Is That Legitimate Job Offer a Dream For You...or Too Good to Be True?


Q:  "I’d love to see you expand no. 7 from 10 Signs a Job Opportunity Isn't the Right Fit ("It Seems Too Good to Be True") to a full post. I associate ‘too good to be true’ with not getting scammed, so in this context, I’m wondering what might be the underlying reasons for it happening, how to diagnose an offer that appears too good to be true, whether that kind of offer might even it be a sign to start looking for a new job." - Vince Skolny, @VinceSkolny A:  So glad you asked. I'm a bit of an expert in accepting "too good to be true" (TGTBT) job offers. Which is not a point of pride, I might add! Hopefully, though, my (many) mistakes can be someone else's gain.

First a note:  there are some obvious job scams out there (hint:  "you can work from home!!!" = not good) but what I want to focus on here are offers that are legitimate. They happen within a solid organization - perhaps the one you already work for - and will pay real money with real benefits, but they're opportunities that come with catches. Often major catches.

Let's tackle your great Q by breaking it into parts.

Why "Too Good to Be True" Offers Occur

When we review the many reasons TGTBT job offers surface, it's a wonder they don't appear in our lives constantly!

  • Cheap Labor - TGTBT job opportunities often float our way when we're young and/or unattached simply because the boss thinks they can get a lot out of us for very little investment. They see our eagerness and capitalize on it - but in a manner that's not in our best interest. Instead, they're offering burnout material:  long hours, low pay, little to no recognition, frustrating working conditions. Which brings us to...
  • Desperation - Nobody wants the burnout jobs. Nobody. Yet the work has to get done somehow. The boss feels so desperate, he or she becomes a salesman putting shiny gold lame on a pile of poo. Someone needs to be talked into doing this burnout, toxic work. If you're ambitious and agreeable, that person just might be you.
  • Need for a Fall Guy - As unfortunate as it may be, some projects are destined to fail soon after they get started. The timeline is too short, there isn't enough budget allocated, the right team isn't in place. Everyone associated with the project knows it's doomed, yet someone from above is adamantly pushing it forward. This is a fall guy scenario. Someone needs to be brought in to carry the load of the unavoidable failure. Inexperienced, enthusiastic, hardworking individuals are the perfect target.
  • Desire for a Quiet Puppet - Some managers desire a new feather in their cap without doing the work it takes to earn that feather. They scour their ranks for the most talented, unassuming, high work ethic individual they can find to do the work. They want to tell you what to do, burn you out, and then take all the credit. TGTBT written all over it.

Signs of a "Too Good to Be True" Opportunity

  • (Respected) Others Said "No" - Here's the huge red flag I've often missed. I now know that when considering a job offer or promotion, it is perfectly acceptable to ask, "Have you offered this to other people?" or "Who else considered (or held...) this position?" The manager may lie, sure, but most bosses will be upfront when asked point blank. If I'd asked this question before accepting a major freelance writing project, I'd have saved myself three years of pain. Four people don't take a job and back out of it suddenly for no reason...
  • You Have to Sign a Contract - Indeed many wonderful, legitimate, career-boosting jobs require a contract. But when the contract reads like an iron-clad purchase of your soul, beware. Regarding my aforementioned awful freelance writing gig, the contract had apparently become increasingly lock-solid because so many people had previously pulled out. By the time I stumbled in, I barely made it out without a high-profile legal team. Lesson learned.
  • Ambiguous Job Description - That piece of paper laying out your responsibilities isn't just an HR requirement, it's your lifeline. If you can't understand what you'll be doing, you're setting yourself up for some potentially uncomfortable days...
  • Unclear Hours for the Pay - ...and nights. There's nothing worse than a job you thought would be 9 to 5 turning into 24-hour on-call, doing emails at 3am, writing reports into the wee hours sort of position. For which you don't see an additional red cent. There is something to be said for working hard, for sure, but TGTBT jobs tend to have high time requirements that remain hidden...until you start.
  • Hourly Pay Rate Seems Too High - Speaking of hours, always calculate the salary being offering compared to the number of hours of work being advertised. What is the hourly rate of pay? If it's out of line with what would be expected for your field and/or your level of experience, rest assured that you're going to be working a lot more hours than advertised. A lot.
  • Uncertain Recognition - Are your efforts going to be recognized in some way? Or will you remain a hidden member of the team? If the latter, consider hard whether this position is a necessary rung on the ladder (which it may very well be) or a situation in which you'll get unnecessarily used.
  • Only the Positives Are Discussed - When your boss goes into salesperson mode, beware. Every promotion or job should be presented in a balanced way, with full indication of all the benefits to doing the work - along with the potential challenges. If the offer is not presented this way, something may be amiss. Particularly run for the hills if, when you mention the potential difficulties you foresee from the setup, the boss brushes them or - worse - laughs. (Yup, I've had potential bosses do both.)
  • Management of Difficult People - I also seem to be fodder for these sorts of TGTBT jobs. A manager has a group of people that no one can seem to handle and who don't do their jobs and instead of firing them, they come to me and present some beautiful job title, asking me to take on this unruly team. Uh, no.
  • Climbing Too High Too Fast - I mentioned in the "10 signs" post that unearned opportunities are a red flag. This sign bears repeating (again and again and again) because we are so likely to be honored and excited when "big breaks" come our way early in our career that we fail to ask WHY they are appearing. Sometimes we can climb fast. More often, though, there's something up.
  • Success Doesn't Seem Possible - As discussed in the previous section, fall guys do get set up. We don't want to be pessimistic, but a healthy dose of realism is in order before accepting any position. Projects simply do not succeed without proper budgets, teams, timelines and goals in place - or at least available to be put in place.
  • Comes From Someone Who Has Never Seemed to Like You - An even bigger red flag that you're going to take the fall is when a promotion comes from someone with whom you've frequently locked horns. We want to avoid paranoia, of course, but trust your gut on this one. If you someone who used to glare at you is suddenly giving you the saccharine sales pitch, what do you think is really going on?

Is It Time to Look for a New Job?

If a TGTBT promotion - or a series of them - appears in your life, that doesn't necessarily mean there is anything wrong with the organization for which you work. (It may, though, be an indicator that it's time to look deeper at the company's practices and goals!)

It is possible that your particular manager may not be highly effective, or may not be the sort of person you want to work for.

That said, if your job isn't toxic, then TGTBT opportunities in and of themselves are not cause to leave a job. In fact, your organization or manager might just be hyper-zealous about making good use of you, resulting in a scattershot pattern of offers (some terrific, some awful).

No matter what, though, encountering a sequence of TGTBT offers ARE cause to get clearer about your values, goals, and sense of purpose. And to develop your assertiveness skills so you can say "no" gracefully while building the life you actually want.

To accepting only the best offers,


Have a Q for our Wednesday Q&A feature? Email me ( or tweet @WorkingSelf. If your question is chosen for publication, you’ll get a FREE MINI E-COACHING SESSION about values, plus a backlink to your website!

Have you ever accepted a "too good to be true" job offer? If so, what were the red flags (in retrospect!)?

Photo Credit: *spo0ky*