Spotting the Dead-End Job: A Primer

When you're seeking the right IT career opportunity, learn to read the warning signs that tell you when a job's going nowhere.
Posted November 14, 2000

Janet Ruhl

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Spend enough time with recruiters and hiring managers and you might come away believing that the world is full of exciting, cutting-edge jobs that put you on the fast track to higher earnings and unlimited future potential. But not every job is a golden opportunity.

Every project has one or two essential jobs that involve drudgery or obsolete technology, and managers must find people to fill them. To do this, managers often resort to creative recruiting strategies that range from mild exaggeration to outright misrepresentation. Desperate managers know that high-quality candidates are looking for technical growth, expanded responsibility, or more money, so they describe their dead-end jobs in these terms.

Don't be taken in! Approach any interview with a healthy paranoia, prepared to ask the penetrating questions that will expose the hooks behind whatever lures may be dangled before your nose. By learning to read between the lines and recognize hidden agendas, you can read the warning signs that point to a dead-end job and avoid getting trapped.

Promises, Promises

Does the interviewer promise that the job will give you training in a hot new technology? To reality check this, you must ask whether the hardware and software required for the new technology is currently installed. If you see mostly 486s on the desks of this company's employees, it is unlikely this project will give you the Java development experience you crave.

"Be sure you are not being brought in to kill the project or take the blame for its failure. "

Ask how many people in the department are already working with the new technology. If possible, try to meet with members of the team you'd be working with so you can determine their experience level with the new technology and what skills their current jobs demand. If you are relatively inexperienced and would be the only one working with a new, in-demand tool, then you are probably being set up.

It is also important to determine exactly what type of project is being undertaken. Is the "new development" project you're considering going to be "developing" a fix for a fifteen-year-old legacy system that uses a technology with which you are all too familiar? If so, you are probably being hired for those legacy skills and are unlikely to get significant exposure to any new technology.

People with little experience in the hottest new tools are the ones most likely to be recruited using this strategy. Remind yourself that few companies will train an outsider in a cutting-edge tool when proven performers within the company are also clamoring for this kind of training.

Reading Between the Lines

Another favorite lure among hiring managers is the promise of management responsibilities a step up from those of your current or most recent job. If you hear this and are told the leadership position is brand new, ask why it isn't going to an insider. If the position is not a new one, be sure to ask what happened to the previous person who held the job. Are they still with the company? In what role?

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