After months upon months of high-gear networking, sending out your resume, and interviewing, you finally have a job offer! After all that hard work, it's awfully tempting to accept the new position and put your grueling job search behind you.
But, unless you have thoroughly researched your employer and your prospective position, don't be so quick to jump on board. As anyone who has ever had a deceitful boss or a soul-sucking job will tell you, it's foolish to blindly accept your first offer. Though it's advisable to research potential employers before you even interview - if not before you apply at all - the bottom line is that you do your homework before you accept a job.
Begin by investigating the company as a whole. As you research, be particularly mindful of whether the organization is compatible with your moral and political beliefs, whether the organization has growth potential, and whether the organization is financially sound. The Internet, the library, and your alma mater's career services office should be helpful. It's also savvy to do a Nexis search for newspaper and magazine articles about the company in question. Specific, helpful publications include The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, Fortune, and Business Week. Standard and Poor's corporation records and Dun and Bradstreet reference materials are also helpful directories. Don't forget to take notes!
Through your research you should be able to answer the following questions:
What is the organization's size as compared to others in the industry?
Is the organization's industry one with a bright future ahead? (Make sure you're not thinking of joining the modern equivalent of a company that mass produces phonographs or slide rules.)
What was the organization's annual sales growth over the past five years?
What is the organization's projected future success or growth?
What is the complete line of products and services that the organization provides? (Keep in mind that many companies are parts of larger corporations or own subsidiaries.)
Where is the organization's headquarters?
Where are the organization's other offices, companies, plants, factories or outposts?
At which of these locations would you be happy living and working?
What is the organization's transfer policy? (Could you be forced to transfer? Can you apply to transfer? If you hate the cold, make sure the company won't force you to work in its Alaska office.)
Does the organization sponsor or donate money to particular groups, political parties, or social causes? (Haven't heard of the groups who receive money from your potential employer? Do some extra research.)
What is the organization's history? Who runs it, and what are their backgrounds?
Though digging up this kind of data can be tedious, you'll be glad you did it. You'll put your potential work in context, and you'll evaluate whether your prospective employer is financially dependable and aligned with your value system. After all, you don't want to take a job that you'll lose in a year when your employer declares bankruptcy. Nor do you want to have to quit when you find out you're morally opposed to the company's products, mission, production methods, or political agenda. Both outcomes put you right back at the beginning of your job search.
When it comes to the actual work you would be doing, don't be shy about asking nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts questions:
What will your salary be? (Be sure to research whether the offer is fair, as compared to average salaries for you position.)
What fringe benefits will you get? (Ask about types of insurance, vacation time, sick leave, paid education, stock options, retirement pensions, and on-the-job training.)
What would your work schedule be? Will you be expected to work weekends or nights?
What tasks will you perform?
Who will be supervising you?
What will your boss expect of you?
Will there be chances for promotion, and, if so, what might those opportunities be?
Will your employer provide work supplies (computer, books, car, etc.) for you?
Will you be traveling?
If your fact-hunting thus far leaves you satisfied with your prospective job, it's time for the final round of research: The quality-of-life evaluation. If you're seriously considering taking a job, it is imperative that you find out whether your new workplace environment will make you happy or leave you miserable. You will probably spend at least 40 hours per week at work - any occupational unpleasantness can cast a dark shadow on the rest of your life.
Talk to people who work for your potential boss, as well as people who used to work for the potential organization, but have since moved on. Emphasize that the conversations you're having are confidential (and uphold that promise). Ask questions that will leave you with a sense of whether your boss is a reasonable, rational individual and whether you will find the work environment pleasant:
What are the physical conditions of the work environment? (It's best to visit!)
Are there any hazards associated with the work environment? (High noise levels, toxic chemicals, etc.)
What is the dress code, and are you willing to comply with it?
What is the breakdown, in terms of race and gender, among employees? Will you be working with a diverse group?
Have there been any past problems with discrimination or sexual harassment? How did the company and your prospective employer deal with them? (Current and past employees can give you a realistic feel for these issues.)
What are most of the people in your potential workspace like? (Ages? Are they artsy and offbeat? Quiet? Hardworking? Able to work well under pressure?)
How well does the organization deal with complaints or constructive criticism?
What is it like to work for your boss? (Trust your intuition about your supervisor and the impression past and current employees impart upon you.)
Has there been a high turnover rate associated with people who work for your potential boss? (If the turnover has either been excessively high or extremely low, find out why.)
Doing research may seem time-consuming and annoying, but you'll be grateful you did it. A fulfilling job can be not just a meaningful way to spend Monday through Friday, but also a shortcut to great future opportunities! Selecting well will not only reduce your chances of having to embark upon another job search in the near future, but will also open doors for potential advancement and skill building.