What to Do Before Accepting a Job Offer

It starts out as a dream design job: You’re hired as an art director at an up-and-coming agency where your new manager “created” a position just for you. She said the role would help alleviate the heavy workload current employees have been juggling. You can’t wait to start.

Three months later, you’re miserable. Your new coworkers seem to resent you because they think you “stole” another person’s job. (What your manager didn’t tell you was that bringing you on meant losing a deadbeat—but much loved—senior designer.) You’re all working long hours because there’s still too much work to be done, and the person who hired you is constantly traveling and unavailable.

Could you have done anything to prevent your current situation? While you can’t predict every potential issue that may arise at a new job, there are red flags to watch for. Following are six questions to ask yourself (or the hiring manager) before saying “yes” to an employment offer:

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1.  How is the atmosphere? Pay attention to your intuition. How does it feel to be at your potential workplace? Is there a comfortable energy level and a good rapport among colleagues, or are there a lot of closed doors? If you’re a high-energy person who feeds off of interaction with others, a quiet office may not be for you. On the contrary, if you require near silence to concentrate, a company with an open floor plan could drive you up a wall.

2. Are you being blinded by the “halo” effect? Your potential boss is funny, talented and clearly moving up in the company. While it’s easy to be swayed into accepting a job because you’re enamored by one brilliant person, resist the temptation. That particular individual may move to another position or department in the firm – or another organization entirely. Be sure you’re impressed with more than just the person you’re reporting to or you may be disappointed.

3. What’s the history of the position? If it’s hard to get details about the last person who held the job, or the manager says the last few people just “couldn’t handle the responsibilities,” it’s a big red flag. It’s possible the former employees were unqualified, but your potential boss also may have unrealistic expectations. Ideally, you want to hear that those before you were promoted or are working in another capacity at the company. If that’s not the case, ask for more specifics on why certain individuals didn’t succeed in the role so you can avoid being set up for failure.

4. How do staff members really feel about the company? Try to talk to your potential peers at the firm to uncover the positive and negative aspects of working there. Do these individuals seem genuinely satisfied and interested in their jobs? You can usually tell if someone is saying good things but not really feeling them. Again, trust your instincts when having these conversations. If the thing they like best about the job is the excellent 401(k) plan, this may not be the place for you.

5. Did you do your own detective work? After probing the hiring manager and employees for particulars about the job and company, you’ll want to do a little investigating of your own. Unfortunately, not everything you hear may be entirely true – and you’ll want to uncover any falsehoods  pronto. For example, if the hiring manager mentioned that typical working hours are from 9 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., drive by the company’s parking lot (if possible) around 7 p.m. to see how many employees are still there. You also can reach out to some people in your network; they may be able to connect you with someone who has worked at the company and would be willing to offer an honest assessment of the corporate culture.

6. Are the job details in print? The only commitments you can really count on when starting a new position are those you have in writing. Make sure you get the job description, salary and benefits included in the offer letter before signing on the dotted line. If you have asked to be considered for a raise or promotion based on your performance in six months or a year, make sure that’s in writing, too.

While every job will come with some surprises (in fact, they’re unavoidable), it’s important that you take steps during the hiring process to make sure you’re positioned for success. By asking the right questions, conducting your own research and trusting your instincts, you’ll be able to distinguish a dead-end job from a dream job.