Question: My current company hired me at a very attractive raise: 25 percent more than I was making. But since I've been here, we’ve been restructured three times, and the other C-level execs have been very difficult to work with because they're all focused on the politics of positioning for the next shake-up. (It's scheduled for next month.)
The company did not have a reputation for this kind of thing, so I was caught completely by surprise. I'm growing impatient with the chaos and losing confidence in my managers. I'm planning on leaving, but I don't want to make the same mistake with another company. What can I do to find out about this kind of thing in advance? Is there a secret to it? Thanks.
Nick's Advice: As you've found, you can have your eyes wide open and still walk into a wreck of a company. Don't beat yourself up for joining an organization that's turned into a mess. While you should have peeked into more corners before you took the job, it's hard to turn down such salary increases from companies that are hungry to hire good people. Now learn from the experience.
There's no secret to avoiding a bad situation like this, but that's not obvious to most people. We tend to focus so much on impressing an employer that we’re subtly intimidated and hesitant to ask tough questions about the company. We're so brainwashed about job interviews that we don't know how to look under the rug for the hidden dirt. The impending problems are usually well-hidden. But all it really takes is a little common sense: Don't let your interviews end when you're told the interviews are over. (See “Check The Rat’s Ass.”)
When you pursue your next job, interview the company in more detail. That's right: Interview them. Cooperate fully with the normal interview process, but don't settle just for what you're told. Learn more. When an offer is extended, the ball is in your court and now you’re free to initiate the rest of the discussion.
I call it interviewing by wandering around. The only way to get the real story before you take a job is to physically explore the company. When a company indicates that it's serious about you, that's the time to ask to meet other members of the organization. (Think of this as meeting the parents and the rest of the family before you agree to marry someone. Like it or not, those folks will affect the quality of your life--directly or indirectly.) Talk to other managers and to staff members who know how the business really works. Don’t focus only on the marketing organization. It's crucial to talk with managers who are peripheral to marketing.
Tell the CEO (or whoever is the hiring manager) you’re very pleased to receive an offer and that you’re excited about working together. Then explain that you'd like to become more familiar with the operation before you accept. Be polite and upbeat. Ask to meet people in IT, finance, operations, manufacturing, and so on.
How to say it: "It's important to me to know more about your IT and sales organizations because I'll be affecting their success and they'll be affecting mine. I'd like to meet with the CIO and the CFO. Can you arrange that?"
By triangulating to get the whole story about the company, you're more likely to turn up the kind of information that might indicate big changes are coming. This is the kind of insight that will help you make a more informed decision--and help you avoid surprises.
Start your job search as soon as possible. Work at this patiently, and choose carefully. (For more about this difficult topic, see “New Job Was Misrepresented.”)