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Five Things to Help You Assess a Job Opportunity

By Julian Mercer

So, you’re ready for a change and have begun looking for a new job. Countless opportunities are available these days, but how do you know which one is right for you? Here are five things you can look at to help you assess whether to apply for a job or accept an offer.

1. Employer History

Most job seekers are looking for a job with a company that is in good shape financially, and that is known for providing good compensation, a good work environment, and opportunities for advancement. Past performance is usually a good indicator of future performance. You can find out a lot about a potential employer from their press releases, website and social media accounts. Websites like Glassdoor and tapping your own network of business contacts can give you a good sense of what its like to work for that employer.

Here are some basic questions that you can research online:

  • How long has the company been in business?
  • How is the company currently performing (is it expanding or downsizing)?
  • Has the company announced any new strategic directions or business ventures?
  • How does the company seem to be faring viz-à-viz its competitors?
  • Has the company announced the closure of any divisions or any significant layoffs?
  • Has the company announced plans for shutting down or offshoring facilities?
  • Has the company been the subject of a takeover bid or is it being discussed as a potential target for a merger or acquisition?
  • Has the company been in the news for legal or financial troubles?

Generally speaking, if the company is doing well, getting good press and is a leader in its industry, then an employment opportunity there is likely to be a good option. But if you’re research turns up lots of red flags, then you might consider looking elsewhere.

2. Company Values

A new job can be empowering and create high personal satisfaction when your career goals and values are aligned with the goals and values (and the business) of your prospective employer. To make sure there is a reasonably opportunity for personal alignment, make sure to research the employer’s mission statement, core values, and its business model. Most successful companies put significant emphasis on having a clear statement of mission and a strong commitment to values and will make that information available on their website or in other media to their customers and prospective employees.

Not all companies (and not all departments that are hiring) consistently meet those aspirations, but that is something you can explore during the interview process. Knowing there is a potential for a good fit, that you can align with the company’s vision and mission, and that their values are consistent with your values, is an important place to start and is an important factor to consider when looking for a job.

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3. Personal Needs

When starting a job search, it is important to have a clear understanding of what your personal needs are. There are a number of considerations that you should take into account, such as job location, working hours, and compensation and benefits, as well as the actual job requirements. You should incorporate your personal “requirements” into a checklist that you can use to help you evaluate a job opportunity.

Job location is an important consideration because it affects where you will live and how long you may have to commute to and from work. Long commutes are expensive, as well as time consuming. If the job requires you to travel frequently or to take long-term assignments at distant worksites, that will affect your non-work life and personal commitments. If the job requires you to move to a new city or state, you’ll want to carefully research the local cost of living to make sure the change of location does not adversely affect your quality of life.

Working hours can vary widely from company to company and from project to project. You should expect that there will always be pressure to put in the time needed to get the job done successfully. However, you will want to know what a “normal” work week should look like, what vacation benefits and holiday schedule the company offers its employees, and whether the employer has an “on-call” policy that makes you available 24/7.

The salary offer should at least meet your projected needs and enable you to plan and save for the future. Having a personal budget is an important starting point. You can then research the compensation range offered for the position you’re interested in to confirm the job opportunity will meet your needs. Benchmarking compensation using tools like the IEEE-USA Salary Calculator also puts you in a better position to negotiate your starting salary.

Benefits are another important consideration. Does the company offer a good benefits package and a generous retirement savings plan? If the company offers a portable retirement plan like a 401(K), what is their plan contribution?

There is a tendency for young professionals starting their career and without families and other obligations (other than repaying student loans) to skimp on these benefits to maximize current take-home pay to fund their current lifestyle. This can be a mistake. Medical costs are exorbitant, and having access to a good medical plan may prove critical when the unexpected happens.

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The retirement system now puts most of the responsibility for securing a financially secure retirement on employees. With longer life expectancies, it’s becoming harder and harder for employees to finance a 25- to 35-year or longer retirement, unless they start early and put the power of compound interest to work. My personal rule of thumb is that you should try to maintain a lifestyle that allows you to save at least 10% of what you make (before corporate contributions) in order to build a cushion against periods of unemployment, as well as a nest egg for the future. These days, most financial planning studies suggest that the ideal contribution percentage (with corporate match) to save for retirement is between 15% and 20% of gross income.

A good employer provides the tools needed for you to secure a good retirement, including a healthy corporate match to your retirement savings. Many companies match 50% of personal contributions up to 6 percent of total compensation. Others will match 100% of personal contributions up to 4% (or more) of compensation. There is no maximum employer contribution, only a maximum on total annual savings. If the company is one of the 5% still offering their employees a defined benefit retirement plan, what are the plan criteria and vesting requirements? If it takes five to six years to fully vest, the value of this benefit is diminished if you don’t anticipate staying with that employer at least five to six years.

Depending on your personal needs, you may also want to explore their policies on remote work and schedule flexibility. Do they offer four-day work week schedules? Do they support job sharing? What are their maternity/paternity leave benefits?

Last, but not least, do they offer a reasonable holiday and vacation package? Most U.S. employers provide at least 8-10 paid holidays a year (with the average being 8.5 for full-time professional and technical employees according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Similarly, most offer at least one day of paid vacation a month, with new employees having to earn those days before they can use them. Many employers increase their vacation benefits at various service milestones up to 24 days. One example would be 12 days (year 1), 18 days (years 2-9), 24 days (years 10 and longer). A related question is vacation carryover. Many employers will allow employers to carry over a certain amount of unused vacation from year to year, although limits (e.g., 10 days) are common to help manage the company’s prospective financial obligation in the event of an employment separation.

4. Job Responsibilities

The best job opportunities allow you to take advantage of your strengths, and a chance to work on acquiring new skills and developing your abilities in areas of weakness. At the same time, you don’t want to be thrown into a situation where you lack the requisite skills or experience necessary to be successful, unless there is a culture of training and support. Being honest about your interests and knowing your own comfort zone is important and begins with having a realistic understanding of the requirements of the job. Some questions you might want to ask yourself to ensure a good fit:

  • Does the position require leadership or management skills or have decision-making responsibilities that you are not comfortable with?
  • Does the position require knowledge of technologies or tools that you lack? Make sure you understand what software, hardware and operating systems you will be expected to be proficient in, as well as what tools and support the company will provide.
  • Does the position provide opportunities for growth, particularly in the early years of your career? Are there corporate training and mentorship programs? Is there a rotation program that lets you gain experience in different business functions or departments? Is there time and tuition support for continuing education and post-graduate education?
  • Are the skills required for this position transferable skills that while help you if/when you have to find a new job or want to explore opportunities for promotion?

5. The Work Environment

A great job starts with a good working environment. Although online sources and your own network of contacts can give some insights into the work environment at different employers, this is something you will also want to explore through the interview process.

In addition to asking the basic questions about the job, its requirements, and the compensation and benefits, you can ask questions that will help you assess what it would be like to work for that employer. Some examples of questions you could ask:

  • What opportunities does the company provide for personal growth and skills acquisition?
  • Does the company have a policy on work-life balance?
  • Do the benefits include onsite training or tuition support and what are the eligibility requirements?
  • How does the company evaluate performance?
  • How does the company incentivize strong performance or contributions? Typical performance incentives include bonuses, yearly trips, and awards.
  • What is the company’s workforce turnover rate, and does it have a target turnover rate? Many employers still adhere to the Jack Welch management philosophy of targeting a 10% staff turnover each year to boost corporate productivity.

If circumstances permit, you may ask for a tour of the job site and the opportunity to interact with the line managers and your prospective work colleagues, possibly over lunch. They are going to be a huge part of your life if you get the job, and you can learn much from how they interact with you and with each other. That may not be practical, but if the employer is willing to create that opportunity for you, it says a lot of positive things about the working environment and management culture they offer.

 

These five things will get you started and help you pick the right job opportunity for you and your needs. Once you’ve gone through a few job transitions and interviews, many of these things will become second nature and easier to assess. But if you’re new at the game, a closing piece of advice is to find an experienced mentor who can provide a sounding board and help put the information you’re acquiring into a useful perspective.

Julian Mercer

Julian Mercer is a management professional, consultant, teacher and occasional author with more than 30 years of experience working in the technology sector.

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