Before You Accept that Job Offer: 3 Key Questions to Answer?

It’s a pretty typical interview process.

P question

You’ve met with a recruiter and the hiring manager. Now you fly in the night before and meet a bunch of people in a series of individual and group interviews that will last the entire next day. You fly home that night.

They love you and have offered you a job. Ready to accept the offer?

Marriage should be so easy.

For most of us we know more about they car we’re going to buy, the house we’re going to mortgage, and likely the spouse/partner we’re going to live with then we do about the career-marking job we may end up taking.

As a Twitter friend noted – somebody’s who probably in just this situation – “This is a big change for me and not something I’m familiar with after 10+ years at my current firm.

There are 3 fundamental questions anchored in the critical element of a “good fit” at the new job that will tell you whether you have a fighting chance to succeed, and whether or not you should take the job on that basis. They revolve around these areas: cultural fit, technical expertise, and interpersonal relationships.

Where these three spheres intersect and overlap is the “perfect” job; miss out on one, two, or even three and you may have paid hell on earth.

Here are the thee big questions for which you should find answers:

  • Can you function effectively within the new culture?
  • Can you work effectively with the people in your interpersonal sphere (boss, colleagues, direct reports, key clients or vendors)?
  • Do you have the right technical chops or experience (think wisdom, sector expertise, etc.) that is valued at the potential new place. Do they think you bring the secret sauce, the know-how to get something done that will cause people to listen to what you have to offer. In short, do you bring leverage to the role?

Here’s more on each of those questions.

Decent cultural fit means that you recognize the values and beliefs that drive behaviors at an organization and can operate reasonably well within that culture. Do they give lots of glitter and pizzaz to people who they reward, or are they understated and quiet – in both cases done because it’s the “right” thing to do. If you “fit” within a culture it means that there’s a synchronicity between the way you think, feel, and behave and the way the new place works. You don’t have to agree with the culture; you simply need to be able to navigate it, even if your role will be to change it. Work at some place that’s out of way out of whack with who you are – think of the person who is collegial by nature and action working in a place with a premium on hierarchy and protocol – and you’ll spend tons of energy working to navigate a system that always feels like you’re swimming against the tide, not with it.

Technical skills or the “right stuff” is the set of abilities or experience that helps you cut through frozen butter like you have a super-hot knife. Do you have them? Lack them and your ideas might be entertained but more likely simply tolerated. 15 successful SAP implementations under your belt? People will listen to what you say about SAP implementations. Worked change and innovation magic at Genentech? Folks will pay a premium to have you sprinkle some of your pixie dust their way.  If you’re bringing ho-hum skills and background to the new job expect people to think you’ll have ho-hum impact. You might not, but you’ll have to burn energy – “prove yourself ” – things most execs have to do all the time but it never hurts to have a running start.

Can you work effectively with the folks with whom you’ll work? While I don’t think you need to love or even be best friends with your boss, colleagues, co-workers and key clients/vendors, most roles will not last long if you find you’re at war with them persistently. Developing effective and reasonably efficient work relationships with those around you is the difference between feeling like Prometheus, and feeling like you’re having an easy sled ride downhill. Whenever you have the choice, always choose the latter; more fun, you get more things done, and work can move from OK to really delightful.

That one day fly-in interview likely didn’t give you enough information to answer those three questions but there are ways to get pretty close. LinkedIn provides easy tools to find out who you know who works (or worked) at the new shop so you can find out more; gives you some sense through that site’s company reviews. Having additional time observing is priceless if you have the chance, whether it’s sitting in on meetings or just having extra time watching what goes on in the company lunchroom or reception area.

Career networks – assuming you’ve kept yours well nourished – can also be a source of great data about people and companies. It’s just such a small world that it’s pretty easy to find all sorts of interesting information if you have decent persistence and know where to look.

The question you want to ask is “Tell me about. . . .” Listen hard and carefully for how people describe the new place, and from that data infer how it operates. Avoid “Are they…?” questions. Why? One person’s “formal” is another person’s “casual.”

Good luck. Accepting a new job is a big step, but it those types of steps, for better or not-so-good, that makes life interesting and gives you greater wisdom.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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