It’s hard out there for job hunters, who often don’t have the luxury of nitpicking what’s available.
So, the guy who interviewed you had a sweaty handshake or a “Hang in there!” kitten poster in his office; that doesn’t mean you should turn down a perfectly good job offer.
On the other hand, don’t underestimate the importance of gut reactions. No matter what, you should seriously consider declining a job offer if you see certain red flags.
Figuring out early whether a job is the right fit entails, in large part, getting a sense of the person to whom you’ll report. If, based on interviewing alone, you recognize that the two of you won’t see eye to eye or have a good working relationship, it’s probably not worth the HR paperwork and wasted months to confirm that.
That doesn’t mean your boss should mirror your style, ideals, work habits and personality. Sometimes opposites attract.
There are areas you must evaluate during the “Do you have any questions for me?” portion of the interview to ensure your potential future boss doesn’t have a vastly different idea from yours about what makes a good employee, a good job and, ultimately, a successful company.
A desire to help employees grow
Ideally, you’re being hired into a career, not just a “gig,” but some bosses don’t think beyond the existing job description—and that’s a red flag. They should know not just what your first title with the company would be, but also your second.
This can be a tricky area, especially in the marketing world, where two years is often considered “a long time with the company.”
If you’re in it just for the gig and the paycheck, you probably don’t want to tip your hand during the interview. If a company is going to the trouble to interview, hire and train you, then they will probably want some reassurance that you’ll stick around for at least a year.
Play into this desire for HR efficiency by making sure you get the “What’s in it for me?” portion of the interview right. If the job is a good fit and the pay is fair, you’ll stick around.
Promoting innovation companywide
Do company executives believe great ideas can come from anywhere, or do they think people shouldn’t be proposing ideas above their pay grades?
There are lots of ways to contribute to an organization. Find out early what kind of environment you’re about to enter.
Some companies’ entire cultures hinge on employee innovations, and they can come from anyone, at any tier in the organization. Other companies are highly collaborative, but only at certain levels. Others discourage open-door policies and have rigid hierarchies in place—for whatever reasons.
If you want to show up on time, do the work, clock out and leave, then everybody is going to be awfully disappointed when your direct report finds out that you’ve been using your 20 percent time to leave 20 percent early every day.
On the other hand, if you have a creative soul whose primary tonic is recognition, then you had better make sure that your new company has a signup sheet for a weekly open forum.
Appreciation of work/life balance
Some job candidates are skittish about discussing anything outside the office realm for fear that an interviewer will deem questions about flexible hours, vacation, family issues, etc., as laziness or the sign of a prima donna.
Don’t shy away from those questions, though. You have to know whether your boss values your happiness beyond your job or instead plans to work you into the ground at the expense of your non-work life.
An entire class of jobs in marketing is based on grueling hours and job priority above all others. Though I don’t agree that any job that’s not a passion project should require a person’s every waking hour, I’ll acknowledge that deadlines exist and agencies are often rewarded for speed. If you’re in the running for an “all in” position, you must be prepared to hand your life over to somebody else for a couple of years.
If you bring up hourly expectations, then the conversation will naturally turn toward the “how much do we all work?” part of the company’s culture. If you believe, as I do, that being efficient is more important than looking busy, yet you are expected to stay until after dark every single day, you’re going to burn out in no time flat.
The ‘right’ sense of humor
People’s senses of humor vary, but you know what yours is, so crack a joke, any joke that you would find funny—or that someone who “gets you” would find funny. Maybe reference a part of a well-known TV show or movie that you find amusing.
Gauge the reaction, and decide whether it’s one you can live with every time you try to be yourself in front of your boss for the next who-knows-how-many years.
Knowledge of what happens outside his/her office door
Does your potential boss know what employees on the main floor do day to day, or who really runs things out there? We’re talking about little things, like who jumps down people’s throats when dirty dishes are left in the sink.
Bosses shouldn’t just know the business; they should be in direct contact on a daily level, too.
Bosses aren’t always the most qualified or knowledgeable people. During the interview, politely quiz your potential new boss about another position at the company.
Asking about how you will interact daily with co-workers will reveal whether the new boss knows what’s going on in the department or the larger company. Plus, knowing more about other positions in the company will come in handy later—assuming you take the job.
A healthy skepticism of the ‘rules’
Any boss who quotes the employee manual to you verbatim shouldn’t be trusted. Rules provide a framework for an efficient organization, but many are based on HR or legal requirements and are therefore asinine. It’s helpful to have a boss who enforces the spirit of, instead of the letter of, the rules. Could you report every day to a person who was a hall monitor back in school?
Yes, you want your boss to know company policy, but you also want a boss who recognizes that nothing ever changes for the better if company policies are enforced like martial law. Companies change, laws change, and therefore rules change.
Good bosses regularly go to bat for their employees. The best bosses know the company policies, but they also know when to challenge them in your defense.