In today’s job market, where talented finance professionals are highly sought after, the luxury of choice often lies with the jobseeker. And while it may be tempting to accept the first decent offer that comes your way, it’s wise to take a moment and check for any red flags that could signal deeper, underlying issues with the role.
Steve Saah, executive director of Robert Half Finance & Accounting, has been placing accounting and financial professionals into full-time jobs for the past 20 years, and his biggest piece of advice for jobseekers is simply to trust your gut and intuition about opportunities that present themselves.
In addition to trusting your intuition, here are some red flags to watch out for when deciding whether to accept a new role:
The details are vague. It’s never a good sign when a company is elusive about the position it is offering you. If you feel you don’t have a good understanding of the job responsibilities or company culture, or if the people you’re talking to are being evasive when asked clarifying questions, then you should probably find other ways to get some clarity.
“The most dangerous sign is when you don't really know what you're walking into,” said John Lees, career coach and author of Get Ahead in Your New Job. “When you don't really understand enough about the role or organisation, and there’s a real mismatch of information, then there's more that’s likely to go wrong.”
Saah recommends talking to anybody who knows anything about the organisation and asking questions such as: What attracted you to the organisation? What do you like best about it? How long have you been here? Another great way to access that information is by looking up the bios and backgrounds of people with the company on LinkedIn prior to going in for an interview.
“I think that helps you show to an organisation that you’ve done a lot of homework on the front end, and you’re coming in extremely well prepared,” Saah said. “It also gives you some sense of the organisation and the hierarchy that exists, the tenure of those people, and again, whether or not they’re progressing through their career or staying stagnant in a role for long periods of time.”
The role has a high turnover rate. If a company is continually hiring for the position, it’s likely a sign they can’t get anyone to stick around for long. If you see a situation where a lot of obvious turnover is occurring, you should at least investigate further, Saah said.
“The biggest red flag is where you discover that the role is frequently filled and the organisation has a high turnover level,” Lees agreed. “In a role where people quickly move on, chances are the same thing is going to happen to you.”
There’s pressure to make a quick decision. If you’re feeling pressured to decide right away, that could be a good sign or a bad sign, according to Saah. There is a huge demand for talent right now, and as a result, many organisations are speeding up their hiring process to secure the best people.
“In a lot of ways that’s a very positive thing, but there’s a difference between moving fast and pressuring someone to make a decision,” Saah said. “Is that pressure coming because they’re excited about your background and they don’t want to risk losing you? Or are you feeling pressured because they don’t have anybody else and they’re desperate, and they don’t want to take the time to engage you in such a manner that gives you the ability to meet other people in the organisation?”
Saah reiterated that you have to trust your gut to figure out where that pressure is coming from and make an informed decision about whether it’s an advantage or a disadvantage.
It won’t do anything for your CV. It can be tempting to think in the short term and take a job because it involves a pay increase or some other immediate benefit, but it’s important to remember that every job can help or hurt your career trajectory.
Lees recommends asking yourself whether this is the sort of job that you'll have to justify in future interviews, one you’ll have to pretend “you didn't sleepwalk your way into”.
Ideally, you want your next job to be one that’s both challenging enough to help you grow and located along the same path as your long-term career goals.
“I think it’s important to slow down and make sure you’re making the decision from a career perspective rather than just a job perspective,” Saah said.
And with all that in mind, it’s also good to remember that no job is going to be perfect.
“Look for red flags, but remember every job is a deal, so it's not going to be perfect,” Lees said. “If you're finding that seven out of ten elements are working for you, then that's probably a good mix, as long as there’s a scope for you to learn and grow within the job, because if you don't learn and grow, then you're basically marking time until the next move.”
— Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.