Not so fast. Before you say "yes," ask yourself these questions, which may reveal more about where you're about to work than any canned speech you hear or what you read on their altruistic "About Us" web page:
Maria* had a scheduled interview with Dirk*, a prospective employer who approached her to come to work for him at a time when one of his employees was preparing to leave. Arriving a few minutes early on the day of the interview, she was told to wait - that Dirk was on his way to the office. So Maria sat and waited. And waited. After a half hour, he came breezing in. It was easy enough to overlook, after all, Dirk had a busy schedule and may have been detained, and his gregarious personality made up for the annoyance. Except the next time for their follow-up lunch meeting, he was not only late again, but the lunch never happened. Not a mention of it. As she would discover later, Dirk was habitually late for his appointments with clients, keeping them waiting 20, 30, 60 minutes - a blatant lack of respect for others.
Offering you a beverage doesn't count, it's perfunctory. Is the place neat and professional? That's good, but it's not a reliable indicator of what the future will be like. Is it a mess? That's an indication of their work manner, but still doesn't tell the whole story. A better reveal is who else is there. That is, other than panel interviews (which, for those of you who haven't been through one, basically consists of a tag-team firing off canned situational questions to the interviewee).
Back to the interview. Dirk's sullen assistant Hattie* was present throughout both meetings, hunched over her computer typing. This was unorthodox and disrespectful, and Maria should have asked that Hattie let them talk privately. If the rationale was for Hattie to determine if she and Maria would work well together, there should have been a pre-meeting for them to chat. However, during the half-hour that Maria waited for Dirk to show up, Hattie said nothing to Maria, nor made her feel welcome. So, during her interview, Maria asked Dirk specific questions about the short and long-term plans for her work, and took notes.
The rate of turnover means different things depending on the size of the organization. If it's a big company with many departments, you can expect a reasonable amount of turnover, especially with younger workers generally staying a few years in a job before moving on, as is the current workforce trend. However, if it's a small mom-and-pop business with a revolving door of employees within a few short years (as Maria later discovered), that's probably a red flag. Even if you hear that former employees left for legitimate reasons that could be only part of the story, as they may not have wanted to come right out and say that it was a bad place to work. Try to find out ahead of time about the turnover in context of timeframes and the size of the business.
At that point, Maria should have walked away from the job offer because of the red flags. Why didn't she? Well, for one thing, she needed a steady paycheck. And Dirk, having seen her portfolio, had acknowledged her educational and professional qualifications and made promises about near-future advancement, which aligned with her professional goals.
Maria's other mistake was to not get everything in writing from the employer with at least a confirmation e-mail: the specific timeframes for the short-term entry-level responsibilities and for the alleged promotion after the trial period; the specifics of pay raises; the commencement of any alleged insurance benefits; etc. This was especially important in Maria's case, since Dirk often changed the game plan on a whim. Generalities and hedging were not acceptable. Neither was effusive flattery of how well qualified she was to handle his small-business marketing, since she was stuck doing mainly mind-numbing entry-level work and personal business for Dirk and his family, and her marketing contributions were later ignored and dismissed by Dirk.
Are you reluctant to request your employment details in writing because you don't want to offend your potential employer? Don't be. Ethical employers understand why it's important and will cooperate. If you don't hold your future employer to it and get a commitment in writing, all bets are off. They can deliver nothing but excuses, meanwhile heaping menial job duties on you. They win - you lose. It's that simple. Don't jeopardize your future because of a slick sales pitch, no matter how nice the person acts. Big cities or small towns; it doesn't matter. Not everyone plays the game fair. Maria learned the hard way.
If it turns out to be a long-winded monologue scarcely allowing you to get a word in edgewise, it could be an indication that your future boss feels self-important and is oblivious to the give-and-take of a conversation (especially one as important as an interview); a possible indicator that he or she may be unreceptive to any ideas or suggestions that you may have down the road. Of course, it may just mean that once you work there, you'll have to listen to him talk about himself as he drones on....and on...and on......
It's been said that a person is known by the company that he or she keeps, which is something to keep in mind as you build your professional reputation. When you give your best, it's unacceptable to settle for less, whether it's a job or a relationship. And your job is a professional relationship. If you lower your standards, it's hard to rise above it. You deserve better than that.
Remember, although you may be anxious, it's not the only job out there. Check out your other options, trust your instincts, and consider the wise counsel of a family member or good friend.
Epilogue: So what happened to Maria? After several months she wised up, gave notice, finished her work, and left. She now uses this experience as a lesson, and plans to get future job offers in writing.
* All names have been changed for this article.
Copyright © 2014-2015, Christine Liana - All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of the American Society of Administrative Professionals.
Welcome to the ASAP Circle, a community platform for peer-to-peer conversation on trending topics, professional challenges, and shared experiences. We even have designated spaces for weekly Tuesday Coffee Breaks.