Just a few weeks ago, a friend of mine endured an epic job change that had her questioning what she wanted to do with her life, the range of skills and experience she had, and how she would fit into a new company culture. She had been at her previous job for about four years and had a difficult time deciphering whether or not she should gO FoR iT (!) and accept the new role — she was frankly terrified of failing after being comfortable for so long. It’s a common sentiment among us millennials, maybe because we don’t have as much experience job hopping, so we inflate the weight of the job transition process. Whenever my friends and I go through this, we desperately turn over the same worries and anxieties in our heads, which make us question our choices (even if the experience of people around us typically show they are rewarded for making a job change; I’s usually, though not ALWAYS, a change for the better). All we want is a glimpse into the future and know, with certainty, that things work out in our favor.
Well, we might not have a crystal ball to aid us in this quest, but we can research on our own and learn all the right questions to ask before taking the plunge. This will help us move jobs with confidence and minimize the fuzzy gray area that makes us nervous about what to expect. I did some digging online to pull together seven important questions that you should ask yourself before taking a new job, no matter what field you’re considering. An article on Careerealism expands upon the reason why we need to do this exercise, saying “If you don’t take the time on the front end to truly explore what you want from a new job and to figure out if this position satisfies those desires, you’ll end up paying for it on the back end.” Words of #truth. Answering these questions will help you level the playing field, feel confident in your decision to say “yes” or “no,” and prepare yourself mentally for a new working environment. Take a look!
1. Am I clear on every aspect of the job description/what are my expectations for this role?
This is basic AF, but I once experienced a guy at my old job who got hired for the role of a “digital art director,” and his work ended up being comprised of only 30% digital work. This was a huge letdown for him that could have easily been avoided if he asked the right questions up front. It’s important to dig deep with the hiring manager/recruiter you’re interviewing with, question every point of the job description, know what programs/software you’re expected to use, ask what a sample day in the role looks like, etc. Question everything!
2. Do I know if the salary/hourly rate is competitive?
Another pretty basic question, but I’m surprised how many people haven’t done research into hard numbers. Use websites like Glassdoor, PayScale, and Salary Expert to help you get a full and complete understanding as to what people with your expeirience get paid. This will help you become a powerful negotiator and feel more comfortable advocating for yourself — you’ll be backed up by facts! Read through this helpful article, which will take you through how you can figure out salary expectations.
3. Am I aware of any clear and attainable benchmarks that will track and mark my success?
I used to know an incredible art director that I worked with who was stuck in-between roles for a few years. She didn’t have a lot of clear benchmarks to point to, which would have helped her move forward and advocate for her promotion faster. So, instead of waiting around for them to be created she set them for herself. She tracked her achievements with documentation, printed out positive client feedback emails, had people from other departments she worked with fill out little surveys about her work and how she could improve after major projects, etc. She was an inspiring mentor to me and illustrated the importance of setting goals to help oneself move forward, figuratively and literally. When transitioning to a new job, be sure to ask how success is tracked and if there are clear markers in place to do so. I thought this bit from an article on Ladders was especially helpful, which said, “You must know what success looks like. Before you take the job, verify that it comes with achievable metrics for success. If there are no outlined standards of accomplishment, partner with your employer to create them.”
4. What is the deal with bonuses? Vacation time? 401k? Employer match? Health Insurance?
These are all the tiny aspects of a job that you should go over before you say “yes.” At my former job, the first time I considered a 401k and vacation time was honestly my first day on the job as I was leafing through the new employee handbook <– LOL. I would not recommend that to anyone moving forward into a new position. Being adult means caring about things like 401ks and the quality of the health insurance on offer. Yes, vacation time is secondary to the details of the actual job description at hand, but it’s still worth knowing before you give an answer. This super-helpful article on Daily Worth says that you shouldn’t be coy about asking about things like bonuses and employee perks. It explains that you shouldn’t be “shy when asking about benefits, especially how much you’ll have to contribute to medical and dental coverage per month and how the 401(k) vesting and matching programs work. At the end of the day, you’re working to get paid, so you need to be sure the compensation is adequate.” Right on.
5. What’s the work/life balance like, and how important is that to you?
Some people would happily trade their left arm for a chance to snag a job at a company that will look stellar on their resume and, for them, 80-hour work weeks are not an issue. But, that’s not the case for everyone. Before accepting a job offer, you should ask yourself just how important work/life balance is to you, and what you can expect in your role. Is there an expectation of weekend work? Are you in a digital media and/or social media role where you are expected to be online after hours regularly? You want to make sure that you know what you’re in for and start preparing for success before you get there. If maintaining a healthy work/life balance is something that’s very important to you, this article suggests keeping the question open-ended, explaining, “Be very open-ended: ask ‘What does your company do to help its employees maintain work/life balance?’ If the hiring manager is put off by that simple question and work/life balance is a priority for you, this isn’t the right fit.” Learn to read the signs, note the tone and dynamic of the office, talk to current employees if you get a chance — do what you can you get the information you need.
6. Do you need resources/classes/opportunities offered to employees for continued learning? How important is that to you?
I once knew a woman who turned down a job at my old company because it was a very small agency and the continuing education of the employees was not a top priority — the resources just didn’t exist. Even though the role was a great fit for her, and she would be making more $$$ than she was (I know this because I knew the woman from before she applied), she was turned off by how little the company seemed to care about pushing the employees to keep learning. It’s always helpful to ask about internal programs on offer for the employees, whether or not there’s potential to attend workshops, seminars, retreats, conventions, etc. I’ve even known some individuals who only want to accept a role if there’s potential to have the employer foot some of the cost of graduate school or an MBA program down the line. Depending on where you are in your career, these preferences might be totally different. But, if having access to enriching work-based learning programs is important to you, make sure to ask the right questions to ascertain whether it’s an option on the table.
7. Is this a company a place I’d feel proud to work at?
I loved reading through this article on The Muse, which talked about the need to access whether or not you would feel comfortable and proud telling people you worked at X company. This is something that used to matter very little to me when I first started out, since I was so keen on simply finding a job. But, over the last few years, it’s something that has taken center stage in my professional life. I feel that I can’t in good conscience work for a company that I’d ever feel ashamed or uncomfortable telling people I worked for if their core values didn’t align with mine. It’s a tough question to ask yourself, and yes, it’s a straight-up privilege to be able to find work AND find it at a company that you feel ethically proud to work at. However, it’s worth considering before taking a new position anywhere.
Now, this is not an exhaustive list of questions you should ask (and maybe I’ll do a part two!), and you should check out the articles here and here for even more tips. Accepting a job offer is exciting and scary, and you owe it to your future-self to make sure you’re making the best possible decision.