how not to accept the wrong job
January 12, 2007 9:30 AM   Subscribe

how do I know when not to accept a job?

What can I do to find out if a job is right for me? Where can I did up information about the work environment? What questions can I ask during an interview to uncover clues about the company or group I would be working with?

I've left jobs I've been unhappy with only to discover that the next place sucked even more. Had I known that one reason a job I accepted was open was that the boss had driven away the previous programmers and fired one for "insubordination", then I wouldn't have accepted the job.

That job was so horrible that I quit before having a new one lined up, but I worked for a year there with the hope that things would get better. I've worked for a year now at a new place, and there are certainly problems here. We've had a lot of turnover lately, and more and more people are hating working here, so I don't think it's just me.

I know every job will have it's problems, and I'm having trouble deciding when bad is bad. I don't want to look for a new job only to find that the new place is just as crazy as this place. I'd just as soon stay here then. I only want to get a new job if the work environment will be significantly different. How do I discover this?

I am a software developer.
posted by bleary to Work & Money (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Keep in touch with your old colleagues and then network with them to find new jobs. Try to only take jobs with employers where someone you trust can give you the inside view.
posted by Good Brain at 9:43 AM on January 12, 2007


1. Do several "informational" interviews before you actually apply for the job. Use these interviews to find out if the corporate culture is a good match for you. Most companies will be very happy to do this, because it gives them an extra chance to pre-screen you.

2. Interview the interviewer! Whether in an informational or a real interview, be sure to interview the interviewer as much as they are interviewing you. They want to know if you know how to do the job you are applying for. You want to know if you can tolerate working for them.

3. Make up a list of corporate culture questions to ask. Ask about the work-life balance, how this company compares with previous companies they have worked for, etc.

Straight out of college, I interviewed with a large software company. One of the interviewers answered, in resposne to my work-life question, that he woked 7-day weeks for his first few years because he was so disorganized. Worse, a year after I accepted a job at that company, he became the team lead, and ran it into the ground.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:44 AM on January 12, 2007


aren't there forums for software developers? places, where you could find former employees? consider checking out linkedin or something like newstoday and try finding someone on the inside.

thing is: you never know about individual people until you meet someone who knows them and even then... but it's rather easy to find out what general conditions are at larger companies. the web is flooded with rants from people who don't like the insane hours and high pressure at Electronic Arts, who cannot stand how incompetent management at Publicis NY is or whatever else the flavor of the month seems to be. you get my point.

also an interesting idea: asking mefi about specific companies. you never know...
posted by krautland at 9:45 AM on January 12, 2007


Usually in an interview, you'll be asked if you have any questions. You can ask about management style, typical turnover (for the position, department, company as a whole), why the position is vacant.
posted by dilettante at 9:57 AM on January 12, 2007


Ask people where they went on vacation last year. It's a very telling indicator of corporate culture. Companies full of employees who "took a long weekend" here and there and no one who took a whole week off are a huge red flag.

Ask how long the person before you worked at the job, and why he/she left.
posted by mkultra at 10:09 AM on January 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Assuming you don't know anyone within the firm you can always try to talk to clients/suppliers who may know them - "what do you know about XYZ Corp".

And yeah, the "your questions" part of the interview is so important. Throw in a whole bunch of "quality of working life" items like number of support staff, turnover, whether people socialize outside the office, and so on too. I've said it here before but one of the questions I normally ask is if I can walk through the office. That lets you check out the environment and potential coworkers to some degree, gives you a brief snapshot of the office atmosphere, etc - I'm always amazed by how many people accept a job in a conference room and only find out on day one that the equipment is falling apart or their desk is located next to the bathroom or something!
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:17 AM on January 12, 2007


Google "resume.doc," "resume.html" and "resume.pdf," and then e-mail the former employees whose resumes you find.

Do technorati and myspace and google blog searches with the company name.

Ask about turnover, culture, the best things about working there, the worst things about working there.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:40 AM on January 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Usually in an interview, you'll be asked if you have any questions. You can ask about management style, typical turnover (for the position, department, company as a whole), why the position is vacant."

I ask questions like that, but no interviewer has ever told me, "Our management style sucks, and we have high turnover." Or, "I am a psychopathic asshole."

Which is why I want to know how to get at the truth slantwise.
posted by bleary at 10:43 AM on January 12, 2007


Asking to see where I'll be working is helpful. If they won't let me see my work station, it may be because it's piled to the ceiling with crap.
posted by Carol Anne at 10:55 AM on January 12, 2007


People have great suggestions, I think, but it sounds like you also need to somehow tune into your intuition about people. You seem to be the opposite of me, a lot more trusting and not very likely to get those hunches that someone is a slimeball. I can't think of a time I've been wrong on that point. I did work for a slimeball once, but I knew that going in. Since you have lots of experience with psychopathic bosses now, you have some clear history to tap into.
posted by Listener at 11:22 AM on January 12, 2007


You're almost never going to get an absolute lock on psychopathic assholes during the interview process. All slantwise truthseeking really does is improve your odds of seeing warning signs through deduction.

Here's one way to practice: Think about your current situation...how would your manager explain it to a prospective employee? What questions could the prospective employee ask that your manager would have a difficult time finessing? From that, figure out what questions you could ask elsewhere that might infer the information you're really looking for. (I think b1trot and mkultra provide particularly good examples.)

There's always the chance that the guy who works 7 days a week might not be a psychopath, but I get the feeling you might be willing to accept possible error if it means you're more likely to end up somewhere you like.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:22 AM on January 12, 2007


I ask questions like that, but no interviewer has ever told me, "Our management style sucks, and we have high turnover." Or, "I am a psychopathic asshole." When I responded, I had meant to quote your comment in italics. That's the bit I was responding to.
posted by Listener at 11:23 AM on January 12, 2007


Personally I think that any job you see advertised is a job you don't want. If it's a good place to work, someone's already referred the position to a friend, and the friend got hired. If you see it advertised somewhere, that means none of the current employees would recommend the place to their friends. Or it means, they already know who they want to hire, but they are required by some byzantine hiring process to conduct a certain number of interviews before hiring, so they posted the job. I think if you network with friends and acquaintances a lot it will dramatically increase your chances of finding somewhere non-psychotic to work.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:37 AM on January 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Selfmedicating is right. My slimeball ran a company that has to advertise constantly for new people. Other jobs I got by making calls for stuff I wanted. Find out where you want to work and approach them because you know they are good. Eventually, they will need to hire someone. You will already have a relationship with them, saving them advertising and the huge hassle involved with pawing through everyone's paperwork.
posted by Listener at 12:03 PM on January 12, 2007


I ask questions like that, but no interviewer has ever told me, "Our management style sucks, and we have high turnover." Or, "I am a psychopathic asshole."

The trick is to ask questions that illuminate the work situation for you.

Imagine going to an Army recruiting office. They tell you how wonderful army life is, and then give you a chance to ask some questions:

You: Is it really fun to be in the army?
Recruiter: Heck yeah! You get to shoot guns, learn survival skills, and defend your country. What could be better?
You: Will people be shooting at me?
Recruiter: Absolutely. And let me tell you, that is one heck of a rush. A legal, natural high!
You: I see. What about body armor?
Recruiter: Armor just slows you down, makes you a sitting duck. You need to be FAST and ALERT. Besides, a bullet will still break your bones, even if you have armor on.
(etc.)

In this fictional exchange, the recruiter didn't come out and say that you will be canon fodder, but a moderately intelligent person should be able to derive that canon fodder is actually the job description for an army enlitee.

If you ask questions to which the answer can only be "this job sucks" or "this job is great" all but the worst managers will respond with "this job is great." You need to ask questions for which the answer is a description of the work environment without any value judgement.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:41 PM on January 12, 2007


You need to learn to be able to read between the lines on answers to your questions. You should learn to be able to tell when people really truly love their job/boss/etc and when they are trying to make the place sound good because they are sick of picking up the vacant position's workload.

The best way to get a better read is to hope/ask to get interviewed by a potential colleague. A lot of folks will do this to make sure you're a good fit within the "team" and that's where the truth (though veiled) usually comes out.

One more thing that may work these days (in addition to asking around), is perhaps checking out company/employee blogs or doing relevant web searches. Granted, they won't be brutally honest, but you can get a feel for if people are exhilarated by the awesome work they're doing and the great culture/management, or not.

You could also look at the tenure of employees, though this could be misleading. If everyone is new or just under a year or two of service, it's not a good sign. It means a bunch of people jumped ship at one point (fairly recently) and there's probably a good reason why. Or it means people don't stick around too long for some reason. On the flip side, if everyone has been there 20 years, that's not a good sign either.
posted by ml98tu at 1:19 PM on January 12, 2007


I had good luck when interviewing for my current job. First of all, when touring the building it seemed like the staff was friendly and most people seemed happy. It was more of an instinctual thing, but the environment seemed to suit me and I could picture myself working here.

Secondly, I interviewed with six separate people, each of whom I asked the following questions:

1. What does a typical day look like for you?

2. Do you like working here?

3. What kind of turnover is there for employees in a position similar to the one I am interviewing for?

posted by elvissa at 1:26 PM on January 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


I agree with Listener that intuition can be really valuable. If you have a twinge of doubt, pay attention. With the two truly bad jobs I've had... there were subtle things I noticed during the interviews, and then ignored. If your intuition has proved to be reliable in the past, use it.

Also, look out for things descibed in strongly positive terms... the wording could be disguising important flaws. b1tr0t's military-recruiter example might sound extreme, but it's not, necessarily.
posted by wryly at 2:19 PM on January 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


"No one appreciates their ex-girlfriend until the next one gives them herpes." -Johnny Drama

What has worked for me in the past is, if you think you might like some place, ask if you can start as a freelancer. Set a time, like six weeks or something, and work as a freelancer so you can check the place out. I've never had anyone say no, and it has always been useful.
posted by spilon at 2:53 PM on January 12, 2007


I agree with the 'trust your instincts,' watch for turnover, check your network of friends and find out why and where the previous guy went.

I'd also make sure your vision gels with your potential new direct boss or will at least be able to get along with him/her.

I ignored my gut instinct during the interview process and was mesmerized by the higher pay, new responsibilities and have been pretty unhappy since. My boss takes credit for my work and ideas, yet is a complete moron. He always corners me in the hallway to 'bounce ideas off me' but he's just picking my brain and then takes my solutions to the higher ups and looks really good. So now I play dumb, unless I have an audience with a top boss. And that's just not a cool environment to work in.
posted by jkl345 at 9:22 PM on January 12, 2007


risk vs reward.
it is the same from the other end - as a manager who has hired and fired many ppl, it is so difficult to tell during the interviews if they are right for the job.
if you know what you want, just talk directly with your new boss and you should be able to get a general sense - if the job offers the right elements, and how you feel with the new boss.
don't try and be too pretty with your questions and build expectation
just measure the risk vs reward - what are you getting out of it, why do u want to move.
posted by edtut at 2:38 AM on January 13, 2007


there are many good answers, so I didn't know all which ones to mark. thanks
posted by bleary at 12:42 PM on January 14, 2007


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