Have you ever taken a job and then realized only after it was too late that there was some terrible deal breaker—like a micromanaging boss or absurd work-life balance expectations—that you never would have gone for had you just known?
Unfortunately, the cons of a job are always hard to find. Interviewers and potential co-workers are eager to “sell” the job to you, and you’re more susceptible to being convinced because you’re so ready for that new position.
So, is there anything you can do to get a clear picture of what you’re signing up for—the good, the bad, and the ugly?
Yes and no. Depending on your values, some things that bother others may not bother you and vice versa, so there’s no way to know exactly how you’ll like a position. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and do your due diligence. Here are a few steps you should most certainly take.
1. Turn to Social Media
Websites like Glassdoor, which offer company reviews from previous or current employees, can be a goldmine of information. (Just select “Companies” in the drop-down menu next to the search bar and search for the company.) Reviewers can include whether they’d recommend a company to a friend, whether they approve of the CEO, advice to management, and the pros and cons of working at the company or in their particular position. (Caveat: Unless you see trends or themes in some of the comments, it may not be the best idea to base your entire perception of a company on reviews written by possibly disgruntled ex-employees. Here’s how to know if you should believe company reviews.)
Some LinkedIn stalking can also be helpful. Try doing an advanced search for people with the name of the company in the company search box and looking at things like how long people stay or how long it typically takes to get promoted. Depending on the job you’re looking at, you can try to find people in the position you’re applying for to check out or go for a more holistic approach and look at as many profiles as possible.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to also scroll through some recommendations on the profiles of your potential boss or co-workers to learn more about them. (And if you don’t see any recommendations on an otherwise up-to-date profile? That may be telling.)
2. Get the Nitty-Gritty From Former Employees
Of course, you won’t be able to find the answer to very specific questions online. For that, you’re going to need to reach out to people. This sounds like a pain, but really, this is your absolute best chance to learn the cons of a new position before you accept.
While you’re on LinkedIn, search for the person who can help you the most—someone who previously worked in the position you’re applying for now. (Though, really, anyone who has worked at the company in a similar capacity would be excellent.) Send a message to the people you think would be able to speak to some of your concerns, and request a quick phone call or coffee meeting. You may have to reach out to a few people to ensure that someone responds, but if more than one person is willing to chat with you, then lucky you—you’ll have the opportunity to compare perspectives.
Once you’ve lined up some folks, make sure you know what you want to find out. Follow standard informational interviewing etiquette, and with some luck you may get a pretty clear picture of what you’re signing up for. Below are a few questions to give you an idea of what you could ask—just be careful to pepper in some more positive questions during your conversation as well.
- Can you tell me a little bit about what the management style and structure was like?
- What would you say were some of the biggest challenges?
- Company culture is always something I try to suss out before an interview. How would you describe the work environment, morale, and culture?
- Where do you see the company going in the next few years?
3. Take Advantage of the Interview
You’ve probably heard a career counselor or an HR rep say, “An interview is a two-way street.” And, while it might not always feel like it, it’s certainly true that you are evaluating your interviewer (and the company) as much as he or she is evaluating you.
With this in mind, it’s completely within your right to ask good questions about what you can expect on the job—just make sure you don’t make your interviewer defensive. That’s not going to get you anywhere.
For example, being in an office that supports professional development is something very important to me. A particularly revealing answer I once received from a potential employer was, “We would fully support your professional development pursuits. You’re welcome to take vacation time to attend conferences and trainings, if you’d like.”
This wasn’t quite the kind of “support” I had in mind, and I got a pretty clear picture of the company’s stance on professional development, which ultimately helped me make the decision to decline the offer. Questions about supervision style, growth opportunities, and the like all signal that you’re interested in sticking around for the long haul, which is never a bad message to send in an interview, so they’re definitely worth asking.
If you don’t want to go through the job search again a lot sooner than you were expecting, it’s definitely a good idea to do the digging and find out what you can about your potential new employer. It’s a lot of work now, but it could save you a ton of trouble and frustration down the road.
Photo of pro/con list courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author