How do you know whether that new job is the right job for you? What can you do to check out — or “vet” — a potential employer before committing yourself to a new position?
The importance of a thorough evaluation of a job offer is not limited to the offer itself; it includes a thorough evaluation of the employer.
Most articles on the subject of “evaluating a job offer” focus on the job itself — on the work that you will do if you say “Yes.” You are asked to consider whether the job will be challenging enough to satisfy you, whether there is room for growth, and whether the rate of pay is sufficient. But seldom are these the issues that lead to the exclamation, “I quit!”
If you’ve been out of work for any length of time, you very likely have uttered the phrase, “I’ll take the first job that is offered to me!” Particularly as the financial picture grows more bleak, it is difficult to see past the value of a paycheck without regard for its source.
Accepting a new position with a new company or organization is a big commitment. And just like the commitments the we do or do not make in personal relationships, the commitment to a new employer takes very serious consideration. As tempting as the security of a paycheck can be, you just might be headed for an expensive disaster if you jump in without much thought beyond the income.
While there is no such thing as the “perfect office environment” (Google may be an exception to that rule), an office bully, a supervisor who lacks integrity, or a CEO who has lost her passion for her job, can all spell big-time trouble and make those 40 hours a week too difficult to bear.
But how do you spot the red flags before accepting the job offer? And which problems are harmless enough to justify the paycheck?
Paychecks vs. Problems
You are the answer to the question of whether a problem is harmless enough to justify accepting a less-than-ideal job. Only you know your tolerance level. We all have a boiling point, but what it takes to reach that point varies from person to person.
From the petty to the serious, a problem is a problem, and you need to anticipate your tolerance level. Some of us can ignore the rude secretary who thinks she is the CEO, or the talkative office manager with a voice so shrill that it literally causes you to cringe — day in, and day out. Others of us are so sensitive to these things that we dread going to work each day.
Think about your past employment situations. What problems did you face, and how well did you handle them? What types of problems would be deal-breakers for you, personally? It is important that you are honest when you do this assessment and do your best to not let your financial difficulties sway you to make a decision you might regret.
Accepting a job that inevitably ends with your resignation due to an uncomfortable environment or other problems at work can be very expensive. Depending on your individual situation, those expenses could include the purchase of a car, new wardrobes, salon visits, hiring a nanny or enrolling your toddler in daycare, and the h u g e expenses involved with relocating — all of which adds up quickly.
- Employers that struggle to meet payroll may have serious problems. Be careful.
- A history of suits against the company — especially Employment Law cases — should be a big red flag, not to be ignored.
- A high turnover rate of employees is not a good sign.
- High or frequent turnover with the executive office and/or upper management personnel. Has the CEO been with the company a long time? Is the Board of Director’s filled with credentialed members, or is it made up of only family members — including the 93-year-old grandmother?
- Public slamming of the company by customers and/or employees is another red flag.
Once you recover from the initial euphoria of hearing, “You’re hired!”, take enough time to thoroughly investigate whether this is the right employer for you. The economic damages that can result from a failure to properly vet the new employer may be more difficult to handle than the limitations imposed by unemployment.
When you begin your digging, search each of the following (where relevant), using the company name as well as the name of the CEO. To be really thorough, search the names of the members of the Board of Director’s, as well:
- Dig deep into Google, going well beyond the first 3 pages of search results.
- Look up the company’s registration with the Secretary of State.
- Search Case.net in the state where the company is registered. Civil and criminal actions against the employer — past or present — are easily discovered.
- Look into the Chamber of Commerce. Is the company a member? Past member?
- Check LinkedIn and read the individual profiles of the employees who pop up on the company’s profile.
- If your potential employer is noted on the Complaints Board website, you won’t want to miss it. It’s worth a quick search, and my test of the search feature indicates it is very likely to find your search term if it is in the database.
- Check the Better Business Bureau to review the status of the company.
- Go to sites like The Ripoff Report, and the Business Reporter.
- Go to the Consumer Complaint section of the website for your state’s Attorney General‘s office. Search for the company name.
- Your state should have an Employment Commission. Google it. Then, check the site.
- The US Department of Labor, OSHA Division may be useful, depending on the employer.
Evaluate Communication Skills and Practices
Before you sign that employment contract or accept an employee-at-will position, analyze the effectiveness of the communication between the employer and employees. Have a one-on-one conversation with the person who will be your immediate supervisor and, during the conversation, take note of the following:
- Does the conversation seem one-sided? Does your potential supervisor do all of the talking, or do s/he leave room for you?
- When you talk, are you heard? Does the supervisor some how indicate that s/he is actually listening and absorbing your points?
- When you ask a question, is it answered? Be careful for the “avoid and redirect” technique used by those who often fail to address the concerns of employees.
- Does the supervisor follow through when s/he says, “I’ll get back to you.” Does the person call or email by the time s/he promised, or does the ball get dropped?
After you’ve been offered the job, but before you accept it, you need to ask some specific questions, face-to-face. Tell the hiring manager that before you can give them an answer, you’d like to meet personally with the person who will be your direct supervisor. If they are unwilling or reluctant to allow you that meeting, ask yourself “Why?” It’s a huge red flag if they say “No.”
Like the list of problems you can encounter with a new employer, the list of questions to be asked is endless — but you need to keep it relatively short or you’ll come across as tedious and insecure. Tailor the suggested questions, below, to your industry, position, and situation. And, don’t hesitate to add to the list. The purpose of the face-to-face meeting is more than having your questions answered: You also want another chance to evaluate how well your supervisor communicates.
You need to ask some very pointed questions that may never become relevant, but if they do become an issue, you want to know up front how they will be addressed. The exact wording of the questions will depend on the level of employment you are offered, but regardless of the wording, the answer to the question is telling:
- “What is the social environment of the office? Do employees tend to socialize after work, or does everyone go their separate way?
- “Do you host things like ‘Staff Day at the Ball Park,’ or ‘Family Picnic Day,” — those type of social events — for the employees? If so, how good is the turn-out for these events?
- Are employee birthdays and/or employment anniversaries celebrated in the office?
- What is the policy or practice for gift-giving during the Christmas season?
- If there is a conflict between employees, what is the procedure for filing a complaint — and how is it typically handled?
- If an immediate supervisor does not address the complaints, concerns, or questions which are asked of him/her, what is the policy?
- Is there a general sense of camaraderie and teamwork in the office, or do employees tend to be unilateral in their approach?
- Are there any lawsuits for employment-related issues pending against the company?
- What is the one complaint most often received by HR from personnel?
Realize that you aren’t asking these questions to find out if you can distribute tins of cookies during the holidays. You want an idea about the environment. The social environment — or culture — of the office is particularly important given the number of hours a day you are likely to spend with your co-workers. And if a conflict arises between yourself and another employee — especially someone who has been on the payroll longer than you — you must have a good idea of what to expect.
So what do you do if you start seeing red flags? How do you know the difference between an unjustified disgruntled employee rant posted on Facebook vs. real problems? You will be well served by digging deeper, particularly if the new job will require you to relocate.
The people who currently work for your potentially new employer are the best source of inside information. You want to try to discover whether you can expect a comfortable office environment. You want to know what complaints are most frequently brought to the attention of management, and what complaints are discussed privately around the cafeteria vending machines. To dig into this kind of information, you need to network with those employees in a way that is appropriate yet also effective.
LinkedIn is a great source for making those valuable connections. If possible, follow the comments of a few employees who are active in LinkedIn groups. Very often, employees take to the internet to post damaging comments about their current employer, regardless of how stupid it is to do so. Take advantage of that stupidity. And if you can begin conversing online with one or two current employees on topics unrelated to the employer, you’ll set yourself up to be able to appropriately inquire about the working environment you’ll encounter if you take the job.
When it comes right down to it, the kids need to be fed. There are some people who cannot afford — quite literally — to consider saying “No” to a job offer. Only you know your situation. And even a bad job, once obtained, puts you in a better position to find a good job, so long as you can tough it out in the meantime.
~Lynda C. Watts
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Want more? Click on the “Work” category in the sidebar for a full list of articles on the subject by Lynda C. Watts. And don’t forget to explore the other categories, too! Keeping it all in balance is the key to success, and Lynda knows exactly what it takes.
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