Ever taken a new job and found out you were working for another Genghis Khan? Ever accepted a juicy transfer only to find out that it was really just “The Job That No One Wanted?” What about that fantastic promotion that turned out to be a descent into the Long Hours Abyss? Before you take that promotion, transfer, or new job, find out a few things first. In this article I’ll show you how to make sure you’re moving into a good situation.

Any new opportunity sounds good up front, doesn’t it? Promotions always sound like more money for less tedium. Transfers are always rife with new possibilities. Well, before you get all lathered up to take the leap, here are some things to look for so you won’t be sorry later.

Ask about your new duties
First, let’s discuss new duties. I know people who have taken a new job knowing little more than the title. Imagine this not-so-unrealistic conversation:

  • Her: Just think—I’m the new “Assistant IT Project Coordinator!” Isn’t that great?
  • Me: That’s great! What will you be doing?
  • Her: What do you mean? It’s a promotion!
  • Me: Yes, but what will you be doing?
  • Her: Um…don’t know…coordinating, I guess. But I’ll be on salary with a raise!

I think you see where this is going. My colleague took the offer, made an extra 60 bucks a month (before taxes!), and had to work 65 hours a week to complete her tasks. If she were paid by the hour, she would have made more money—so her new job isn’t exactly a great deal for her. What could she have done differently? Had she asked me beforehand, I would have advised her to ask questions like:

  • What would my goals be on this job? (Beware of goals that sound unreasonable or nebulous.)
  • What happens if these goals are not met? (Look out for red flags that mean you’ll be on the hook for unreasonable hours or tasks.)
  • What’s a typical workday? (Don’t make assumptions based on the job title and don’t let anyone downplay unpleasant duties or tasks. Ask for a breakdown of duties in terms of percentage of each day, as in, “You will be directly interfacing with irate customers approximately 20% of your work day.” Ask for it in writing, or write it down yourself.)
  • Are there established tools and processes? (Ask about the tools you work with and listen for things that might mean trouble. For instance, a company experiencing “explosive growth” sounds like it’s full of opportunities, but I’d be willing to bet it’s also full of tools that are inadequate for the job, in constant flux, or both.)

Where do I fit in?
Find out where you fit into the picture. Ask about the work environment. What are other employees wearing? Will you work with a team or by yourself? Will you have any creative input, or is the work highly structured? What’s the chain of command? Are people smiling, or do they seem somber? Is it a relatively “flat” company with little room for promotion? Is it a multilayered company burdened with manuals full of processes, policies, and other minutiae? Make sure the situation sounds like a good match for you.

Find out all you can about your potential new boss and coworkers. Short of interviewing other people, you must rely on your observational skills. Will you report to the person who interviewed you? If so, watch for personality clues as to how he or she reacts to positive and negative stimuli, or to surprises. During the interview process, you’ll likely be asked if you have any questions. At that point, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask questions such as, “What is your management style?” or “What things are most important to you in a subordinate?” Don’t be shy. A good boss will recognize the wisdom in your asking.

Finally, you need to find out about what I call the “peripherals.” These are the things about the job that may not be immediately apparent but can have a real effect on your happiness. Have you thought about the upcoming change in your commute? What about the lunch situation? Is there an adequate cafeteria, or are there restaurants nearby? Is the parking adequate? Is it free? Ask for a tour of the facility and your potential workstation. How does it look? Is it spacious and luxurious or cramped and miserable? Is there adequate climate control? Do the workers there all look much older or younger than you? Ask about benefits. Do they have retirement? How is the health insurance? Ask for coverage information in writing and compare cost vs. coverage. Do they offer “flex time?” Also, make sure you ask how long it takes to become qualified for all available benefits.

Be prepared
Don’t assume that, just because a new opportunity presents itself, you must take it. Before you accept any new offer, find out your new job duties, where they fit into the company plan, and whom you will work for and with. Don’t forget those “peripherals.” Making sure you are comfortable with each of these areas will help ensure you are taking a happy leap into your next IT opportunity!