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5 Questions to Ask Before Starting a New Job

accept job offerIn a challenging job market, it may seem that any job offer is a good job offer. But one of my colleagues, in his first month of a new job that was the reward of an arduous and time consuming search, felt a little out of place. Setting issues related to compensation and benefits aside, the reality of a new work environment can fall a little short of our expectations. I know it has happened to me and you may have a story, too.

I’ll never forget being hired to fill what seemed like a dream position – a great fit for my experience and skills and a move up in terms of career advancement – to find that there had been an internal candidate who had to report to me and was pretty intent on making things difficult. The job itself did prove to be a good experience, but there were unanticipated obstacles to overcome related to the workplace and organizational culture.

Priorities, Projects, and Performance

While there’s no way to truly experience the organization before accepting an offer, what can job seekers do to better estimate what the new job will be like? The following questions are designed to help you find out what you need to know about your responsibilities on the job, in the workplace environment, and as part of company culture:

  1. What are the immediate priorities for the person in this position? You could adjust this question for different groups – how does the company’s mission impact priorities, what are the current clients’ or customers’ needs, what is your supervisor’s point of view?
  2. Are there any major job responsibilities I should know about that were not in the job posting or job description? Job vacancy announcements and the formal descriptions kept on file in human resources offices can be full of information that is more bureaucratic in nature than actually representative of the work to be performed. What else can they tell you about their expectations of you and your work?
  3. What is a typical day like for someone in this position? Tweak this one to be relevant to your situation. If it’s a brand new position, for example, what do they anticipate a typical day will be like? This is also a great question to ask alumni, or others in your network that may be employed by this company or in similar positions with other companies.
  4. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve seen employees make? What are your supervisor’s pet peeves – coming in late, not proofreading correspondence, or not asking for assistance when it’s needed? This question is from The Huffington Post‘s “The Job Interview: Questions to Ask … And What to Avoid” and can help you understand the climate at the organization, inform your approach, and set your expectations.
  5. What improvements or changes do you hope I’ll to bring to this position? Brazen Careerist recommends this question for interviews as well, but it could also be useful after accepting an offer or as part of periodic performance reviews. This conversation may reveal existing problems and shed some light on how you’ll be evaluated, as well as how success is currently, or will be, defined.

Think about how you might be able to address some of these concerns in advance of accepting an offer. You will often have the opportunity to ask questions of your interviewers at the end of an interview or after an offer has been extended. Having these kinds of questions ready will not only help you get the information you need to make a decision about the job, but also show that you are prepared.

Continue to ask questions after you’ve accepted the position and meet with supervisors to get established and begin your new job. Keep in mind that “asking” could also mean digging a little deeper in your research, reaching out to members of your professional network, and following company social media accounts.

What are your priorities and values?

What do you wish you had asked before taking your current job? This is a great place to start creating questions for your next job search, whether it’s starting soon or something to think about for the future. It’s also a good idea to revisit your work values. If continued learning is important to you, for example, you may want to ask about opportunities for further training or education once you start work. There may be formal programs available in-house, tuition discounts, or time available to attend webinars and professional conferences, but if these options don’t exist or aren’t encouraged you need to factor that into your decisions as well.

It’s an Ongoing Process

Being new on the job is hard and learning the ins and outs of a new organization doesn’t happen overnight; neither does becoming part of an existing team. So allow yourself some time to get to know both people and procedures, with a positive approach. Gather as much information as you can and learn from those around you.

Having a clearer picture of what’s happening in the organization, the pros and the cons, helps you form realistic expectations so you can hit the ground running. When your new job seems overwhelming, remember that no situation will be perfect. Focus on what you can do, after the honeymoon is over, to contribute to solutions, team building, and project completion.

Image credit: smysnbrg, Flickr, CC:BY-NC

April 24th, 2013 written by Staff Writers

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