How to Avoid Bad Career Decisions

Have you ever found yourself in an unfavourable situation that, looking back, you could have prevented? Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. However a bit of foresight when job searching and the courage to ask questions of your own during job interviews will help you avoid making bad career decisions.

Preparing for an interview is always good advice. Smart interviewees do research in advance of an interview so they can answer questions intelligently. Even smarter interviewees think about the questions they need answered to make an informed decision about the job.

What Are your ‘Non-Negotiables’?

A ‘Non-Negotiable’ is something that has to exist in order for you to feel like you made the right decision. These could be things like:

  • Opportunities for travel
  • Commuting distance
  • A sociable and forward thinking organizational culture
  • Variation in your day to day responsibilities
  • Working as part of a team, or conversely, not having to work as part of a team

These will be different for everyone but their existence, or lack thereof, will make a huge difference in your experience of work. As an example, early in my career, I was moved from a corporate office tower where I was part of a small, smart, urban team in downtown Toronto, to a processing facility in the middle of an industrial estate with no natural light and a desk in a huge open concept floor with none of my team mates around me. To some, this opportunity to be closer to the “guts” of the organization would have represented a welcome challenge, but to me, it was like being moved to Siberia. I lasted four weeks.

You can approach this question in one of two ways. The first is to decide on what you absolutely must have. The other way is to decide on what you absolutely cannot put up with. Either way your responses will probably fall under one, or several, of the following categories, under the more general headings of “Organization” and “Role”. Think about these and maybe add more of your own. Later we are going to talk about how to ask about them in an interview.

Organizational Considerations

Location

Are you willing to commute, or move, to take this job? How much do you know about the city or town where it is located? How much financial impact on your take home pay will commuting have (think: train fares, parking costs or tolls)?

Physical Environment

Do you have to have a quiet space in which to work or do you love the hustle and bustle of an open concept office?

Organizational Size

Is your preferred size small and intimate, huge and corporate, or somewhere in between? Some very large corporations may actually have departments or product lines where there is an extremely close knit team working together. They may feel as though they are working for a smaller organization. Don’t assume that a corporate environment will be faceless, or that a small company will be friendly.

Management Style

Approaches to supervision vary widely even within the same organization. Will you be closely supervised, have regular access to your boss and be free to ask as many questions as you like? Or, will your boss be located in a different office, city or country, and provide minimal supervision and support? Which scenario would be most suited to your working style?

Cultural Norms

Do you prefer a more corporate feel, where employees are required to keep regimented hours? The alternative is a more casual norm, where, as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter what time you rock up in the morning.

Are you looking to be part of an organization where employees socialize with one another, play in sports leagues and do volunteer work, or do you want to go home at the end of the day and forget about your coworkers?

Role Based Considerations

Your job will not be 100% of what you want. However, if, as Pete Mockaitis said in our most recent podcast interview, you are happy with 80% of your job, then you are doing pretty well. So what, in your role do you need to hit that 80%?

Detail versus 100 Foot Perspective

Do you like to be “in the weeds” of the details, examining the impact of small changes and performing deep dive analysis? Alternately, are you more of a strategic thinker? Strategic thinkers see big picture stories and patterns, but are not good with details. Many jobs require both skills and not everyone is at one end of the spectrum or the other. However, knowing where you lie and whether the job is a match for you is important.

Planning or Acting

Do you like to plan? Is looking at all the possible outcomes something you like to consider or do you need to be acting and executing on ideas the majority of the time? If you are a “doer”, but you take a job that requires planning the majority of the time then you will soon become frustrated and bored.

Project Work or Routine

Many people think that they like project work, but it isn’t for everyone. Project work can often mean very busy times with tight deadlines, followed by lulls while you wait for input from another source. In addition, project work might involve working with lots of different people. Routine doesn’t have to be boring, but does provide a more predictable workflow and possibly the chance to develop close knit relationships with team members.

Opportunities to Learn

How steep do you like your learning curve to be? Personally I thrive when my job requires me to be constantly gaining new knowledge and asking lots of questions. However, some prefer a more nuanced learning curve where they go very deep in to one aspect, rather than covering a broad range of subjects at a less detailed level.

These are just some of the areas you should consider before accepting a job. But how do you find out more about them, before, during and after the interview?

Doing the Research

Ask in the Interview

There is nothing wrong with asking about these aspects outright at the end of an interview when it is typical for your interviewers to ask you if you have any questions. Although, be careful not to grill your interviewers too extensively as these may come across as off-putting. Identify two or three key areas that you really want to know about (and cannot research elsewhere), and ask about these.

Contact a FEMP

FEMP stands for Former Employee. LinkedIn provides a wealth of opportunities to reach out to individuals who may have worked at the organization where you are applying. You may even find individuals who are still there. Remember to be professional in your communication to these people. If you create a good impression it may pay off, leaving a bad one will certainly come back to haunt you. Some larger food manufacturing organizations even have groups on LinkedIn for their alumni. These include Kraft and Unilever.

Ask to meet the Team

If you are in the late stages of making a decision, then ask if you can talk to one or two people who are working in the department or team you’d be moving into. This won’t work if you are in the early stages of the interview process, but should not present a problem if you are a serious consideration for the position. If the company balks at your request then you should hear alarm bells ringing – what are they not telling you?

Other Online Resources

Sites like Glassdoor and Comparably give employees the opportunity to anonymously rate their working environment. Take these with a very large pinch of salt. Most people are only compelled to write when they are upset about something. However if there are a large number of reviews that seem to follow the same pattern, then maybe this is something you need to look more closely at, especially if the company seems to be constantly recruiting.

Written by Juliette Prouse