this library isn’t getting any more qualified applicants?

      1. LaurCha*

        Not if it’s a very entry-level position with a low salary for the area. Entry-level library positions tend to have a lot of turnover. And typically you don’t need a lot of training or experience for those jobs.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yep. I was a library page for a little while. Only about four months, because I couldn’t live on it, and as soon as I was hired somewhere else I was gone. It was low wages and part-time hours.

          The actual librarians were the opposite–there were only a few positions and the people in them had been there for many years, for the most part. They had very defined fiefdoms, and there were lots of…undercurrents.

      2. Beth*

        Librarian jobs are generally pretty competitive, especially if they pay decently. But not all jobs at libraries are librarian roles; if OP is eligible for this one without a specialized degree, I’m guessing they’re looking at something else.

      3. Springtime*

        It depends! Full-time librarian jobs are often competitive. Support roles can be harder to fill, even though many can be trained on the job. And location makes a big difference.

      4. Language Lover*

        They aren’t always competitive in every location. If you’re willing to move to a rural or less “desirable” area, it gets easier to get a job in a library, even in a librarian role without the right education.

      5. ArchivesPony*

        It depends on the area, type of library and what the qualifications are. In my last position there were 80 qualified applicants. My current? Less than 20. The differences between the two jobs was location and qualifications.

      6. Bleepboop*

        Generally yes, but depending on location and position (and timing) some places are less competitive than others. Also important to note that if it’s a public library, the whole hiring process often takes a while because the wheels of local government turn slowly. You might apply in July but not start till September or October. So if you need money quickly, not the most promising option. That said, doesn’t hurt to apply and see what happens!

  9. Falling Diphthong*

    When people on here say “I can afford to be picky” they mean one of two things:
    • They now have a job that is pretty good, and stable. They would be open to a really great offer, but will walk away from anything that doesn’t feel great.
    • They have left their last job–possibly in a legendary manner with no notice and extensive use of fish–and have enough cushion to live on while they consider their next move. Part of that is recognizing how long it might reasonably take for a good option to come along, vs the size of that cushion.

    It’s not unusual to find yourself in a position where you can’t be picky. Like Buffalo, you take a terrible job for a short time so you can support yourself. Or you take a meh job so you can get some experience. Those are very normal.

    I get the feeling that you are afraid if you ever say “yes” to anything–even an interview–then you will never be allowed to say no and will be stuck in that job forever. And that’s not the case–you can say “This worked for me at one time, but not any more, and so I am leaving this job.” Whether that’s a job you leave after 10 years because now you need predictability in your schedule, or a potential job you bow out of after the final interview got weird and desperate.

    (Have you by chance only left jobs for nobody-can-be-mad outside reasons, like moving with family or between school terms?)

    1. ferrina*

      This is such excellent advice.

      Sometimes all your options are bad options. A lot of us have been there. I used to tell myself “There is nothing I can’t handle for just a week. I can survive this.” I spent over a decade slowly working myself from toxic job to slightly less toxic job to slightly less toxic job before finally being in a position where I could really be picky about which job I would take. This wasn’t the road that I wanted to take, but from where my starting place was, it was the least bad option. And it’s led to somewhere really good (though the journey was years in the making)

      1. Goldenrod*

        “I spent over a decade slowly working myself from toxic job to slightly less toxic job to slightly less toxic job before finally being in a position where I could really be picky about which job I would take.”

        Yes – same here!

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Some of the best advice I’ve seen on here (from a commenter) was to view a bad job as a choice you were consciously making. You were going into work today because you didn’t have enough of a financial cushion to quit, for example.

        It wasn’t that you were trapped and had no options and couldn’t ever do anything different–you had a bunch of bad options, and were trying to stick with the least bad one until you could leverage yourself a small ways upward.

        1. Chuffing along like Mr. Pancks*

          This all seems like thoughtful, helpful reframing of a situation many people find themselves in at any given moment!

          1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

            I agree with your comment, but I’m replying to it because of your username. Lovely. Three cheers for Mr. Pancks and those who not only know about but appreciate him!

      3. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

        Argh, that’s tough. I’m glad it led to somewhere really good though. Thanks for sharing!

    2. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      You are an insightful human, wow. Yup, I think that’s very much the case—afraid that if I “yes” something, I can’t ever say “no” to it later and I’ll be trapped. Yet another mindset to grow my way out of. Thanks for pointing that out and giving perspective on it!

      (And yes! The jobs I’ve left were for exactly that, moving with family. It was our family-owned business and jobs associated with it, and when we moved out of state, we sold the business and therefore no longer worked there.)

  10. Anon for this*

    My first full time job post-graduation, I saw all of the red flags and that my soon-to-be boss was a schmuck going into it. However, I had been unemployed for about half a year, and I needed something. I told myself going in that if it was bad, I would start looking in a year, and I was lucky enough to be out within 18 months. Essentially, if you’re aware of it going in, I think taking a crappy job can be a rational decision.

    1. sofar*

      That’s what’s always guided me, too. I remind myself, “I’ve had bad jobs before, I can survive the requisite 18 months, if it’s bad I can always start looking ASAP and be out ASAP.”

      If you need the income and/or the job will help your resume, it can be useful to have the “I’ll do my time” mindset.

      I’ve ended up staying at most of my jobs 5+ years in my career. But that mindset got me to take the leap into a couple difunctional ones that got me on my feet financially and kept my work history active and current.

  11. Buffalo*

    Also, LW:
    “I’ve also talked on the phone with one person in the business about setting up an interview once I’m in their state, and even the vibe I got from her on the phone wasn’t super great. But I could also be reading stuff into it, and I’m not sure how to tell.”

    This is simply way too early in the job-search process to start worrying about whether the management would be a fit for you. A hundred “somebody might want to set up an interviews” might equal ten “interviews” might equal one “job offer”. You don’t want to rule a company out too early in the process, before you’ve had a chance to really assess them and before you know if they even want to interview you, never mind to hire you.

    1. pally*

      Exactly! Get as much information as you can before assessing the opportunity for fitness.

      I recall interviewing at one company where the HR interview person acted like she was angry with me. No smile, no small talk. She glared at me at times. No elaboration about the meaning behind some of the questions. I guess maybe I was keeping her from more important things. Now, the remaining interviews went a lot better. All were friendly, welcoming, kind, funny, genuine.

  12. ferrina*

    One mistake that I’ve seen a lot of people making is staking their happiness in a particular industry. Often the thing that makes us happiest is what we do day to day (and the thing that can make us most miserable is the day-to-day). The industry that we do our day-to-day in is secondary. Obviously this doesn’t apply to all industries, and there’s some day-to-day work that can only be found in a handful of industries.

    I can’t tell whether or not OP is glamorizing the industry that they are familiar with here.

    (oh, but also, feel free to take whichever job will give you the money for necessities. that’s pretty critical to your day-to-day as well)

    1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      These are good points. And oof, no, I’m not glamorizing the cabin business industry. Definitely not. XD I know it too well to do that. It’s more just that I knew I’d be qualified for aspects of this cabin business job because I grew up in the hospitality industry and have a lot of experience.


  13. Rooby*

    Since you’re early-career, I will say my advice would be draw a line at unreasonable hours. It’s easy to shrug that off when you’re young and feel like “sure, whatever” but in terms of eroding your boundaries, making it harder to look for something better, and making your whole life a bit worse in myriad ways, long hours (and/or being misclassified as exempt when you’re not) are a bad one.

    And just keep in mind that your job is a mutual business transaction that you can end if they are treating you badly. You’re not trapped! Knowing you can do that will help you not be quite as afraid of taking a calculated risk.

    1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      That sounds like good advice. Thanks! And thanks too for the reminder that I wouldn’t be trapped; I tend to forget that one!

  14. radish*

    I would try to see if you connect well with the person or people who would be your direct manager(s) and coworkers. You can exist very happily in an otherwise dysfunctional workplace if you have good people around you. Similarly, you can be at a great company and be miserable if your direct coworkers are determined to make you that way. This is the most important factor in my opinion.

  15. Prefer Pets*

    In addition to all the good advice already offered, particularly that *every* job has something that is a negative about it and that every person will weight what is a negative vs a positive differently. (For example, most people on this site are completely freaked out by yelling… it doesn’t phase me at all but touchy-feely woo places are absolutely intolerable to me even though I am very social with my coworkers generally.)
    I have worked in Federal public land management for decades, and one thing my friends & I have consistently found throughout our careers is that in general, the more a place/agency is known to the layperson as being a super desirable place, the more likely it is that management will wildly abuse their staff, particularly entry-level staff. They know full well that if one person won’t put up with low pay, a ton of off-clock hours, crappy benefits, & sketchy practices that there are 10 or 100 people behind them who will because of the fantasy, public-image part. This is why the National Park Service was able to abuse the “seasonal” and “temporary” designations to avoid paying benefits to entire categories of employee for decades until OIG & OPM stepped in. They would just furlough people for a few weeks to keep them as non-status & avoid benefits & retirement costs. Some parks were (& are) worse than others of course.
    There’s a ton of examples from private as well… think of all the horror stories that eventually came out of google, facebook, & Tesla.
    If this place has such a desirable reputation on line that you know about it from out of state, really look for what it is like to make that experience happen on the backside.

    1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      Wowwwww. That is not okay. But thanks for sharing! Argh, it really shouldn’t be that way.

      One note, I didn’t know about it from out of state, I knew about it because I grew up about fifteen minutes from it, and my family’s cabin business and this cabin business knew about each other. So I wouldn’t say it has such a large reputation out of state; but locally, yeah.

  16. Mouse named Anon*

    I have worked 2 terribly toxic jobs and have learned what questions to ask interviews. It doesn’t always work, bc one slipped through the cracks and led me to the 2nd job mentioned about. But I like to ask the following. I know some people are hesitant to ask about time off, leaving early etc. But IMO how they react to the question gives you an idea about the culture. We are people with outside leaves that have family members, kids, friends, pets, health issues to take care of. Or simply just want a vacation or time off.

    1. What is your management style like? Are you hands on or off?
    2. How do you feel and the company feel about flexing time? Sometimes I need time off for appointments or going to XYZ for my kids (insert something of yours here). Can I come early, and leave late? Or take a few hours off for these things?
    3. How does you and the company handle time off. Also can you tell me a bit about your PTO?
    4. Does your company allow for hybrid work, or WFH when needed?
    5. Can you talk about your team, and the environment that exists? Do you collaborate with each other, and assist one another when needed?
    6. Can you tell me how your company handled COVID (if they were present) and what measures they took to ensure employee/customer safety?

    Again these questions are important to me. I ask them in a friendly, and inquisitive tone and try to discuss as well while the person gives their answer. I usually tell by their reaction whether or not they like the question. One time I ignored some red flags and that’s how I got one of the toxic hell holes. Will this work for everyone? No. But its worked for me.

    1. Cinnamon Stick*

      I think these are good questions to ask. Getting a wishy-washy answer to any of the above would be an orange flag for me.

      I have noticed some HR and hiring managers get cagey about sharing benefits information, which is bright bright red.

    2. Also*

      Thank you for sharing this! This is a great comment, and from my own experience, I definitely agree with you. The way in which these questions (and similar ones) are reacted to is often extremely telling, useful information.

    3. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      Those are great examples. For some of them I guess, it might just take guts to ask ’em right up front. But as you said, their reaction would be telling, and if they got upset, that would be a good sign to me about their culture.

    4. Humble Schoolmarm*

      Slight asterisks on the WFH question as not all industries and jobs can do WFH. I feel like hospitality and libraries are more likely than some others to need people there in person (in which case the PTO question becomes extra important).

  17. Sparkles McFadden*

    Apply for jobs that sound like something you’d want to do, and go to any interviews you get, if only for the practice. A lot of people treat interviews like an audition where you’re trying to get chosen, but an interview is your chance to see if the job would be a good fit for you. Be upfront about criticism you’ve seen. The way your interviewers answer tough questions will give you a good idea as to what the workplace will be like.

    Remember that there is no such thing as a dream job. All work places have pluses and minuses. You’re assessing different workplaces to see which employment situation is the best for you. It’s difficult because you have to decide things like “Do I take this OK job and thus take myself out of the running for this thing that looks better that I might not get?” but there really is no wrong choice. You learn something at every job, and sometimes you learn what it is that you cannot tolerate. You’re not locked into any job forever, and you can always look for something else (and that’s easier to do when you have a job).

    1. ferrina*

      To be fair, sometimes someone is in desperate enough financial straits that you need to take any job that will have you (I’ve been there).

      Don’t be afraid to take a bad job, as long as you don’t accept it as long-term. Set a mental timeline of when you’ll apply again (and it could be 1 week after you start). You want to start your new job search 3-6 months before it becomes wholly intolerable. (job searching when desperate comes across in your applications and makes it easier to fall into other bad places). You can use jobs as stepping stones and hold-overs until something better comes along – that’s a very sound strategy. Just know what kind of toxicity will cause long-term damage to you, and avoid those when you have a choice (not all toxicity is the same; different types impact different people in different ways)

      1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

        Gotcha. I think I must be thinking too black-and-white long-term, then; I feel like, “If I get a certain job, I’m obligated to stay at it for a very decent chunk of time to make it worthwhile for the people who hired me and to not be an irresponsible job-hopper.”

        1. Wonderland*

          Job hopping once or twice is FINE. it’s when you’ve had several years of spotty work that it becomes a yellow flag.

  18. old curmudgeon*

    OP, one other thing to keep in mind as you assess your options is that even if you land the PERFECT job with the PERFECT supervisor and the PERFECT coworkers and ideal work/life balance, great pay and wonderful benefits, any or all of those things can change at any time.

    And the converse is equally true! You might take a job out of desperation, fully expecting management to be an unmitigated trainwreck, and as a result of multiple completely unforeseeable changes, wind up loving the job and the employer so much you stay there for decades.

    The second scenario happened to me, in my first professional work experience. I sat there in the interview thinking “oh, lord, I don’t want this job, it’s going to be awful, I know they’re going to offer it to me, and I don’t want it but I’ve got less than $5 in the bank with rent due next week, what the hell am I going to do?”

    And I was right. They did offer it to me, I accepted it, and it was just as awful as I had expected. For about a year and a half – at which point all sorts of completely unexpected changes took place, and it wound up being an incredibly rewarding and wonderful job that I held and loved for two decades.

    Jumping into a brand-new and unknown set of circumstances is scary as hell. I’m right there with you. But if I can do it, you can, too. Best of luck to you, and I hope you’ll come back to share how it goes!

    1. Kyrielle*

      I took my first job planning to get 1-2 years experience on my resume so I could step to a more desirable (to my eyes) industry.

      The more I learned about the things I’d wanted to work on, the less I wanted to work on them. But the job I took to get the experience? Turned out I loved it, I stayed there more than a decade before moving on.

    2. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      Wowwww. That’s a really heartening example, though! I think I tend to go by all-or-nothing absolutes. “If it’s bad now, it’ll be bad forever,” and stuff like that. But I’m learning that’s not necessarily realistic.

      Thanks for giving some perspective to this, and thanks for the encouragement and good wishes! I appreciate. :)

  19. Sloanicota*

    I have worked at two jobs that were objectively full of red flags. In both cases, I’m glad I took the jobs. Why? Well a, I needed a job, and job searching when you’ve been employed for a year is easier than when you’ve been unemployed for a year unless the place is truly soul-destroying – and in both cases, I could stick it out for at least a year. b, the way those jobs was dysfunctional worked for me. Here’s what I could not tolerate: a mean, demanding boss. Low pay. No PTO. Defrauding people or doing harm. Here’s what I can tolerate: a ludicrous amount of change / turnover, as long as my role is reasonably clear – indecisive or non-strategic or time-wastey bosses or bosses who were way too hands off/checked out – a lack of direction or guidance – a lack of certainty/security about the future. That’s my list.

    1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      That totally makes sense. Some dysfunction is easier for some people than others, and that depends on a lot of subjective, case-by-case things.

  20. Brain the Brian*

    I think AAM’s note that nearly everyone will wind up in a bad workplace at some point is good to keep in mind. It’s annoying while you’re there, but it’s not some huge personal failing if you don’t suss out every single bit of information before taking a job. Case in point: I got a full-time job offer at the end of an internship once and took it. You’d think I would have looked around and seen how awful the office culture was, but apparently not — I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. Truly an awful experience, with lots of access to information beforehand, and I still did it. I’m still alive and kicking. You’ll be fine, LW.

    1. Sloanicota*

      This is so true, especially if you spend a lot of time on this site and it seems like everyone is a rockstar who is killing it at work. The first time I realized my career was currently DOA was terrifying because I thought it was supposed to be onward and upward to infinity. Also, I thought great people would be able to network into a new job with a snap of their fingers, but it had already taken me forever to find *this* garbage job. Having survived that and about a ten other transitions over time, I’m way less phased now by the bumps in the road.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        It’s also important to recognize that we as commenters by nature are sharing our most outlandish stories, whether those are stories of how we were the competent employee at whom a coworker unjustly lost their temper, crazy examples of how management where we work has gone way overboard in micromanaging, tales of office gossip, stories of epic rage-quits, or anything else. In everything but *the* most toxic workplaces, most days will probably be fairly boring — but those boring days aren’t going to be our go-to examples for how we navigate problems, because there aren’t problems worth discussing on them. As long as your company pays you on time, you’ll manage, LW — I’m sure of it.

    2. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      Oof. Makes sense though. Thanks for your perspective and assurance of survival. ;P

  21. Busy Middle Manager*

    IME everything people have written is true to a tee. It’s just a matter if you consider what they wrote “toxic” or not. In this case, I think you’re getting a clear warning it’s going to be constant calls and interruptions from early to late. And I would believe the management is bad.
    Also most people are super nice during the first few calls/interviews even if the job eventually goes south. So if she’s already giving off vibes, unless you can figure out why, run!

    I do think there is a misnomer that the number of negative reviews = there is bias. I disagree completely. Why should reviews skew positive? Look at the workplace today. I have a Puritan work ethic and bootstrapped myself and I still see dozens such as places doing anything they can to avoid giving raises, people working full time adult jobs but unable to afford rent on a basic apartment, people getting rejected for promotions and jobs in favor of people with less skills, etc. Is it obvious that we should be rating all work places with 4s? no!

    I once did a 3 hour round of interviews at a place with horrible reviews. All of the dozens of various complaints were true, as per what I could gather or read between the lines. Other people thought I was exaggerating because it was too much. I kept saying, people didn’t go online and write this stuff because they love creative writing!

  22. Nessun*

    Alison’s advice is spot-on as always. On a side note, someone please create the song that I feel these are lyrics to: “There are micromanagers, absentee managers, lazy managers, tyrants who yell … ” It’s obviously the start of some Sondheim-like musical!

    1. Six Feldspar*

      *The thought of working under any of these is too unbearable
      Just put me down as self-employed cos every manager’s terrible*

      (Also I have given myself the Every Major’s Terrible earworm for the rest of the day…)

  23. L'étrangère*

    I’m curious about why you dismiss the seemingly better job on the basis of commute when you haven’t even moved to that state yet? What’s preventing you from simply getting a place close to your preferred job? You could be staying at a specific convenient/available place at first, but you shouldn’t be trapped there and unable to organize your life better around the job you end up getting

    1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      Mm, good point. It is because I had a specific convenient/available place that I knew I was going to, yeah, and that was going to be the base for my commute (and will be for a while yet). But you’re right that I don’t have to stay there forever!

  24. Language Lover*

    I quadruple everyone’s recommendation to explore both options and ask questions about the reviews.

    It’s also important to keep in mind that not only can different departments offer different experiences, but so can different roles. For a cabin rental place, if you’re applying for a job to take reservations from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the reviews come from people who are asked to do on-call emergency maintenance or clean, the work-life balance between the two roles may vastly differ. One role might have set office hours while the cleaning might vary depending on how much turnover the cabins have on any particular day.

    The one thing I’ll say about the cabin place, cabin rental is customer service. If the place has online good reviews, it likely means the management has high expectations for customer service from employees that they don’t always reward or support.

  25. Allonge*


    Just one addition: stop reading the comment section over here for a while. A whole lot of completely normal things are designated ‘red flag’. The advice is great, we in our anonymous wisdom tend to go overboard sometimes.

    And yes, you need to take a job. Knowing your own self will help you deal with anything bad that comes a lot more than most of the preliminary research can: some things are toxic to everyone, some things are more like allergens that impact some of us more than others.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Ha ha this is true of all advice columns. Husband left the dishes in the sink? Divorce him! Friend hurt your feelings? Excise that toxic person from your life STAT! Parents getting you down? Go no contact! Etc

    2. Hyaline*

      Yes—or add “for me” to every declaration that something is a red flag. “That’s a red flag *for me*” is often more accurate.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yup. They have repeatedly failed to pay employees on time? That’s a red flag, for basically anyone.

        They have a culture that keeps people around a long time and thus makes promotions hard? That can be a red flag…or not, if you’re looking for something at your level, want to stay there, and want a place that doesn’t do wild and crazy.

        They have long hours doing exciting stuff? If you need work-life balance to err toward ‘life’ and not work, huge red flag. If your personal life has scattered to the seven winds when you all left college, you like the stuff they’re doing, and you don’t mind long hours – especially not if you’re aware that may change in future and you can move on if it does – then that’s not a red flag at all.

        Task priority constantly changing? I know people for whom that would be pure misery, and others who have thrived on it.

        And so on.

  26. Jellyfish Catcher*

    You have been in the “real” workplace, self employed and an employee.
    Don’t sell yourself short.
    Use Alison’s website to improve your resume and cover letter.
    Being self employed requires self discipline, organization, the ability to handle a number of different demands daily and successfully interact with customers/ clients.
    It was a great learning experience for you, and you respect the challenges of a business and all that goes on in the background.
    You are ready to concentrate on the strengths and abilities that you can bring to work.

    *****Alison – she needs recommendations? clients? non family people in the cabin biz.?

    Hope to hear an update!

    1. Hands in Pockets*

      Second this. I was a little offended, even, to see self employed work categorised as not real! It’s been pretty real at paying my bills for much of my working life so far (with employed work at other times), as well enabling me to make a positive difference to my clients’ lives, engaging and challenging me, giving me a stimulating industry to build a network within, oh you know…

      1. Chuffing along like Mr. Pancks*

        Not only is it real, but you have to work harder to build your own structure and organization. I know that I couldn’t do that! Conversely, there is less oversight of your work, so finding ways to document your skills and accomplishments alà references is a challenge that looks harder than with external employers.

        1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

          Yeah, that’s true. Maybe I subconsciously devalue it because it does look less *outwardly* valuable to traditional/external employers who don’t know what all goes into it.

      2. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

        I second this though! No offense meant. ;) Mebbe I should’ve used different wording. It is very much real. I just didn’t think of it as being comparable to what traditional workplace managers expect.

        (I’m so glad you have a great experience with your self-employed business, btw! I love mine too. Freelance proofreading. And it has all the features you mentioned for yours!)

    2. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      Ah, thanks for this! It’s encouraging. I do count self-employment as real work (and I actually still do it—freelance proofreading—it’s just not enough on its own yet to pay the bills!). I guess I just didn’t consider it comparable to what bosses expect for the “out there” workplace.

  27. Warrior Princess Xena*

    I also want to add: warning signs are signs you should look closer, not necessarily walk away. I’ll share a recent success story. I recently got a new jobs which, on paper, has some red flags. Small company only just making the transition to a computer system, very blue-collar boss (I had four different people who work there warn me that he has a “big personality”), very informal structure. On paper this could be the start of the Most Dysfunction.

    I took it anyways, because when I interviewed with them despite those initial flags they started throwing up green flag after green flag: really low turnover in a very seasonal and high fluctuation industry, done all the right things to prep their employees for a company-wide software integration, etc. Without going into too much detail, big personality translated into “this guy is a salesman” without any of the major dysfunction flags I was looking for.

    I would not have discovered any of this if I hadn’t interviewed with them. I’m not saying ignore the red flags, especially if they are for things that are of core importance to you (salary, work life balance, what have you). But sometimes it’s worth digging a little deeper to see if the flag turns out to be indicative of a problem or not.

  28. ragazza*

    Keep in mind that workplaces can change, too. You might get a terrible manager when your boss moves on or a better one. A new department head or CEO could institute processes and guidelines that make things better, or immeasurably worse. Nothing is permanent.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I never thought of it before but that’s so true! And we always say a dream job can turn into a nightmare, but we never think about how the reverse can also happen.

    2. Taketombo*

      This is true even for big institutional jobs. My state got a new Governor, my agency got a new head.

      Although the day-to-day work is much the same, the new head is vocal about what he thinks the agency should do – which I agree with 100%! I’d say 80-90% of my job has not changed, but even at my lower-level position we have been asked for suggestions – changes to processes, future contract language, etc. – that could help our agency meet it’s goals.

      I really liked the job when I came on – it was a chance to do a thing I was good at for a cause I believed in at almost-market rate with a good work/life balance (the thing I do is famous for terrible hours, normal hours = less pay, it’s a fair trade) – but now I never feel the “do I gotta go to work” blues in the morning.

  29. DrSalty*

    Accepting a job doesn’t mean you’re locked in forever. If it sucks, ramp your search back up. It’s better to be looking for a job while you have a job than be looking for a job while unemployed.

    1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      This is a great reminder for me. I do think in terms of being locked in. So thanks for the perspective!

  30. Jamjari*

    Another thing to consider is where do you want to go, career-wise. If you’d like to stay in the cabin rental business, or something adjacent, then a job working for another company doing that could be a good step. Unless it’s truly horrible, it would a least give a few years experience in a non-family run business.

  31. Goldenrod*

    “Rather than being paralyzed by fear of finding yourself in a bad job, a more reliable move is to build trust in yourself to handle it well if you do.”

    This is so true! I once took a job that I knew had problems. I could see the red flags from a mile away. But I really wanted to leave the job I was in, and I trusted myself to navigate it.

    And yeah, it was very rocky at times. But I don’t regret it! I did it, and the boss was actually worse than I bargained for…But I’m proud of how I handled myself. Three years later, I parlayed that job into the one I have today, with an amazing boss and a higher salary.

    So…sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do, and trust that you can deal with it.

  32. Parakeet*

    In addition to what others have said, consider the age of the reviews. My org has some (legitimate) very bad reviews that were driven by the behavior of a previous CEO. But we have a new CEO now. Check whether the themes in the reviews have changed over time.

  33. pally*

    Lots of good advice here.

    Also, know yourself. Given that no job is going to be perfect in every respect, what are some things that you can live with?

    Personally, a “butts in seats” mentality is fine with me (but I get that it may not be an ideal work environment). Micromanaging, not so much. I’m not sure about a long commute. It would have to be a really good job in other respects to justify the commute time.

  34. The OG Sleepless*

    I took a job that had some yellow flags, because they weren’t red flags and the place I was leaving was turning into a dumpster fire. The yellow flags turned out to be kind of orangey-red, not quite toxic but not very enjoyable. I stayed for about two and a half years and made the absolute best of it. I really did a very good job and learned what I could from the good points of that company. I look back on it as an experience that wasn’t much fun but was good for me. No regrets.

  35. Mianaai*

    I strongly agree with all the other commenters discussing the realities of “dream jobs”, variability between teams, etc, but as another factor… your experience can change, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse, even within the same role and team and with the same supervisor. This isn’t meant to be disheartening, like “every job will devolve into toxic slush eventually, fml”, but as encouragement to keep your mind and options generally open even in a job you generally really like.

    I can offer myself as an example – when I started my current job, I was really excited as it seemed to be a much more supportive environment than my last one, with a pretty low toxicity quotient. And, honestly, that assessment wasn’t wrong! But, 5 years and a global pandemic later things have changed somewhat. We’re currently short-staffed and under a hiring freeze, my direct boss has become less and less engaged with me and my team to the point where I haven’t met with them in over a year, and my grandboss has had a lot of work stress and some major personal stress that they’ve been passing on to us as a big increase in passive-aggression. On top of some really sad personal stuff in my own life that’s taken a lot of energy to process and left me feeling less resilient to toxicity on a day-to-day basis, and a looooooot of overtime since the start of 2024. So, while I loved my job when I started, and the positives still outweigh the negatives, I’ve been thinking seriously about exactly what those positives and negatives are.

    There’s just SO many factors that go into how toxic a job is *for you*. Of my three closest team-mates, one is with me in camp “positives outweigh the negatives for now”, one was in camp “find a new job” and got a big promotion elsewhere, and one genuinely seems not to have noticed any changes. I personally don’t mind the lack of supervision, I’m happiest when I have a ton of autonomy and am trusted to just do my job well. But the passive-aggression and overflow of stress from my grandboss onto the rest of us really grate on me, and I’ve found them hard to handle on top of my own myriad stressors. On the other hand, the colleague who moved on got really frustrated with the same experience, feeling like if they were not getting feedback from our boss they might as well just leave and *be* the boss elsewhere.

    So, my advice is to ask questions and do your diligence as best you can, but to remember that every job has pros and cons for *you, specifically*, and that it’s important to not be so emotionally invested in staying somewhere indefinitely that you can’t notice changes in the work culture.

    1. Awkwardness*

      Your experience can change… and you change too!
      And you only realize after a certain time that the job is not good for you, because it does not reward new input or does not offer growing opportunities.

      Haha, I guess I need to bookmark this letter as a reminder for myself!

      1. Mianaai*

        Yeah! I don’t have the same energy and resilience as I did 5 or 10 years ago, for many reasons. Not a complaint per se, but… a statement of fact. A high-stress job requiring a lot of energy and resilience wouldn’t have to be toxic to be a really bad fit for me now, but it might have been an OK fit 5 years ago or a great fit 10 years ago. But at the same time, there’s things I absolutely couldn’t have tolerated then without slowly losing my mind, that I am comfortable brushing off now that I’m older and have more experience.

        And yeah, strongly agree that sometimes it’s not apparent that you need to move on until you hit something that wasn’t even on your radar when you were interviewing, or until you hit the limit of how much you can grow or learn in the role. And those things can change too – at the start of the pandemic, I disliked teleworking rather intensely and would work in-office almost exclusively. So with the pandemic shift to telework, I ended up floundering for a little while as I figured out a routine, but finally got my feet under me and loved the flexibility. And after all that, I feel like my attitude is shifting again, since my work/life boundaries and balance have been eroding over the last 6 months or so, and I may go back to majority in-office with a hard stop at the end of the day.

    2. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      That seems like really good balanced advice. Thanks for sharing. (And I’m sorry for the difficulties and sadnesses in your own life. :( )

  36. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Remember, you know the cabin business. Read the reviews from those employees with a grain of salt — maybe those people didn’t fit in that type of business flow. If getting a late night call to plunge a toilet doesn’t phase you because you’ve been doing it for years, but for them it was a huge issue and they hated it, well, then that piece of the review isn’t relevant. The context is always more important than where the click was on the hate it/love it scale.

    1. Rear mech*

      Agree, also be aware that you will likely have a very very different experience as a non family employee of a hospitality business vs. a family member employee. Especially if you a in a regular hourly staff or low level manager position! The norm on hospitality is that people in these positions are numbers on the labor line to be chewed up and spit out. Hourly staff will have hours cut the minute business slows down and low level salaried managers will pick up front desk and housekeeping with unpaid overtime. DO NOT count on a “full time” position being exactly that. Maybe you are already aware of this but just sharing these norms for others considering hospitality.

    2. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      Aha, that’s a great point. I’m so used to some of the things in cabin business, I might just see them as normal. So yeah, really good point.

  37. Audrey*

    Sometimes it’s the right job anyway!
    When I started at the job I have currently, I was getting out of a toxic environment. There were some red flags about my current job having major dysfunction… especially based on how the gal I was replacing talked about it. She seemed very eager to be out of there so I braced myself for another job search…
    Turns out– it’s exactly the kind of dysfunction I thrive in. The kind of boundaries I needed to set were already a skill set I had, I completely understand and appreciate my boss’s short-hand communication style, and I ended up loving it here. I’ve been here 8 years!

    1. pally*

      Great story! I have a friend who was told to report to a new manager the next Monday. This manager had a reputation for being very difficult in a number of ways. People complained long and loud about how awful she was.

      My friend spent the entire weekend freaking out over this. Circumstances were that he could not afford to quit on the spot.

      So he did as he was told. Like he was heading off to the executioner.

      He quickly discovered this new manager was exacting in the very same ways he was. They got along famously.

  38. Trout 'Waver*

    I don’t want to call anyone out in particular, but the the belief that there is some set of magic questions to ask is naive. I’ve seen all kinds of bad managers who honestly and truly believe they are good managers. Their answers to those questions are, at best, aspirational rather than a reflection of how they actually manage.

    There are bad people out there who lie in order to gain power over you.

      1. TeapotNinja*

        That question is not a very good question either, because the “best” answer depends on the nature of the business and the circumstances of management decisions needing to be made.

        You’re going to be a micromanager on someone who needs to go on a performance plan. You’re not going to be one on someone who produces great quality work independently and on time. You’re going to be demanding, if you’re operating in a regulatory business or deal with people’s lives/wealth. You’re going to be firm on someone who can’t be trusted to do the right thing without explicitly being told you’re watching. You’re going to be lax on people you trust to do the right thing.

    1. Hyaline*

      Yeah–I suppose you can weed out, to some degree, the person whose Ideal Version of Their Own Management is diametrically opposed to how you’d prefer to be managed (ex, you know you need lots of support and check-ins but someone’s self-assessment is “I’m very hands off and try not to get involved at all”), but plenty of micromanagers don’t realize they micromanage, plenty of poor delegators think they’re great at it, plenty of people think they’ve got great communication skills and couldn’t explain how to make microwave popcorn.

    2. JazzyHamster*

      The worst kind of manager is one who thinks that their management style is perfect while completely lacking the skill to objectively look at themselves.
      A sign of this is managers tooting their own horn a lot and talking about their values-with-a-capital-V, yet they have never taken any management classes and it shows.

  39. Pita Chips*

    One or two negative reviews among many good to neutral isn’t something to worry about. Patterns, though, are.

    You could certainly apply and ask about the negative reviews. I’ve been complimented on doing just that. There may have been a management shakeup since those reviews were written.

  40. James*

    Alison’s reply is, as always, far *far* better than the one I was composing in my head as I read your letter, LW. But it’s the internet and I have a keyboard, so…

    The online reviews of any job are going to be dominated by negative responses. After all, for most things, and jobs in particular, we’re going to go out of our way to mash the keyboard at places we’ve hated and forget to type a considered review of places we’ve loved.

    For work, a lot of places, even in this day and age, have employees who have been there for years who love the job and the people and the management. Perhaps even the majority: reading Alison’s letters (which almost always come from people with horrible problems and rarely from people asking questions about a job that they love) will give the idea that most workplaces are awful. The same way that reading Dan Savage’s brilliant advice columns would have us believe that all relationships are broken and/or perverted: they’re not, that’s just who are writing in! The people in average/good/happy relationships aren’t writing in: why would they?

    And jobs are not indentured servitude, even if your resume is a bit awkward. You’re still entitled to leave after ten minutes, ten days, ten weeks, whatever, if a job is toxic and awful. Take the job. Burying it on your resume is no harder than the dance you’re doing around your previous work history (which also you don’t need to be embarrassed about: it’s not the norm, but it’s not truly bizarre, it’s just you need a good cover letter to get the resume in front of people to start with).

    As for picking between two options available to you: don’t, until the last minute. Spend some time deciding what parts of each job, the pros and the cons, work for you. Assign them points in your head if need be: more money is 20 extra points; more commute is minus 30; comfort in your experience is plus 80; gaining new skills is plus 90. Or whatever. But you don’t need to decide until both offers are in front of you.

    And you can pick the offer with the worst point score if that just feels right if both jobs come at the same time. That’s cool too: your gut is just as likely to be right as your point allocation.

    You’ve got this.

    1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      “Jobs are not indentured servitude”— noted. XD Thank you. Something I needed to be reminded of, I think. Honestly this whole comment is really heartening. Thanks for expounding and giving your perspective.

  41. KKR*

    I think the part about everyone having different dealbreakers is really important too. I probably have a higher tolerance for BS than you and you might not like my current job, but it’s also the best role I’ve ever had so far in terms of pay. But that might not be a good trade off for you. :/ And the people you are reading reviews about might be problem employees who were let go or quit, or might have different dealbreakers than you that didn’t make them a good fit

  42. juliebulie*

    I interviewed at a place where nobody smiled. Not at me, not at each other passing in the halls, nothing. I thought that was bizarre. For that reason and many others, I was relieved not to get an offer.

    The next place I interviewed, the hiring manager did most of the talking and asked very few questions about me and my resume. And that’s exactly what she was like as my supervisor. No surprises there.

  43. Lem*

    I think its really important to remember that LW has only worked for family businesses/self-employed, which means that their definition of green/yellow/red flags may already be skewed in a way that they should be mindful of during their job search.

    If you’re used to being able to somewhat set your own hours/don’t have formal reviews/have never received critical feedback/never needed to work overtime, then a workplace that has all those things aren’t necessarily “red” flags.

    To a certain degree, any job is better than no job if being unemployed means not being able to have your basic needs met. Whatever job you end up choosing, I recommend reading any questions Allison has answered relating to what’s going on in your workplace – it can be a useful calibration tool to figuring out what is/is not bananapants.

    1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      Mm, that could be true for sure; good point. That might be the case more for my self-employment. I am able to be pretty flexible there, and I’m the one who gives myself the critical feedback. The family business was different though. Didn’t set my own hours, got lots of critical feedback, needed to be at beck and call for working at any time, etc. Looking back on it as an adult with a perspective that’s starting to broaden, I think I can say it wasn’t the healthiest workplace (although it’s difficult to tell what was workplace culture and what was family culture, because they were pretty much blended 50/50).

      So yeah. Good thing to point out, and definitely something I should take into consideration / research more from people who have more traditional workplace experience.

  44. Michelle Smith*

    “Is the necessity of getting a job ever a good reason for getting yourself hired at a place you already think might have bad management?”

    Of course. Adults without trust funds or other means of independent financial security need jobs to stay housed and fed. It’s just the reality of life. Going into the situation with your eyes completely open helps. I knew my last job was going to be dysfunctional going into it. The organization is not well managed, they were going through a transition period due to internal and external factors, and morale was low. I figured all of that out from Glassdoor and speaking to current and previous employees. As an example, it got so bad while I worked there that the head of the organization threatened to have workers arrested if they continued to threaten to strike. I worked there for half a decade and I don’t regret it even slightly. It was a better workplace than I’d been at previously for a few reasons: better immediate management (as in my direct supervisors), better alignment with my personal values, and a chance to do the kind of work I really wanted to do without having to do the kind of work that made my stomach churn from anxiety. I eventually ended up leaving when my immediate management changed, but that experience got me to my current job where I don’t have to do the stomach churning courtroom stuff at all anymore. Jobs can be bridges to better things, they don’t have to be perfect nor permanent.

    1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      Gotcha. I think that last sentence sums it up really well and is something I need to learn—”Jobs can be bridges to better things, they don’t have to be perfect nor permanent.”

  45. jasmine*

    The time you’re most excited about a job is when you sign the offer. Keep that in mind. If you feel lukewarm about an offer, it’s probably not going to get better.

  46. A Simple Narwhal*

    Don’t forget that different management styles and environments work for different people! What might be a nightmare situation for someone could be a dream for another. I’m not saying someone out there loves a screaming lazy boss who takes credit for their work, more like a great hands-on boss for one person might be an annoying micromanager to someone else. Just something to keep in mind.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Also what you want out of a workplace can change too. In my 20s I wanted a job that I could be passionate about and seemed cool. I wanted to work with people I could be friends with and spend time socializing and talking shop after hours. It was ok to make less money if a job was prestigious sounding. Working late was a badge of honor and gave me and my coworkers something to bond over. Today that sounds like an absolute nightmare. I want to do my job and go home. My current job isn’t prestigious or cool-sounding, but it’s drama-free, relatively flexible, has good pay/benefits, and for 99% of the time never follows me home. It’s not perfect but it checks a lot of the boxes, especially the ones that matter to me. I know I struggled a bit when I first took my “boring” job (since it was so much different than what I had previously looked for), but I’m a lot happier moving to something that current me wants and accepting that my wants and needs changed.

  47. Starchy*

    Good reviews on Glassdoor don’t always mean the place is good either. I worked for a company that forced employees to put good reviews on Glassdoor because there were so many negative ones (which were true)

    1. 1LFTW*

      Same. There were a ton of bad ones about my former org, and maybe one or two that were “meh”. Then the org caught wind of GlassDoor’s existence, and several obviously-forced ones (as in, the talking points were identical) showed up within a week of each other.

  48. bamcheeks*

    LW, I think you’re doing some black and white thinking here where you are perceiving some companies to have capital-T “toxic work cultures”, which is a objectively defined thing which will be objectively bad for you. I think things are a lot more grey than that. I think are relatively few “truly toxic” work cultures, and a lot more individual bad managers within broadly OK cultures, as well as individual managers or cultures that don’t work for YOU. Most people will experience the last at least once in their careers, and probably several different flavours of them: it’s one of the main ways you find out what *is* a the wrong manager, management style or culture for you.

    It sounds like you’re trying to screen for Objectively Toxic, with Objective Red Flags— and there’s very little that falls into that category. Realistically, you probably can’t avoid ever having a manager or working in a culture that doesn’t suit you. Take the chance, keep your eyes open when you go into the job, and trust yourself to figure it out and find an alternative if you do end up somewhere that doesn’t work for you.

    1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      That’s great advice, and I think you’re right. I do tend to think in black-and-white absolutes, when in reality there’s a lot more that’s subjective and case-by-case.

      Thank you!

  49. Brian*

    God I wish I could travel back in time 20 years and give myself this exact advice.

  50. el l*

    The most important thing is that you see for yourself, ask your questions* and listen to their answers for yourself…and then look beyond the money to see the lifestyle you’re choosing by taking this job. The answers all have to come from within you**.

    Finally, it looks like you’re setting this up as a “money versus happiness” tradeoff. Resist that temptation…it generally only exists for a very particular type of high-earner job. Lots of great employers pay well, and lots of crappy employers pay little. Remind yourself that – all else equal – a good employer will pay more.

    *You could if concerned enough use the negative ratings as questions: “Some said online that ___. What do you say to that?”

    **Glassdoor reviews are data. Possibly important, possibly misleading. They settle nothing.

  51. learnedthehardway*

    I get the impression from reading the OP’s letter that they are seeing these two opportunities in an “either/or” kind of way. Don’t forget – both are ONLY possibilities. Don’t cut job opportunities off without fully exploring them.

    The OP should interview with both companies, if invited to do so.

    It’s a good idea to go in with your eyes open, but also, don’t pre-judge the situation. Sure, the Glassdoor reviews are a data point, but that’s all they are right now – the writers may or may not have been justified in their opinions.

    1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      Y’all are perceptive, wow. :’D You’re right. I think “either/or” way too much. It’s something I’m trying to grow out of.

      Thanks for your perspective!

  52. anonymouse*

    My company’s management is bad in the majority of ways you could think of, except stuff like yelling at people that they literally can’t do because we’re all remote. I still really like my job. Like Alison says, what kinds of badness people can put up with differs very much by individual, and by what might compensate for the bad stuff, like what kind of work you’re getting to do, etc. From what you’re saying, I’d definitely at least interview for this job, if I were in your position.

  53. NotARealManager*

    My red flags:

    Frequent or sudden turnover (high turnover in some entry level roles, retail/food service roles, and roles typically held by students are usually not a red flag though).

    The job wants you to start very quickly, like tomorrow or the day after (again, this flag may not apply to positions mentioned above).

    Seemingly endless interview process that may or may not include doing unpaid work during the processes.

    Phrases like “We’re like a big family here” or “we’re really looking for a rock star”.

    But, just because you notice one or two red flags doesn’t mean the job isn’t worth taking. Look for patterns during your job search, both in your communications with the company and on Glassdoor or Indeed Reviews.

  54. Snoozing not schmoozing*

    Toxic has become one of the most over-used words in the English language. It has come to mean anything from – to –

    I had a job in which all of my many predecessors had lasted about a year, because the department head was bananapants. And they were smelly pants, too. Most of those predecessors were quite young and terrified or disgusted or driven up the wall by Smelly Pants. I was S.P.’s age, and I’d picked up many tricks from years of work – how to distract a boring rambler when they won’t shut up, light conversations about events or interests based on our common age, finding most of his issues entertaining in a bizarre way – whatever worked. And there were plenty of staff in other departments who let me vent as needed. I lasted about 15 years until he was forced out. I didn’t consider it a toxic place because I knew ways to cope, and the work itself was always interesting. There were problems with upper management, too, but that gave the staff plenty of common ground for conversation and bonding. Always remember: one person’s nightmare might be another person’s daily entertainment.

  55. butter bean*

    I agree with the others that any job can have good and bad points and you can’t totally be sure what you’ll get. What is tolerable to one person might be unbearable to another.

    I notice also that there is a subtext here suggesting that working at a library is an unequivocal good and you are exercising less scrutiny there. Libraries are absolutely good and important institutions, but sometimes they have problems of their own, usually due to lack of funding and political attacks. The fact that the library job would pay less and require more driving is a big concern to me.

    If I were you, I’d take the better-paying job in the field you know best. It sounds like you need to build up job experience, and I think getting your foot in the door here will serve you well, even if something goes wrong and you have to move on after a year. And better pay will always serve you better in the long run.

  56. Hermione Danger*

    There’s also the possibility that you land in a great situation, and then, just as you’re getting your feet under you, management changes and your great situation turns into a toxic slurry of awful. You’re really much better off building the skills, experience, and network that can help you rise above the “meh” kind of awful and make a quick exit from the AWFUL kind of awful.

  57. TheBunny*

    In general a dissatisfied customer tells 9-15 people about their bad experience. Conversely a positive experience will lead to people telling 6-7 people.

    Leaving an employer review can be difficult and most are left by people who have left the company…and it’s impossible to know why.

    I’m not saying ignore the reviews, not at all. But I am saying you should ask more questions before committing to a course of action based on them.

    My last company has a bunch of negative reviews, all after I joined. That nicely line up with a large tech layoff at the company.

    We’re the reviews truthful based on my experience with the company? Yes and no. Oddly I found the positive leaning ones to more closely match with my experience than the more negative ones. Ironically I left because the manager of my specific team was awful.

    You can’t tell without asking more questions. Then go with your gut and cross your fingers.

  58. Hyaline*

    Oh gosh, OP, I hope you don’t mind me saying this but you sound really, really overwhelmed. And understandably so! because job hunting is hard enough, and then it looks like you’re adding a big move on top of that. So if you want them, giant internet stranger hugs (or preferable equivalent). But one thing that I’m seeing in the undercurrent of Overwhelm is that it seems you don’t quite know what YOU want. This is coming out really strongly for me when you ask if a longer commute to get a better working environment is worth it–there is no one who can answer that question except you. Which do you value more? What would a good work-life balance look like to you, and how does commute and working environment fit into that? The thing is, no friend, therapist, or even excellent advice column can answer that. Only you can, and you may need to really pull back and think about these bigger picture questions, especially if you haven’t really made these choices before (working in family businesses might have been kind of insulating that way–if you didn’t have to decide what you valued in work because you only really felt you had that option, for example). But once you know more about what YOU want, you can better answer your initial question. What are YOUR red flags? What would YOU be willing to put up with, and for how long? And you don’t have to answer these questions all at once, or for good–we’re always learning and adjusting what we think we know about ourselves.

    And yes, there is no moral failing in taking a job to pay the bills that you know isn’t ideal and that you aren’t planning to stay at for a decade! Just keep learning what you want, what you won’t put up with, where you thrive, what works for your own balance and life. Good luck!

    1. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

      I’m grinning so hard right now. :’D Thank you, Hyaline, for your caring, all the way down to the internet stranger hugs or preferable equivalent. I’m encouraged. :D

      I think you’re reading me correctly though. I am (was) really really overwhelmed, though I didn’t know it was that obvious from what I wrote, oof. And it is very hard for me to make decisions based on what *I* want and what works for *me*—most of my life I haven’t been able to do that, and it’s an extremely revolutionary way of doing life, to me at this stage. Something to grow in!

      Thanks so much for your compassion and for sharing your perspective in detail. :) I think it’s good advice.

  59. Andi*

    This is such a very good answer. Clear counsel, seeing the deeper issue, long-term guidance, and all delivered with so much respect for the person who asked. I admire Alison very much for her gift with this stuff!

  60. TeapotNinja*

    As with any reviews, you have to read them carefully and really think what they mean.

    Every review site from Amazon to Glassdoor have people leaving reviews for all kinds of wrong reasons (e.g. an Amazon product getting a one-star review, because the delivery person was rude), reasons you don’t care about (e.g. Amazon product being slightly off-color from product photos), due to misunderstandings (e.g. purchaser read the product description wrong and ordered the wrong product), people clearly inventing problems for whatever reason or serial complainers who aren’t satisfied with anything.

    Look for multiple complaints about specific problems. If there aren’t any, or the complaints are too generic (i.e. “management is bad”…how exactly???), there isn’t anything useful you can take from those. They’re just noise.

    1. JazzyHamster*

      I partially agree with you, but I will add that some people will leave reviews with very little details because these details or specific bits of criticism would then make it too recognisable who wrote the review. You don’t want the company to easily recognise that it was you as this could come back to bite you. This is why I always take every review seriously and make up my mind based on the overall number of reviews and the balance of good vs bad reviews.

      1. Also*

        Agreed. There’s only so much detail you can provide while still protecting your anonymity, as retaliation is a real risk, and it can be extremely damaging to people’s careers, finances, health, and livelihoods.

    2. Happily Retired*

      Let’s don’t forget people who still leave 1-star reviews meaning “the best thing ever on the face of the planet.” I always pull up reviews by stars, 1, then 2, then 3 etc., and it’s astonishing how many positive reviews there are in 1-star land.

  61. JazzyHamster*

    I’ve just got out of a toxic workplace where I only worked for 4 months. I had bad vibes from the start and there were some red flags already during the hiring process:
    1) The company only had 3 online reviews. They were all very positive but only 3 reviews are not really enough to get a realistic sense of the culture.
    2) The hiring manager seemed like a stern and austere person during the interview. And whenever we moved on to the next stage of the hiring process, he never checked with me which dates would be convenient. Instead, he would just send me an email telling me that we were going to schedule an interview for the next day.
    3) The company asked me too many personal questions that had nothing to do with work
    4) The one person I spoke with who already worked there seemed to imply that they were not a very flexible company.

    When I joined, this is what I experienced:
    – The job was not as discussed (a heavily watered-down version of it that was entirely boring).
    – Our team was overly managed in a rigid way, like I had joined the military.
    – The manager got easily frustrated and yelled (but only in 1 to 1 conversations – never in a group).
    – The company had promised remote working but then told me to regularly travel more than 300 miles at my own expense for a day of “team bonding”.
    – I had negotiated health insurance which was in my contract, but this benefit stopped soon after I started for “administrative reasons”.

    To sum up, be very careful with red flags and a gut feeling. They are nearly always signs of a bigger problem. You don’t want to end up in a situation that is so bad that you’ll either leave or be forced out and have to explain this short stint in new job interviews.

  62. T'Cael Zaanidor Kilyle*

    Personally I’d take the library job … but then, I love libraries. And I have no idea what your personal situation is as far as how much income you need.

    It is worth noting that there are varying degrees of toxicity, and what bothers one person immensely may roll right off of another person’s back. And there are tradeoffs. I once worked for an insecure, micromanaging Napoleon of a man who made employees cry on a regular basis, but I still stayed there for three years, did good work that I’m proud of, and don’t regret any of it.

  63. Somewhere in Texas*

    With someone that has extensive experience in this type of work, you may not see the management as bad. For examples (from someone that has never done this work)- if management harps on employees to react quickly to customer complaints because that’s the key to being the luxury business… that’s not micromanaging, that is making sure employees are reacting appropriately to the situation. I’d guess there are certain norms in this business that take time to learn and may not be common sense for those not experienced.

  64. Blue Pen*

    When it comes to places like Glassdoor reviews, I would also advise looking for trends or patterns or repeat comments amongst the negative. Remember that people are more inclined to write about the bad than they are the good, but if you see similar themes emerge over multiple reviews over a decent stretch of time, then I would start to pay more attention and, likely, give them more weight in my decisionmaking.

  65. Blue Pen*

    Not at all to say the OP isn’t doing this, but I’d also add that this is one of the biggest benefits of networking. When you know someone who works (or has worked) for the company you now have your eye on and can ask them directly what it’s like, that’s tremendously precious information you’ve now earned after doing the legwork of networking.

    Before I took my current position, I was offered another more high-paying, senior role at a different company; after hearing the horror stories from a couple of trusted confidantes, I decided to pass and, seeing what’s come of it since, I know I dodged a big bullet.

  66. Just me*

    “I also really need a job, though. Soon. Is the necessity of getting a job ever a good reason for getting yourself hired at a place you already think might have bad management?”

    In reality no. But it’s necessary sometimes as much as I hate it. Even if it’s temporary. I had to work for a hell hole for 5 years because it was the only job I could find at that time and I needed one NOW. I hated every second of it but I managed to get out eventually and into a job I really like, and got to work from home to boot.

  67. Tal*

    Every time I ignored bad vibes it was the wrong decision. These are not the only two jobs out there. Keep looking. And take the longer commute over gut warnings.

  68. PersonWhoseLetterThisWas*

    For the commenters:

    Okay y’all, thank you SO MUCH for all the advice, insights, and perspective you shared in the comments. I have a bunch of stuff to chew on from all that and am really grateful. (Not only for the advice but for the genuine, frank-but-kind way in which it was given.)

    I might also add: a lot of you guys must be really smart, perceptive judges of people. I’m a bit mind-blown by how much you accurately surmised about me just from what I wrote in the letter. All of you who said stuff about me looking at it too black-and-whitely; acting as if it were an “either/or” choice and those were my only options; acting like I’d be trapped at the job I chose; thinking in unrealistic absolutes (like “If it’s bad now, it’ll continue to be bad” and vice versa); being afraid to take risks; being overwhelmed / not knowing what’s a good fit for ME specifically; and various other things—you were right. 

    Those are things I’m aware of in myself but am still at the beginning of growing out of. My life up till recently has been pretty controlled, and I haven’t had much experience getting to make my own life choices. I think this has contributed to my thinking in such absolute terms, overanalyzing and being paralyzed about decisions, being so afraid of risks, and being SO desirous of not getting trapped . . . especially in another high-control environment, because it’ll perpetuate these problems! And I’d have less tolerance for it than I have for most of my life because I’ve started to have light shed on how that isn’t normal (or if normal, at least not okay); but I don’t yet have the boundary-making and stick-up-for-myself skillz necessary to make it well in a culture like that. I need to grow them, yep, but I’m only just starting out. And I don’t think it’ll help if I put myself right back into another bad environment, esp. without getting to see for myself what healthy leadership even looks like in action.

    SO! I very much appreciate all the perspective y’all gave. I can sense the iron walls of my mind starting to broaden a wee bit.

    Now, I actually do already have an update, and it’s that I was hired for the library job! *cue my own surprised and delighted cheering* I finished out my fourth day working there today (a couple days after Alison posted the response to my original letter). 

    I haven’t heard back from the cabin business people since I initially got in touch with them again once I moved here. But my application to the library job went through the hoops, I got an interview, and then a couple days later I got a call with a formal offer of employment!   

    I’m relieved to just have a job, but also, I’m relieved it ended up being this job. It bugs me a little that I won’t know for sure what it would be like working at that cabin place (unless I get hired there at some other time). But with this library job—besides it being something I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy just from a skills/tasks standpoint (no, not getting paid to read ;))—I’ve been so pleasantly delighted with the hiring process and everything so far. They’ve been far and away the most communicative, on top of things, and considerate toward the applicants out of any other places I’ve applied at or asked about hiring.

    I’ve asked multiple library staff members what they like about working here, and it’s been really positive. A recurring theme is about how collaborative / empathetic / flexible / understanding the management and staff are. And I’m getting to see it myself now. Yeah I’ve only been there a few days, but I can smell high stress and control from a long distance. I feel very good about this, which is huge. Huge to not have a million doubts and cynical expectations overshadowing my mindset going into this job. It’s great.

    I don’t know what it was that got me the job; could’ve been any one of resume, cover letter, interview, or references called. I wish I knew. But that was the first official interview I’d ever had, and the first official cover letter I’d ever submitted. I was feverishly reading tips on Alison’s website here about interviews and cover letters in the few days between when I’d found the website and when I submitted my application, so hopefully that contributed to the quality of my cover letter, and interview later. But I really don’t know what it was for sure!

    So anyway. There’s that. It’s a thing. I’m really glad to be there. Not because “It’s a library and of course libraries would be great to work at!” (So sorry to hear of your icky library experiences. :/) But because from what I’ve gathered, *this particular library* has really good management and workplace culture, and that keeps being corroborated as I’m asking my new coworkers what they like about working here.

    Time will tell of course, and as y’all said: there is no perfect job. Everything will have something you don’t love. But I think a clear difference between “healthy” and “unhealthy” does exist, and I’m getting good vibes about the health of this place.

    So anyway! I wouldn’t say “all that stress for nothing”—I would so much rather be cautious than not. But I’m learning to take risks too, and to see things on a greyscale rather than all black or all white. And kudos to you guys for reading me well, esp. when I’m just words on a page and you don’t know me in person. It’s funny.

    Thanks so much for all the time and thought you put into giving your perspective and advice! Really appreciate that. (And now I know where to go if I want a bunch of work advice, wow. You guys are instantaneous and NUMEROUS.)

  69. SpeedDemon*

    Interviews are like real estate. What are your negotiables and non-negotiables? Things you can deal with, in both cases, might be deal breakers for other people. Always go to the interview and see for yourself.

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