7 questions to answer before accepting a job offer

When you receive a job offer, it’s natural to be excited and even to assume that you’ll take it, as long as the salary range is right. But before you sign on to spend 40 or more hours a week at this job, make sure that you’ve fully vetted what you’re getting into. Here are seven key questions to ask yourself before saying yes.

1. Am I clear on what I’ll be doing day to day? Job descriptions don’t always tell the full story, and they’re often outdated or so vague as to be almost meaningless. Don’t assume that you know what the job will be like on a daily basis simply from the job posting or, worse, the title. Make sure that you’ve probed deeply into exactly how you’ll be spending your time and what your most important responsibilities will be.

2. Do I know how my success will be judged? Are you clear on what the most important things for you to accomplish in the role will be? When the company is evaluating your performance a year from now, do you know how they’ll assess it and what you’ll need to have achieved for your first year to be deemed a success? If you walk into a job without clarity on that point, you could end up realizing far too late that the company’s definition of success is different from your own.

3. Will I be able to excel at this work? No matter how much you want or need a job, you should notbluff your way into a job for which you aren’t actually qualified. If the work doesn’t play to your strengths, you’ll struggle and could even end up getting fired. It’s great for a new job to push you to stretch yourself, but make sure it won’t ask something of you that you’re unlikely to succeed at.

4. Do I know what sort of culture I’ll be working in? Aside from the details of the job itself, the culture of the place where you’ll be doing that work will have a huge impact on your comfort and quality of life. No matter how excited you are about the work you’re doing, if you’re uncomfortable in the culture, you might not be happy there. For instance, if the office is formal and rigidly hierarchical and you bristle at that type of environment, or if it’s an aggressive, competitive team and you’re more low-key, this might not be a comfortable fit for you.

5. Do I know what type of manager I’ll be working for? There’s plenty of truth behind the old saying that “people leave bosses, no job.” Your manager has an enormous influence on how happy you’ll be at work, so make sure you’re clear about the management style of the person you’ll be working for.

6. Do I know all the details of the compensation package, including details of the health insurance and paid time off? Too often, people focus just on salary when evaluating a job offer. But you don’t want to find out in your first week that the health insurance doesn’t meet your family’s needs or that you don’t get any paid time off until after your first year. The time to nail down these details is before you accept the offer.

7. How does this job fit in with my overall career path? Will the job move you forward on the path you want to be in, or take you on a detour you might rather avoid? Sometimes you might deliberately take a job that isn’t quite on your career path (because you need the money or need something flexible and short-term, for instance), and that’s fine – but you want to make sure you’re doing that deliberately and strategically, not without realizing it.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. Chocolate Teapot

    “Am I clear on what I’ll be doing day to day?”

    The first thing which sprang to mind on reading this was a new colleague who was employed to work on a particular project. For whatever reason, the project never happened and they ended up in another role. I think that they were later reassigned to work on something more in line with their experience though.

    I get the impression that some job descriptions are merely a suggestion rather than accurate!

    1. belle

      I agree with this. My last job felt like a bait and switch. My day to day duties were drastically different from what I had been told during the interview. The department went through a reorg shortly before I started, and all my projects moved to the IT department, leaving me with admin tasks.

      1. Felicia

        My last job was like that too! I was told I would mostly be doing x and y day to day, and occasionally helping out on z, once a month. Z was something i was capable of doing, but hated a lot, and it ended up being the vast majority of my day to day tasks

      2. Seal

        Me too. I actually quit a part-time job in college after my first shift because I was doing something vastly different than what I had been told I would be doing. When I asked my supervisor what was going on, he smugly told me I must have misunderstood what I read in the job description and what I had been told in the interview. Since that obviously was not the case, and since I had given up a better job to take this one, I quit on the spot and told the guy where he could put his job. Certainly not something I would do as an adult, but as a know-it-all college student I was quite pleased with myself.

    2. Lisa

      Ha – My boss interviewed a guy for X role, but then decided he wanted to hire him for Y. I was like does this kid know that you just changed the job on him?? Or does this poor guy think he got job X? Shouldn’t the person interviewing be told that when they get here they won’t be doing X at all???!!!

    3. Jen

      Yep! My last job I was hired to do general PR because the current PR person was working on a huge new project for the organization that was going to revolutionize the organization. Except, it didn’t really work. And then we stopped the project. And very quickly there were two of us there to do one person’s job. It was not pleasant. I was glad to get out.

    4. Piper

      “I get the impression that some job descriptions are merely a suggestion rather than accurate!”

      Yes! My job description (and title) are so far from accurate and not even what I do at all. I was clear on what I was going to be doing before I took the job, but in order to get me into the company in a short amount of time, they use an existing employee/payroll code and job description. I don’t think this is the wisest move and don’t understand why companies do this (this has happened to me three times now), but this company is a good company and the work is fun and I’m growing professionally.

      I plan to tackle the title problem at about 6 months (they’re already talking about moving me under a different, more appropriate manager for the work I actually do, so that would be a good time for the title talk).

      1. Piper

        To clarify— they used an existing payroll code and job description because my actual postion was brand new to the company and the manager didn’t have time to deal with the corporate red tape that required a new position.

      2. Vicki

        My most “interesting” personal example was a “Quality Lead” position for a software department. The job description was created by all of the managers, approximately 8 or 10 people.

        The job description was the union of what everyone said they wanted. It was two pages long!

        The actual job was the intersection of what they all wanted, i.e. -the very small number of things they All agreed to allow me to do.

        In reality, I was “allowed” to attend meetings and analyze code coverage metrics.

        The job didn’t last very long.

    5. Vicki

      I’ve had that job. I’ve known people who’ve had that job.

      Oh, the project we hired you for? We changed that. We gave it to Bob.
      The team you were going to work with? We reorganized that.
      The manager who hired you? He’s resigning.

      We didn’t think you’d mind.

      1. Piper

        Yeah, that happened to me a few jobs ago. I was supposed to be a design-related lead on a specific project and I ended up being an overpaid lackey who fetched my boss’s lunch. I left there pretty quickly.

  2. Anonie

    How can you really know what the managers management style really is? I thought the Director I report to was a really nice person during both interviews. She said everything I wanted to hear and I thought we would work well together. I was totally snowed!! One month into the job I knew I had made a mistake. This director is a total micromanager and is awful to work with. She is a wolf in sheeps clothing for sure! People like her at first and then the claws come out. There was no way to know that ahead of time.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit

      I think you can dig into this with your questions. Ask about their management style, but also ask them to talk about a project their staff worked on that didn’t go as planned and walk you through what went wrong and how they course-corrected. If you have a chance to speak with current staff, ask them what kind of employee thrives under that manager, or what that manager sees as success. Etc.

      1. Anonie

        During the interview the Director told me her management style which was a total lie! It is the exact opposite from what she said. My position was new and she used contractors before hiring me. I actually spoke with one of the contractors who raved about her during our conversation. I found out months into the job that she and the contractor are friends! I definitely know what questions I will be asking in my next job interview!

      2. Vicki

        Nope. They lie.
        Often, they don;t know they’re lying.

        I had a micromanager. In the interview process, he even asked me what kind of manager I worked best with. I told him.

        He said all the right things at the time but he was not the kind of manager I described.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit

          Sure, people lie. But I still hold that there are questions you can ask that get past that (hence “ask them to talk about a project their staff worked on that didn’t go as planned and walk you through what went wrong and how they course-corrected,” and “ask [other employees] what kind of employee thrives under that manager, or what that manager sees as success.”

          1. Ruffingit

            Talking to other employees is often the best way to get information and ask that those employees be honest with you. I’ve gotten to the point now where, if I can speak with employees, I say something like “I’m considering taking a job here and it would be very helpful if you could be brutally honest about what it’s like to work here. What is good about it, what do you dislike and why? What is the manager’s style?” and so on. Also, let the person speaking to you know that you won’t be taking their answers back to the manager, it will be kept between the two of you. That sometimes helps people to open up and really be honest.

            1. Techguy

              It would be nice to have access to people with whom you’ll be working if at all possible. I strongly suggest asking the manager to give you a phone number for, or introduce you to, someone under them. The manager I interviewed with impressed me greatly, we talked for hours about the job and the company, and I was absolutely sure he would be the best manager ever. He turned out to have zero tolerance for pressure, and had virtually no power in the company to control outside interference. He made no sense when the pressure was applied, and couldn’t accomplish the simplest of tasks – all the while ranting at everyone. It was a nightmare. I was only saved from having to leave because he was fired a few months after I was hired. Whew.

    2. Anon

      I had the same experience too! My manager seemed completely reasonable and nice during the interview but she was a nightmare! My role was collaborative and I was supposed to work closely with her but she never considered any of my ideas/suggestions, didn’t give helpful feedback (her comments were biting and she was a jerk), and was just awkward. She was the absolute worst! One day I kind of lost it and went through a laundry list of why I thought she was a horrible manager. Three weeks later I was fired but it was totally worth it. Now I’m in a much better job with much better pay.

      1. some1

        “One day I kind of lost it and went through a laundry list of why I thought she was a horrible manager. Three weeks later I was fired but it was totally worth it.”

        Of course, on a Career Blog, this probably won’t get condoned, but isn’t this something we’ve all fantasized about doing?

        1. Techguy

          When it finally comes to a “laundry list” it’s best to have an escape plan. I’ve worked in the field for decades and get lots of latitude but there were situations where quality-of-life and/or mental health became an issue when confronted by unreasonable customers with no support from my management. Rock and hard-place scenarios have me on the phone to network former colleagues for open positions.

        2. Techguy

          I followed a couple of links in that article, one of which lead me to a list of ways to sabotage your career. The one that got me was “Losing Your Temper.” You can quickly develop a bad reputation by blowing up even once.

          As an old white guy I’m expected to have a temper, but only directed inwardly or at outside forces that are remote from the immediate company. Recently I’ve used some pretty colorful language to describe a viper of a customer to various colleagues and I’ve come to regret it. It was all quite true, but I’ve regretted it since. My anger doesn’t discriminate much between hitting my thumb with a hammer and being verbally assaulted by a national account customer. My reaction must.

    3. Yup

      You can never fully know what it’s like to work for someone until they’re actually their boss. But you can observe how they interact with you (and others) during the interview process and ask them open-ended questions.

      “How would you describe your management style?” In addition to the actual description, you’re looking for answers that demonstrate self-awareness like, “I tend to be overscheduled, so I communicate a lot by email” or “Once someone is up to speed, I tend to be more hands off unless there’s problem.” Pay attention to whether their description matches how they’re acting with you. If they say they’re a great listener with an open door policy, but you can’t get a word in edgewise and they were imperious to the HR Assistant when they came into the room, well…

      “How do you provide feedback to your team?” Bad managers will just blink at you and mumble something about annual performance appraisals. Good managers will have different answers but they will say something specific and thoughtful, and will discuss both positive and negative feedback. Micromanagers will say things like, “I’m involved in every aspect of their work, and let them know immediately when something is wrong.”

      “What are the typical challenges for someone performing this role, and how do you like to see them addressed?” Reasonable bosses should be able to say sensible things about communication, collaboration or working independently, learning curves, and prioritization. For micromanagers, listen for red flag statements that hint “I expect people to do their jobs perfectly all the time and that should be patently obvious to everyone so don’t bother telling me about your challenges.” Or ranting about how other departments are terrible/crazy/incompetent. That’s usually not a good sign either.

      A final angel is to ask about the people who’ve held the job before, something like “what have they gone on to do from this role.” This is the equivalent of asking a new date about their exes. If every person in the job before was a disaster, or if the boss has no idea what happened to them because they ran screaming out the door and haven’t been heard from since, there’s your answer.

    4. Ask a Manager Post author

      A bunch of posts:

      https://www.askamanager.org/2008/08/how-to-find-out-if-your-prospective.html

      http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2013/06/10/how-to-tell-if-a-company-culture-will-be-a-bad-fit

      https://www.askamanager.org/2007/12/danger-signs-when-youre-interviewing.html

      https://www.askamanager.org/2010/08/more-danger-signs-when-youre.html

      http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2012/04/18/the-10-best-interview-questions-to-ask

  3. Amy

    This is off topic but I enjoy your blog….I am on leave for anxiety–work related until the end of December. I don’t plan on returning to the job. How much notice do I give my boss, that I am not returning? Is one week enough?
    Thanks!
    Amy

    1. Victoria Nonprofit

      Hi Amy –

      Alison tends to like to keep the comment sections on the topic of the original post. Why don’t you send her an email (or wait until the next Open Thread, which I think will be this Friday)?

      1. thenoiseinspace

        She’s also answered similar questions before. Check the archives and you’ll find some relevant posts. :)

        In general, I think the rule tends to be to match office culture and your level of seniority. If it’s a senior-level position, people sometimes give as much as a month, and for some competitive companies, employees are sometimes asked to leave that day. If you don’t know what your company does, I’d stick with the standard 2 weeks.

    2. belle

      If you’re going to be gone till the end of December, I doubt they’ll need you to come in and work at all. Tell them that you are resigning, and ask about returning their property. You could offer the standard 2 weeks, but I doubt they’ll need you to come in.

  4. A.Y. Siu

    I don’t think you should bluff or lie to yourself or to the hiring company, but I also think if you’ve been honest about how you represent your experience and skills, and they offer you a job, they obviously think you can do it.

    “I’m a fast learner” is a job-seeking cliche, but if you honestly are, taking jobs you’re not qualified for can be a great learning experience. I’ve never taken a job I was technically “qualified” for (i.e., I met all the “requirements” in the job description). Almost every job I’ve taken I’ve had too little experience for, and one job I took I was overqualified for (and the hiring manager told me so herself, using that exact word).

    The way I look at it is–if they’re offering you the job, clearly they think you are the most suitable candidate. Another candidate may have more years of experience, but you’re better in some key way(s), and so, unless you’re lying about what you can do or have done, go for it.

  5. Ellen

    #6 – SO TRUE! and important! I was laid off from Big Boston Employer in 2008 and paid about $50 a month towards my health insurance. I, (at the age of 32) did not even think of asking how much health insurance would cost at my next job: Small Boston Employer. Sticker shock? $250 a month.
    Lesson learned!

  6. Poppyseed

    When during the hiring process should one ask these questions? Because in all my interviews, the focus is on me as the applicant. At the end when they leave time for questions for the employer, I’m lucky if I’ve been able to get 3 questions in because the interviewer wants to wrap up quickly.

    Once you receive the offer, is that then the time to interview the employer back? If so, how do you initiate that conversation? It is especially annoying when the employer extends an offer and wants you to get back to them with a decision in just 2 days. Perfect opportunity for bait and switch.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If they don’t leave you time for questions before you get an offer (red flag, by the way), it’s fine to say, “I’d love to ask you questions about the organization and the role that we didn’t get a chance for earlier. Is now a good time or should we set up a separate call?”

  7. RQSCanuck

    I think that these are great questions to answer. I am wondering what kind of questions I can ask during the interview process to get answers to these questions. Or if there is anything that I should be listening for during the interview that may give me a sense of what the answers would be. I am a recent graduate and I am not sure how to ask questions that probe deeply for this type of information during the interview.

  8. the gold digger

    Do I know all the details of the compensation package

    Be careful with the 401k, too. My offer letter showed a dollar amount and a percentage for the employer contribution for the 401k and included that $4,000 in my total compensation figure.

    But nowhere in the letter did it say that the company would not start contributing that money until I had been there a year.

    Even if a number is on your offer letter, ask about it – they might not be telling the whole story.

    1. Audiophile

      I agree with getting all the details of the compensation package you’ll be receiving. But most employers require a year of employment before you’re eligible for the 401k.

      1. the gold digger

        I suspect most employers would qualify their offer with such a statement, though. I started on the 401k on day one with my own contributions. The offer letter implied that the company contribution would start on day one as well.

        Yet another nail in the coffin of my distrust of my current employer.

  9. Anonymous

    Holy crap, timely. I just received a call that an organization is planning to extend me an offer by the end of the week and I wasn’t even sure what to be asking. Perfect!

  10. cecilhungry

    I just signed an offer last week, and luckily managed to get almost all these questions answered (even though it’s my first ever full offer!). I don’t know about the day-to-day stuff because it is a brand new position for a brand new product, so a lot of it will be my defining my own job. Same goes for how to measure success–we actually discussed various rubrics in the interview, but the project may diverge in ways we can’t expect yet! but luckily I worked for the company (and manager) as a temp a few years ago, so I like the fit of both.

  11. Sarah

    I have a question I’m dying to get clarified here and I see these annoying little add-ons at the ends of job descriptions or list of job responsibilities. I have asked exactly what in the job description is meant by the listing “other duties as needed” in order to further clarify as an employee of that company what I would be held accountable/responsible for. I keep seeing these very detailed job descriptions with the “and other duties as seen fit/ additional duties as needed/ other responsibilities as need arises” tacked on the end and they infuriate me.

    I’ve had idiot managers who thought I’d go fetch their lunch, babysit annoying kids, tutor children, run their errands and pick up laundry. I’ve walked out of two interviews because of this. I have no problem working on z a bit with x and y especially if it’s only occasionally and in line with what I was hired for. Increasingly I see many company managers who expect employees to think nothing of “other duties” to include doing/being something vastly different from what you were hired on for! If you’re hired to edit film or write code how can your employer expect you to pick up their kids and tutor them? How can companies force employees to do this and not get sued? I’m I being discriminated based on the fact that I’m a woman and not a man?

    Why do companies do this? Has anyone else encountered this or am I one of the few asking the questions about those horrible “additional/other duties”? I refuse to sign any contract without ALL the details of my job responsibilities being hammered out. Is this just the South or is it common elsewhere?

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