I remember the first day of my first job out of college. I was nervous, but excited. Finally! I was being a grown-up and starting my profession. But that first day was a cluster.
I arrived to the office that day and discovered that the person who had offered me the job had quit without notice the day before. He just slid his office key under the door and called the corporate office to tell them he was through. His market in St. Louis was struggling and Corporate sent a guy down from Chicago to try to help him turn things around. But I guess he just had had enough of the stress and quit. So, for the time being, the Director of the Chicago market would now oversee the St. Louis market, too.
When I walked in, the office administrator at the front desk informed me about what had happened and that the Director wasn't in yet. She had me take a seat. So, for the next couple of hours, I just sat there, waiting and observing. While I waited, I thought to myself, "So that's why the person who called to offer me the job was a different person than the one who interviewed me. And I bet it's why it took forever for the background check to clear." I had slipped through the cracks.
My Spidey senses were telling me to run. But this was the only offer I had on the table and I'd already been looking for 3 months. I didn't think it would look good on my resume only having two hours of professional experience under my belt. Besides that, I was pretty sure that sitting and waiting for your boss to show up wouldn't count as "professional experience." So, I decided to stick it out.
I should have known better. Looking back on it, there were all sorts of red flags. But being young and naive, I didn't notice them. It didn't take long after that first day to realize it was the wrong job for me. The company didn't pay well, demanded you work long hours and weekends, had high turnover, terrible morale, and was being managed by people too young and immature to handle the power they'd been given. The management style from top to bottom was "manage through fear."
After 9 months working there. One bright and sunny Monday morning I was asked to come into the Director's office. "Brian, you've been great, but we're going to have to let you go," he told me. It was like having the wind knocked out of me. I was shocked at first as I walked back to my office to pack up my things. I took my box to the car and then started walking around. I called my wife. She said, "Thank God! You were miserable there!" She was right. I was miserable there! So I went from the feelings of anger and sadness to relief. I'd just been given a chance to start over.
So, I started the job hunt again. Shortly afterwards, I got my first nibble. It was a small staffing agency that was opening a new location. Things were going fine in the interview and then it was my turn to ask the manager a few questions. I asked him about his management style and what his expectations were for the people who worked for him. I swear, if I didn't know for certain he was a different person, it could have easily been the last boss I'd worked for giving the answers. Had I accepted the offer he made a couple of days later, I would have traded my old jerk boss for a new one. This time, I listened to my Spidey senses and declined.
I'd learned my lesson about what to look for. Unfortunately, I think we've all had a similar experience as myself at some point in our career. It's never fun figuring this out after you accept an offer. Wouldn't it be nice to know what to look for ahead of time? Well, you're in luck. Today we'll talk a little about just that, with 11 things you should try to find out before accepting a job.
1. The Boss
They say that most people don't quit their job, they quit their boss. I find this to be absolutely true. If you can respect your boss and he or she respects you back, you can put up with an awful lot. A good boss is worth their weight in gold for both you and the organization. A bad boss is like a lead weight chained to your ankle...as you're being thrown into the ocean. So, avoid working for someone who you think might fall under these broad categories:
The Psychotic - These are the bosses who aren't particularly compassionate, remorseful, or empathetic, you know, normal human characteristics. They are charming on the surface, but quite manipulative and are very willing to lie to your face to get away with something or get ahead.
The Self-Aggrandizer - They are the bosses who truly believe the world should revolve around them. They are also the ones who steal your idea or steal your thunder for their own personal gain.
The Idiot - This one goes without a lot of explanation. But it's safe to say, there are plenty of bosses out there who have no business managing others. They achieved the Peter Drucker principle of being "promoted to the level of incompetence."
The Never Pleased - These bosses are either constantly moving goal posts on what they want you to do or they give you such vague instruction, that you never understand what they want you to do, and therefore set you up for failure. Either way, you're never going to be able to please them.
The Overly Emotional - You want a boss who is calm in pretty much every situation. Nobody likes getting yelled at. I mean, unless you bankrupt the company, there's really nothing that can't be fixed and if it can be fixed, there's no reason to yell. Likewise, you don't want a boss who cries if they got a tongue-lashing from their boss. A weak boss makes a weak team.
The Squish - There's nothing worse than getting sold out by your boss. You want someone who will stick up for you if you didn't do anything wrong. These bosses are quick to point in any direction but them to deflect blame. There's no worse feeling than getting stabbed in the back by someone you're supposed to trust.
There are probably more categories that I'm failing to mention, but this is a good start on who you should avoid at all costs in your career. Otherwise you'll be miserable.
2. It's a Start-Up
Obviously, I have nothing against start-ups, considering my business is only a couple years old. But it's probably not a good company to work for, at the moment, if they are not able or willing to offer a competitive salary. Instead, many will offer a lower salary and equity in the company. Well, that would be fine if you got an early job with Steve Jobs when he was starting Apple, but what percentage of all start-ups are like Apple?
So, if you hear the phrase, "get in on the ground floor," turn them down. In all likelihood, they will never be able to pay you a competitive salary. It's an even greater likelihood that the start-up will shut down within five years, leaving you with nothing to show for it in your savings account or equity holdings.
3. Financial Condition
You want to work for a company that's going to be around for a while and is growing. This way you know that if you're doing well, you'll have a job for as long as you like and may have a chance for promotion. It's not enough to see that they have a nice office in a prime real estate location. It's not enough to see managers and owners in expensive suits, driving nice cars. This company may be just keeping up appearances while burning through cash.
For publicly traded companies, this information is easy to get. They are required to report their financial condition on an annual basis. If you discover that they owe more money than they are taking in revenue, you probably should look for a better opportunity. However, this information is not accessible if it's a privately owned business.
In this case, I think it would be perfectly within your rights to ask for an audited income statement should you be given an offer of employment. You can even go so far as offering to sign a contract to return it to them or shred it, if they have concerns about giving this information to you. However, if they refuse to give this information to you, they may, in fact, be more concerned that their facade will be found out. This may not always be the case, but it is something to consider.
4. Training and Education
How would you like to build a piece of furniture from IKEA without the instructions? Could a person do it? Yes. But how long would it take and how many mistakes would one make before you finally got it together? And would you be confident you built it right if there's a bunch of left-over pieces?
That's basically what many organizations do when they have no formal training for their employees. They just throw them in the thick of it and hope for the best. That's another setup for failure. Some employees may figure it out, but it will take them some time and a lot of frustration. Most will just flounder, fail, and get fired. This is hardly a good scenario. So beware the companies who use the phrases "hit the ground running" and "steep learning curve." That's code for, "you're on your own, kid." Make sure whatever company you decide to work for has a thorough training program that is at least three days long, to get you on a basic level of aptitude. Additionally, they should provide some quality on-the-job training with a senior person on the team who has the patience and ability to get the new person fully up and running.
Likewise, many organizations require certain degrees to move into a supervisory or management level. They may think you'd be the perfect person for the job, but you don't have the degree. If that's the case, they should offer a tuition reimbursement program to help you get to the level they think you are suited for. It's a small investment for them that would pay off in the long run, if you are truly management material. Like we said earlier, good bosses are worth their weight in gold to a company.
5. Human Resources
Even though I come from the field of Human Resources, in many ways HR departments of a great number of organizations do a lot to hurt the company's vitality and productivity. Read the book Death by HR to see how this department adds bureaucracy and encourages hiring and promoting people for reasons other than merit. This hurts an organization in a couple of ways. First, it signals to some top performers that if they want to move up, they have to leave. Second, for those who get selected or promoted to a higher level job, they will forever have an asterisk next to their name. People will always wonder if it was their excellent performance or some other immutable characteristic that got them to their position. This scenario is good for no one.
For example, when I was a Recruiter, one time I recruited for an HR Manager position in the company. I'd interviewed several great candidates and passed them on the HR Director with my notes. After she did her interviews, she had made her choice of whom she was going to move forward with to offer the position. I was a little surprised with who she selected. Not that he didn't sound good in my phone interview, but I thought there were a couple other candidates with more expansive experience at a higher level. So, I asked her why she decided on him. She said, "Well, we don't have any protected class in upper management, and this would be a good example for the rest of the organization." I responded that I hoped this wasn't the only factor in her decision. I hoped he was also the best candidate. She said no, this wasn't the only factor, but it was one of them. However, the fact that this was the first factor she mentioned left me concerned. Three months later, he was terminated for performance reasons. He was a great guy, but he was thrust into a job he wasn't ready for, for the wrong reasons. Had he been hired into a supervisor role first and was given the chance to grow into a manager role, I think he would have succeeded. Instead, he was a casualty of good intentions.
I'm not saying that HR has no redeeming characteristics. It's very adept at training and development. They also are very good at selecting the right benefit plans for their organizations and making sure that worker's compensation claims are valid. Additionally, organizations need a department to keep rigorous employee records that are safe and secure. Finally, when there is a conflict between employees and managers, the department serves as a way, though imperfect as it may be, to investigate.
So, you shouldn't necessarily rule out businesses that have an HR department, but instead consider how large the department is and what the goals of the department are. The larger the department, the more sclerotic the company has become. It's becoming too rigid and unyielding to the circumstances. The power of making decisions is being taken away from front-line management, and instead of being pushed down from the corporate bureaucracy. If the goals of the department are social justice and not helping to make the company more productive and successful, you might want to steer clear as well. At the end of the day, companies should hire the best person for the job and not the person who looks good on paper or meets a "feel good" quota.
6. What Happens If You Are a High Producer?
Some people are really productive. They are able to get their work done for the day in way less time and at the same quality level or better than the rest of the team. What happens to them after they are done?
It's usually one of these two scenarios:
- Their boss gives them menial work to do in order to finish up their 8 hour shift, or
- Their boss explains they can't leave because it would look unfair to others on the team, so "just look busy."
What should happen if you're consistently getting your work done ahead of schedule is:
- You're allowed to leave and enjoy the rest of your day because you've accomplished what they paid you to accomplish, or
- They give you more responsibilities / promote you to a higher level, because it's obvious that you've mastered the one you're in.
Too many supervisors and managers are sticklers to the clock. Sure, there are some jobs, such as a customer service rep in a call center, where you have to be available during a certain time-frame. However, there are plenty of jobs that aren't. If the job you're in, is in the latter category, the priority should be on whether or not you're able to get your stuff done on time at a high quality level, and not on how long you are sitting at your desk.
This kind of ties into my last point, but there are an awful lot of jobs that don't really require your physical presence to be able to do the work. With the technology we have now, where someone can VPN into the company's server securely, where they can do virtual conference calls with managers and the rest of the team, and where the customers they are interacting with are more often by phone or virtual chat, the need for a team to be in an office building is becoming less and less necessary. Unfortunately, management hasn't changed as quickly as the technology.
If you do happen to find a company that allows telecommuting, be happy with your discovery. It shows they trust and value their employees. It's also a huge time and money saver for those who would otherwise have to drive 1 or 2 hours every day commuting back and forth and spend more on gas and car repair. Think of what you could do with this extra time and money?
I used to own a mug that said, quite frankly, "Meetings Suck." That was 20 years ago, and my sentiment for meetings has largely gone unchanged.
For some companies, it feels like you are just in one long, perpetual meeting from the start of your day to the end of it. Most of them being a giant waste of time. Look for a job where management understands the problems meetings create and are actively looking for ways to minimize meetings and making those that are required, efficient.
9. Co-Workers Who Think They are Your Boss
There's no way you'll be able to know this unless you have a friend working there who is on the team, but I thought I would add this in just because it can be such a problem. Management should make an active effort to squash this in the workforce. There are far too many people who are busy-bodies, more interested in everyone else's work over their own. These are the types of people who walk over to your desk to make sure you fill out that TPS report correctly next time.
Sure, everyone should welcome help with things that truly matter and will make you more effective in your job, but these guys are like gnats. They are always buzzing in your ear about little things that, ultimately, don't matter. They can be annoying and distracting. They drain your energy and make your job less pleasant. They are who you complain about to your significant other when you come home from work, "Guess what she did today!" you exclaim as you walk into the door, not even giving him or her a kiss before going into your diatribe.
10. Is the Job What They Advertised It to Be?
Early in my career, I was given a good piece of recruiting advice. I was told, don't ever give the candidate a "rose-colored" description of the job. Why? Because if you give candidates grand expectations, they will be sorely disappointed after their first month on the job. I think this is also a problem in how jobs are described in the written job description as well. They make jobs sound far more exciting than they actually are. A lot of times, there is no mention of the make-work stuff that you end up having to do and how little you are working on the fun stuff that they emphasize.
For the most part, jobs are not meant to be glamorous. They are simply a group of tasks that you're supposed to do and the employer pays you to do them. I really wish, job descriptions and recruiters used clearer language to describe the job instead of using all these buzzwords to make you decide based on your emotions.
So, if you find that things sound too good to be true. If they are using language that incites more emotional parts of the brain than factual, you might need to ask more questions of them in an interview to get down to the nitty-gritty. Make sure you know everything you need to know about the job.
11. Employee & Customer Reviews
It's always good to know what others are saying about the company. Glassdoor.com and Indeed.com both have employer reviews for larger companies. Look for trends and don't pay attention to the extreme reviews (negative or positive). This is a good way to learn about almost everything mentioned previously in this article.
In addition to employee reviews, it's good to know what customers think of the company as well. So check out Yelp.com to see what trends you can identify. If it's mostly all negative, it might not be the type of company you'll feel comfortable working for.
The only thing to keep in mind is that some companies try to game the system by paying for positive reviews. This is unethical, but it can happen. So don't use this as your only data point. Whenever possible, try to talk to someone in person who works there or has worked there in the past. Ask a lot of questions in your interviews at the company. Research as much as you can. And most importantly, do this before you take the job, not six months after you started. By then, it's too late.
About RockIt Career Consultation Services
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We will guide you on what job or career best suits you and then help you market yourself through your resume, your networking strategies, your interview skills, and your negotiation to ensure that you are doing something you love and are maximizing your earning potential. Throughout, we will be there to keep you motivated and determined.
We'd love to help you launch your career and encourage you to learn more about the services we can provide you on your path to a more prosperous future. With our help, you will become the applicant every company wants to hire!