Great question: How do we avoid jobs and companies that suck?
It is heart breaking to me when I see talented people trudging away in jobs that either they don’t love or at companies where they don’t fit. And, as you hint at, in almost every situation when you talk to someone who is in this kind of predicament, they almost always say something like “This isn’t at all what I thought it was going to be.” They were toast before they even showed up to new hire orientation.
I’ve been in that spot a few times myself. I’ve felt the pain of waking up to the very crushing reality that you made the wrong choice when you decided to take the job. I felt discouraged. I felt deceived. I felt lost. It sucks. It’s a terrible thing to be in a job or a company where you don’t belong and where you can’t utilize the best of who you are. And there are way too many people stuck in this situation.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
You asked what we can do to avoid ending up in the vortex of work suckage. I’m no expert, but I’ve seen it enough to offer up some thoughts and suggestions that might help.
- Seek out a job before it’s a crisis. If you really need a job or are desperate to leave where you are, you will almost always make a knee jerk decision because anything looks good when you are in that situation. To make great decisions, you need time and perspective. And, you need to be not only able to but willing to walk away from any job or company if it doesn’t feel right.
- Know what is most important to you. Sadly, most people don’t spend the time to understand what really matters to them. What kind of culture is a fit for you? How do you know? What kind of work do you want to do? What kind of manager do you want to work for? What kind of people do you want to work with? If you can’t answer these questions with clarity, there is no way for you to evaluate a new opportunity for fit. By not answering these questions, you are leaving the “fit” entirely up to luck. That’s bad strategy.
- Interview the company. Ask to meet with a number of people individually at the company you are considering and have a set of questions ready that are based on your answers to the “fit” questions above. For example, you might ask the question “Tell me about the culture here” or “How would you decribe the atmosphere here at the organization? Listen for consistency. In a strong culture, all of the answers will sound similar. If they aren’t, that’s a huge red flag. When you interview the company, it’s not about showing them that you are interested, it’s about legitimately deciding if this is the right company for you.
- Look for reasons not to take the job. My experience has been that most of us go into a job interview looking for reasons to join a company so we tend to see only the things that appeal to us. Instead, I think most people would be wise to go into a job interview looking for reasons not to join the company. That doesn’t mean tanking the interview or being a jackass, but just being constantly on the lookout for danger signs.
- Seek out people who had what you want and left. With social media, particularly LinkedIn, it’s easy to find people who have worked in the company you are considering, maybe even having done the exact job you are considering. Ask them the same questions you asked in the interview process. Ask this person why they left and if they’d ever go back. Listen intently to what they say and how they say it. Then, ask them if they know of others who have left who you could also reach out to and talk to. The more info you collect, the more likely you are to have a really accurate picture of the company with which to make a decision.
Don’t suck. All of these suggestions assume that you are a desirable and sought-after talent. So, you have to always be working to expand your value and your options. Build your network. Read a lot of books. Take on stretch assignments in your current job. Always be in the process of building your own value. The more valuable you are, the more options you have. When you don’t have a lot of options available to you, it’s likely you will have to adapt the strategy of simply taking the job available to you that sucks the least rather than going after a job you’d truly love.
The foundation under all of this is to treat the decision of where you will work as the critical, life-changing decision it is. A great job at a great company can positively impact every aspect of your life for the better. And, a terrible, soul-crushing job can negatively impact every aspect of your life. This is a really important decision and we need to treat it with the respect it deserves.
The great news is that we have control. We get to make the decision about where we work and how we work. The real issue is whether we’ll put in the time and energy to ensure we make the right choice.
What did I miss?