I’m deep in the job search process, have sent out dozens of applications and have interviewed for a number of positions. I feel really close to landing an offer soon. I’ve got about 10 years of solid career-related work experience under my belt and am in a comfortable enough position to feel like I do not have to take the first thing that’s offered. I left my last position just shy of the two-year mark because I didn’t feel comfortable with the direction the organization was going and some of the internal politics. How can I tell if a job or an organization is a good match before I sign on the dotted line?
First of all, congratulations on being in the midst of what sounds like a productive job search! We also applaud you for considering important questions like this at this stage of the process. Unfortunately, most of us find out what makes a good match by trial and error. Below are some things to think about to make sure that your decision will be the right one – for you and your potential new employer.
Why do you want the job? Needing a paycheque is a legitimate reason, but if that’s the only or the overriding reason, then you need to seriously consider how long – or if – you can last in the position. Particularly for those of us drawn to work in the nonprofit sector, employees need to feel that they are getting more out of a job than just a means to buy groceries and pay rent. Be explicit about your reasons for wanting to be in that particular position with that particular organization, and make sure that the job will bring you what you are seeking in addition to the paycheque.
What is the mission of the organization and is it one you can personally and professionally support and uphold? When you read the organization’s mission and vision statement, do you feel inspired and energetic or is there a slight inward groan (listen carefully!)? If you get that squirmy feeling thinking about having to speak publically about what the organization does, how and why, then it is a sign this may not be a good fit in the long run. People who thrive in mission-driven organizations usually feel a strong resonance between their personal values and how they make a living. Check your inner compass to see if certain positions pass this kind of test.
What are the organization’s values and do they match your own? How are these values realized in the day-to-day work of the organization? For example, if “participation” is an organizational value, does it mean the organization informs beneficiaries of their plans or are beneficiaries involved in defining their own needs and the strategies to meet them? Take time and ask questions to assess whether what is important to you is mirrored by the organization.
What is the organization’s strategic plan? If you left your last position because you were not comfortable with the direction it was going, it may be particularly important for you to learn about the organization’s longer-term plan. What are the organization’s short- and long-term goals? How do they intend to achieve them? In your opinion, are they achievable and realistic with the team and resources available? How does the position you are considering fit into these plans? What, if any, organizational upheaval can / should you expect?
With what type of management style do you thrive and does it match your potential new supervisor’s? You are at the stage of your career where you should have a clear idea of whether you work best with a manager who sets specific deadlines attached to detailed to-do lists or someone who clearly sets out expectations and leaves you to achieve them in the way you think best. It is said that people do not leave jobs, they leave managers. Find out all you can about your supervisor to be sure that you have compatible styles and will have a mutually pleasant and productive working relationship. This is obviously in the manager’s best interest as well, so consider being proactive about having a one-on-one conversation with this person before the offer is signed and sealed.
What is the organizational culture of your potential new workplace? Is it one that will allow you to do your best work? Will you enjoy being there day after day, month after month or will you be watching the clock? Do you enjoy working in a place where staff socialize outside of work hours and can your lifestyle accommodate expectations of doing so? Is it a fast-paced work environment or one where decisions go through multiple levels? Is it an open concept work space and, if so, can you work while listening to other people’s phone conversations and being in full sight of your colleagues? Being self aware about what you need in a work environment and what will drive you crazy will help you make the right decision about whether or not an opportunity is right for you.
The answers to some of these questions might come from some deep conversations with a trusted friend or colleague and personal reflection about what’s important to you at this stage of your career, what you can tolerate and what is non-negotiable. Use your network and Google to help you find answers to some of the other questions – find out all you can about your new organization and colleagues before making a decision. Importantly, interview the organization as much as they interview you. Interviews, especially at this stage of your career, are a two-way process and everyone has a better chance of making a good match if you all come to the table knowing what you need to know to make a decision.
Good luck and we wish you all the best in this next stage of your career!
Nancy Ingram and Christa McMillin are co-founders and partners at Foot in the Door Consulting which specializes in helping nonprofit professionals build sustainable, satisfying and values-driven careers. Together, they have over 30 years of experience on both sides of the hiring and management process in the nonprofit sector. They can be reached through www.footinthedoorconsulting.com.
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