I wish I knew this and that about the new job

Companies have all kinds of policies and behavior that determine whether they would be a good fit, a poor fit, or a stepping stone type of fit. Most job hunters know to ask the big 4: 

  • What are the benefits?
  • How much will I get paid?
  • What is the work-life balance?
  • How will I grow?
There other subtle policies that determine your longevity and success in a potential new position. 

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Use public resources to investigate the company

Use the public and social resources that are available to you. 
  • Check web sites like https://www.glassdoor.com/index.htm
  • Use https://www.linkedin.com/. Look for 1st or 2nd level contacts and see if they will answer questions or talk. I answer questions for people whenever they ask. 
  • See if there any local social media or other discussion boards.  My spouse is always telling me about the companies I work for based on the forums she visits.
I joined a company in NoVA and everyone who I knew from previous jobs was gone 14 months later. I could have made more informed decisions if I had just reached out to people I know or people who know people. 

Hiring Level / Job Title

It is almost always easier to get hired in at a higher level than it is to get promoted to it. I worked somewhere in NoVa, and other places, where it was well known that it was faster to quit and get hired back at a higher level than it was to get promoted. Some companies understand this truth and credit previous time served for vesting purposes when you come to join again.

You will sometimes have a hiring manager tell you to join at a lower level so that your reviews will be better because of the lower quality less competition. It is possible to make more money as a higher rated person with a lower title.  This is sometimes a good strategy and often not.

What are the differences between different job titles?

A lot of times you really don't know what the various job titles are or how they differ. There may be several that sound similar.  It turns out there can be major differences and the people you interview with have zero incentives to educate you. 

Director titles at most organizations are on a different bonus structure than Managers or Individual Contributors at any level.  Smaller companies may be different but a Director title is often worth significantly more because of the bonus structure.  Director titles on non-management tracks many be called something else like Distinguished Engineer or Enterprise architect or some other titles for non-technical jobs. Find out what titles are Director equivalents if you are on a non-management track.

Director bonuses often have longer vesting cycles than lower employees because of the higher dollar amounts involved.

What is the re-organization cadence?

Stagnant organizations can become moribund. Organizations that continually change may never reach their potential because they are always forming and norming and never storming or performing. This may not be important to more junior team members.  There are situations though were rapid organization changes leave teams or whole departments outside the corporate direction with little to do.

Find out when the last re-org was for up to two levels above you.  If it was recent, when was the previous one?  Is the org about to change again?  I joined a company in NoVa.  My team was re-organized under a different VP between the time I got my offer and the time I joined.  All of our senior management left the company and we got new layers of VPs 60 days after I started.  The new organization wanted to operate completely differently.  Our business partners re-organized 3 times within 14 months.  I met people at every training session that told me their teams were looking for a new purpose to stay employed.

How long do you have to stay with your hire-team?

Some companies have very official policies on how long you have to stay on your hiring manager's team.  These rules are often enforced even if there is a reorganization or your manager leaves the team.  This lock-in period can make sense for the company because it stops people from job-hopping immediately.  I worked for a company in NoVA and they had a 9-month rule. You had to stay on your team for the first 9 months.  This makes sure people are forced to work through the onboarding process and take time to learn their job before moving on. It takes 3-6 months to get really good in a position and learn its' subtitles.

On the other hand, this can stall you for a couple years if you don't mesh with your boss.  In that case, you might be better off just leaving the company. You will spend the lock-in period with someone who will give you poor scores that make it difficult to move to another group.

Does the company use the Jack Welch / Cross Calibration Model?

Some companies use the Jack Welch model where they force-fit some percentage into a bucket that is targeted for elimination.  In those cases, you may be better off as a strong player in a weak group so that it is your fellow inhabitants that are pushed off the island instead of you.  On the other hand, that type of group is no fun to work with. The managers can be the most important element for your survival and raises/bonuses in these situations.  

I worked at a company in NoVA where the ability and desire of your manager and managers manager were critical to your continued financial success. Each department had to downgrade/drive-out some percentage, say 10%.  There were always more people to be cut than the managers were comfortable with. This meant the managers went into a room and made decisions cage match style. The first manager to blink lost the headcount necessary to meet the Jack Welch style target.

When is the best time to hire on from a performance review perspective?

Companies have review cycles, especially large companies.  These cycles drive raises, bonuses, and promotions.  Ask how the review cycle works and what the cutoff dates are for being eligible for raises and promotions. Moving a start date a few weeks can make a major difference.

I worked for a company in NoVa that had semi-annual review cycles.  The important review event was the December one since it fed the raise and promotion processes.  You had to work there 12 months before you were for either raises or promotions.  This means that people hired in Q1 of a year might not be eligible for raises or promotions for 7 quarters. That essentially means Q1 hires miss out on a whole year of raises.  Ask how the cycle works. Your hire date can be important.

Mid-year raises may or may not be a thing.  You should ask how mid-year differs from end-of-year.

How do internal job changes and related promotions work?

Companies seem to have two major policies around applying for other positions.  
  1. A company can allow you to apply for higher-level positions.
  2. A company may restrict applications to the applicant's level or lower.  In this case promotions only while in the position.
You should ask a potential employer about how this works.

The best way to get promoted in many companies is to apply for a different position at a higher level.  This is sort of like leaving and getting hired back while retaining continuity. 

Other companies only let you apply for positions at your level. This means you have to be promoted in-sutu prior to applying for higher positions. Management knows that every in-team promotion comes with a reasonable chance of that person applying out immediately because they are now title qualified for a bunch of new positions. Some places allow application for a stretch position. You keep the lower title and take the higher title's responsibilities.  This has you doing the higher position's workload at the lower position's pay and bonus level. Promises of later promotions can be risky in this situation because you are one re-org away from the promise maker moving to another department.

What is the value of a hiring manager's assurance?

I have worked for some amazing people.  All of them served at the whim of their bosses and any chaos above them.

Assume the company will reorganize 1-2 times per year.   Your hiring manager may not stay your manager.  Verbal agreements and assurances are one re-org away from being memories. 

I worked for a company in NoVA.  The person sitting next to me had 7 managers in 2 years. 1/2 of those people weren't with the company on the two year anniversary. My group had 9 managers when I started.  80% of them quit or moved to different groups within 13 months. 

What is the average tenure and the current attrition rate?

Get a feel for the turnover in the team or group.  A team may be hiring because of growth or because people keep leaving. The low average time served may be due to growth or it could be because of turnover.  High tenure numbers may mean satisfaction or a moribund company.  Some companies have a core of long-tenured people with a bunch of new people and no in the middle zone. That may be due to restructuring or cash infusions or because long-timers are less likely to leave while everyone else bails out. 

I worked at a company in NoVa where I met with teams that had no one on them with over 3 years of tenure. They had a pattern where there would be a couple people with 12 years plus people with less than 3 years with no one between 3 and 12.  It was partially due to growth and partially due to high turnover after vesting dates.

How do you balance jobs with different salary/bonus mixes?

This can be hard.  Bonuses variable by their nature.  Ask detailed questions about how the bonus is calculated.  Bonuses can be driven by individual metrics or by aggregated metrics.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages.  They may be based on individual ratings with Jack Welch style curved applied to them. Sort of based on you but based on how well your boss can convince others.

Bonus Vesting

You may be lucky enough to get a signing bonus.  Make sure you understand the vesting dates.  Some bonuses are paid out incrementally.  Some are paid upfront.  Some vest as they are paid. Others on specific, often annual, dates. 

Relocation can be expensive.  Relocation bonus vesting often has different dates than Signing Bonus vesting.

Retirement plan contributions also have their own vesting structure.  The retirement plan will show your contributions plus the company contributions in big letters. Somewhere in small letters, it will show you what you would get to keep if you leave the company today. 

Are all the major players related to each other?

Family-run businesses can be great or they can operate as private fiefdoms.  You may wish to find out
  • Are non-family players opinions accepted and acted upon? 
  • Is there any independent HR department?

Are harassment and diversity policies important and what are theirs?

It is hard to balance the desire for an awesome sounding job against some future worry about the way a company may handle bad behavior. Do their policies weigh on your decision? 

Every place has people that mean, evil or stupid. You want a company that keeps it under control. Can they provide cases where they internally described resolved situations? Do they have training or open forums?  Training alone is not very effective in changing behaviors. What else do they do?

There are some companies that are upfront declaring certain beliefs. They may have public policies that you have to decide if you are willing to live with them.  Some companies are very political or religious or hierarchical or exclusive. Small private companies totally take on the personality of their founders.  <insert horror story here> People may feel invulnerable to criticism. Look at their social media and make an informed decision.

How is a manager rated and treated?

Managers are often rated by retention, their ability to promote others, their own ratings independent of their teams or other factors.  Managers want to increase a team's capabilities by up-skilling, hiring or removing the uninterested. Find someone who can tell how HR really works and what tricks are required to manage successfully in the environment.

This can create conflict in Jack Welch style situations where some percentage of the team is sacrificed every hear. I worked for a company in NoVa where a new manager spent 6 months training, hiring and firing people on their team.  By the end of the year, they a team they really liked. The manager got dinged for retention.  They had to do curve fitting in the year-end cycle and essentially throw 4 people off the island or get some other manager to give and an additional 4 people. They left the company in frustration. This manager would have been better off keeping the poor performers to the end of the year so they had people to get rid of.

Do the benefits described by the recruiter differ from the employee handbook?

You can sometimes run into situations where the benefits told to candidates do not match those in the employee guide.  Sometimes departments have policies or understandings that differ from official policy.  You should get those policies in email or other correspondence before taking the job. 

I had this happen where there was a de-facto unlimited vacation policy that differed from the company's handbook. The policy was well known within this major multi-thousand-person department. We got new management from outside that hadn't heard about this policy.  There a couple weeks of angst before the new management implemented the same policy as the old management.

How does the company manage FSA, HSA or other benefit accounts?

Ask around how they handle savings accounts if the company is self-insured.  Some companies will restrict funds or ask for documentation beyond what is required at the federal level in order to save money on their matching portion of the savings accounts. You need to find out early the shortest path to accessing your money and the company's matching funds. 

I worked for a company in NoVA that bounced back every dental reimbursement. They referred several people I knew to the IRS because they didn't like the Dental/Braces receipts. This caused people to sometimes eat their expenses

Disclaimer

  • None of this discussion applies to government employment.  I know little about government or government contractor jobs.
  • Most of my experience is with companies over 2000 employees.
There is probably a lot more.  I'll add them as I think of them?

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