1. Get a written job description with a list of deliverables for the first 12-24 months on the job. My most recent boss did this by default, and he found it helped tremendously–so much so, that it’s now company policy to do this. It’s much easier to know up front what they’re expecting of you than to spend your first 3-6 months trying to figure it out. If you know right away, you stand a chance of being able to contribute just as soon as soon as you have your inprocessing out of the way.
Tip: If you’re a manager, start doing this whether the new hire asks for it or not, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a superstar.
2. Have the job offer, title, and all negotiables in writing. This should probably go without saying.
3. Ask why the position is open and how long the incumbent stayed. Some interviewers volunteer this before you ask. I disagree with the idea that you should be wary of new positions; in my experience a new position indicates a growing company. Half the time I’ve taken a job, it’s been a new position. Either way, this is good information to know.
4. Ask how many people have held the job in five years. It’s not a good idea to be just one more person in a revolving door. Too much turnover suggests unrealistic expectations, a hostile work environment, or something else that isn’t right. I’ve been in the position of trying to turn around a bad position, and even though I succeeded at turning it around, I still had ghosts chasing me around.
5. Insist on meeting your boss’ direct reports. This sounds pushy to me. I’ve never seen anyone do this and would feel awkward if I saw someone do it.
6. Ask your the direct reports who makes decisions. See above. Nice theory, but both of these sound like someone who’s playing games.
7. Check Linkedin. I don’t think this necessarily indicates a company with everyone trying to flee; people use Linkedin for a variety of things. Too many people making it easy to contact them by phone sounds like a clever operation on the face of it, but you need to look into it a little more. If they’re salespeople or recruiters, of course their phone number is right there on the profile. But if all the sysadmins in the IT department have their phone numbers listed, then I’d start to get wary.
8. Ask your network connections questions. I’ve done this before, and it’s not a bad idea, though it isn’t foolproof. It’s unprofessional to air your employer’s dirty laundry, so you may not find out what you’re really trying to find out this way.
9. Read the Management’s Discussion and Analysis section of the 10K report. Anything you can find out about the financial health of a company is a good thing. It’s much better to sign on with a company on the upswing than one on the downswing. If something happens and they have to cut costs, companies on their way down look for new hires and poor performers to lay off first. If they can’t find a poor performer to cut, the people with the least seniority will be next in line.
10. Ask about earnings trends and cash position. This goes with #9. Try to get on with a healthy company.
11. Ask about business model and burn rate. See #9 and #10. If it doesn’t make sense to you, you won’t be the only one confused, so be wary. The chart specifically mentions startups, but it’s not a bad idea to ask about other companies’ business model if you can’t completely figure it out from searching online. Besides, discussing this will lead to other good information.
12. Check the news. This sounds obvious but you’ll be surprised how many people don’t do this. Do it before you even interview. I once interviewed for my dream job at a company that was fighting off a hostile takeover. I asked about the takeover attempt. The interviewer didn’t mind talking about that; he was impressed that I’d done my research. For that matter, every company I’ve ever interviewed with was impressed when I knew something about the company.
One time, an interviewer asked me why I was looking. I said why, then I added, “But besides that, you’re a Fortune 300 company. For you, anyone in St. Louis should be looking.” He liked that answer.