Question

It’s always a relief when I get a job offer, but that’s also when I think I’m most vulnerable to accepting a job that maybe I should not. Face it, after 7, 8 or 9 interviews (common today), you just want to get it over with and start the job! You have said people often quit their jobs or get fired because “they took the wrong job to begin with.” I understand, but how do we avoid a mistake like that? Is there a strategy or a reminder I should write on my hand?

Nick’s Reply

before accepting a job offerYou can do something pretty obvious to avoid going to work for a questionable company or accepting the wrong job: meet everyone that will affect your success. It’s not really a strategy. It’s more of a tactic that will help you confirm a really good opportunity and keep you from getting a walk-on role in a nightmare. You shouldn’t write on your hand, but if you insist, write these two words: upstream and downstream.

Look around the company

In a classic New York Times article, “How to Become a C.E.O.? The Quickest Path Is a Winding One” Guy Berger, a LinkedIn economist, says that to make it into a CEO job,  “…you need to understand how the different parts of a company work and how they interact with each other and understand how other people do their job, even if it’s something you don’t know well enough to do yourself.”

That may seem obvious, but job candidates rarely take time to look around a company once they’re holding a brand new job offer. They’re understandably in a hurry to accept. While Irwin discusses a career strategy for becoming a CEO, I’m more concerned with the tactics necessary to be successful in any job — and that requires slowing down.

Before accepting a job offer

While I think job success is possible only when you pick the right company and job, what happens if you devote tons of time and effort to get a job offer, only to realize it’s wrong?

I teach all my job candidates to pause the hiring process when they receive an offer, and to re-start it on a new vector — one they’d never be able to insist on until they actually have an offer. For the sake of illustration, let’s say you’ve been offered a marketing job. Always, before accepting a job offer, take control politely but firmly and say this to the hiring manager:

“Before accepting your offer to start this job, I’d like to come back and meet three people who are upstream and downstream from the job you’ve offered: managers who run Sales, Product Development, and Manufacturing.”

(The actual departments will depend on the job you are considering.)

What’s upstream and downstream?

If you don’t get those meetings, you are likely to accept a wrong job, or to walk blindly into uncharted waters. Some companies will just refuse your request. Others will scratch their heads and ask why you want the meetings.

Here’s how to explain it:

“Those managers are upstream and downstream from the work I’ll be doing, and they will affect how successfully I can do my marketing job. Manufacturing is upstream from Marketing: They make what I must promote. Sales is downstream from me: They must rely on how I position our brand. Product Development is upstream — it creates features I have to communicate to the world. The upstream and downstream partnerships with Marketing affect how successful all of us can be. To make the commitment I’d like to make to you, I need to know who I’ll be working with, how they work, and what they expect from me. So I’d like to meet them now.”

An employer is more likely to consent to these meetings after it has made the commitment of a job offer to you.

Interview the employer

I know a sales manager who didn’t accept the job until he spent time in the warehouse — a downstream department whose work would determine customer satisfaction. He wanted to learn how orders were picked, packaged and delivered. He’d had bad experiences at another company where, no matter how much his sales reps sold, customers didn’t re-order because shipments arrived late and damaged. He also wanted to meet the accounting manager — another downstream job — who was responsible for receivables, because sales commissions aren’t paid until customers payments arrive.

So he interviewed the employer after he had their offer in hand.

Managers in other departments may have interviewed you during the hiring process, but did you interview them? Did you drill down into their business, meet their teams and perhaps spend half a day in working meetings with them?

No? Would you buy a company without doing exactly that — assessing its talent and management in a hands-on way? Then why would you accept a job without this kind of due diligence?

Your job success depends on others

Other people upstream and downstream from you will affect your job success dramatically — just as you will affect theirs. Meeting them and understanding what they do, and how, will help you decide whether to accept a job, and to avoid stepping into disaster and having to change jobs again soon.

This tactic also helps when you’re interviewing job candidates yourself — send them up- and downstream to other managers before you hire them. Is everyone convinced they can paddle in the right direction?

See also: How can I optimize my first day on the job?

Do you do anything special before accepting a job offer, to make sure it’s really right for you? Have you rushed into a job without due diligence only to find trouble waiting? What happened? What are some effective ways to help ensure you’ll enjoy success on a new job?

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5 Comments
  1. Thank you Nick, this is really helpful. My current employer will not answer this kind of request other than showing people around.
    ..this is Josh from bonding….etc
    And interestingly, what were told in the interview are different from.the realities. My current employer is growing so fast and very profitable as a 3 years old company, and gives above the market salary for new hores. Honestly, I will not recommend anyone to work for my current employer, unless they are in sales or related to my boss in some ways.
    How can a job seekers avoid the mistakes of working in a company where talking is louder than action.

    Thank you,

    Jihane

  2. I made a big mistake when I accepted a position with a competitor of a previous employer before getting a firm commitment for the software to get the job done right.. I knew that this company had a poor reputation in the Fed contractor sector because they under-bid their contracts by paying poorly and skimping on the number of employees to get the job done. But I really need a job with health insurance.
    I had many years of experience with a particular Federal compliance requirement with tight timelines and was being brought in to clean up a disaster that was beginning to slowly implode. At the previous Fed contractor, very similar in size and scope, I was able to process the work on time because a software program kept the records, kept track of deadlines for each case, and used templates to generate the mandated correspondence and other documents. This freed me to work on more complex cases and provide support and training to the field to deal with this function.
    During my interviews I stressed that the routine day to day should and could be handled with software. I described to them the product I previously used as something that be needed to get the mess under control and prevent complaints to a fed agency and/or suits in Federal courts. “Of course.” they said. “After you start, do the research on the software and give us some facts and figures.” I came up with several good possibilities in the same price range but stressed that the one I used previously was my preferencE: it would more than take care of the day-to-day, go a long way to clearing the mess, and provide useful metrics on compliance with he added bonus that I already had years of experience with it. At the insistence of my direct supervisor, I reviewed a software that was not meant to handle more cases than would come from a company a small fraction of our size, much less spread over all 50 states. You can guess the rest: they only had enough budget for the inadequate software and were shocked (like Louis in “Casablanca”!) at the cost of software truly fit for the job. They took the inadequate software which was a useless time waster and my life became a misery.

  3. This is great advice for a job hunter. There’s this strong idea when coming aboard that one has to please a boss and the boss in turn helps you grow. Sure. But…your boss is not the only person to effect your career, a point often forgotten. Not only do you want to have good insight on who can impact you upstream and downstream don’t forget laterally. Peers and peer organizations do as well. I’ve seen some unhappy people when they found that people with juice outside their department could derail them in spite of a happy boss (or oftimes a boss who was BSing them about a job well done)

    I also believe that as one works toward an offer, it should include adding an element of adding the view joining a company. If done, a candidate should do a lot due diligence on the company before an interview comes in play. And the company interviewers should be grilled accordingly. Building a career around a job is dicey as jobs are subject to change, often out of your control. But if you’re in a good company it’s going to provide a firm grounding & wiggle room to move onward & upward.

    In particular Nick’s tactic of looking upstream and downstream is well applied to assessing a company’s potential and an offer to join it.
    Go upstream and dig around into it’s suppliers, go downstream and do likewise with it’s customers. See what you can find about it’s street cred with peers, competitors, applicable professional and industry groups.

    It will be a good use of your time, and place you on stronger ground when weighing the worth of that offer.

  4. I always told my placement to interview three levels up for their quaifications, their accomplishments in this company, what their top FIVE interets were, how they deliver raises, bonuses, promotions, and more. I also told them to get FIRM committments on promotions (specific time in grades), raises, bomuses – all with specificics. If any up streamers balked, they knew all they needed to know; and oin such a case they should so inform the ma;ignant upstreamers.

  5. Seven to nine interviews? Zoom or otherwise, after about the second I’ve lost interest. Likely they have as well. Employers also seem to use “Let’s hop on another call …” as another way of procratinating.

    Life is too shart for such negativity.

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