Is any job better than none?

Even for those of us who experienced the tough IT times of 2000, this year is different. In the wake of the overall economic challenges that started in late 2008, many of us in the IT profession find ourselves in uncharted waters. And for some, these are troubled waters indeed.

In this type of environment, for someone searching for a job or even just looking to identify a new position, any interested employer can seem like a safe port in a storm. But before you make the important decision to accept a new position or re-enter the workforce, look for a few important warning signs that could help you avoid a bad career choice.

Does the job fit your skills?

There are times in every career when we make the conscious decision to move in a new direction and try a role that's different from previous work experiences. During a difficult job search, it's human nature to adapt to almost any available job description in hopes of securing a new position. But you need to ask yourself, is this really a direction you want to go in? If you were mapping out your career, would this be on that map?

Assuming you were hired, would you enjoy the work? Could you handle the position effectively -- i.e., would you be good at it? Could you succeed? What would be the next step from there?

Under some circumstances, you might not have any choice but to accept. But if you have some leeway, asking yourself these basic questions might steer you away from a costly decision.

Does the pay fit the position?

In general, I think we'd all like to make more than our current salaries. But when under pressure to find a new job, many of us revert to a "something is better than nothing" mentality.

We rationalize that if everything else about the job is right, making a sacrifice on salary now will pay dividends in the future. While this might be the case in some instances, in general lower pay means -- well, lower pay, especially if the pay scale is significantly off the industry standard.

That said, when evaluating a job offer, be sure to take into account the complete package, including salary, vacation, benefits and bonuses. Some firms offer lower salaries while accelerating career advancement, providing great extras or offering amazing technical opportunities.

Overall, firms that offer substantially lower pay at the outset are getting you at a bargain and will not be willing to offset this savings with higher pay in the future. This eventually could lead to dissatisfaction for you -- followed by another job search.

Is their technology mind-set compatible with yours?

Every environment has a mixture of technology -- state-of-the-art security, legacy client/server-based apps, bleeding-edge development platforms -- and as IT professionals, we can generally gauge the "IT mind-set" of a company.

Is the organization progressive in its outlook, always trying to push the envelope with continuous research-and-development efforts? Does it rely on older, proven technologies that need frequent maintenance and support? Is it comfortable with a steady advancement pace?

While often overlooked, the corporate outlook on IT can have a huge impact on your overall job satisfaction. Define your own mind-set and use it as a point of comparison with any potential employer.

Will they put it in writing?

"If it looks too good to be true, it probably is." That phrase is never more true than when describing a job search. As often as we might stretch our experience and abilities to match a job description, recruiters and hiring managers often do everything in their power to enhance the attractiveness of a given opportunity for qualified candidates.

If the company representatives you're negotiating with are reluctant to provide documentation on specific information such as pay, benefits and employment contract information, it might be a sign that you should investigate further.

Outside of nondisclosure policies related to confidentiality issues, there is no reason why you shouldn't be able to get a full job description, compensation plan and benefits summary in writing to look over prior to making an acceptance decision.

Why are they looking?

Interviewers always ask job candidates why they're looking for a new position. As candidates, we seldom ask the company why it is looking to fill the position. This can be a very important piece of information.

Is this a new role it has not had before (i.e., will the company remain committed to it)? Is this a backfill for a former employee who left? (Is there a reason he left? Does the company have a retention problem?) Is it looking to improve a role that currently isn't being filled well? (Is this a no-win situation?)

Any of these scenarios are possible, but the job could still be a very good opportunity for you, as long as you know what you're getting into upfront.

How is the company doing?

Few businesses in the U.S. haven't had a challenging past couple of years, so a depressed balance sheet compared to 2003's is not necessarily a red flag. That said, you need to do your homework.

Major companies with years or even decades of history are falling into bankruptcy or closing down altogether. Regardless of how attractive the position, or how badly you want the job, it is incumbent upon you to research the company and gain an understanding of its fiscal stability.

Again, some of these firms might provide exceptional opportunities for the right candidate. You just need to be prepared. You'd be doing yourself and your career a disservice by joining a firm only to have it close down within months or change the compensation and benefits you agreed to in order to resolve cash flow issues.

Standard issues apply!

When we're excited about a particular role, we often lose track of the specifics that make any job viable. Remember to ask the standard "block and tackle" questions at the outset: dress code, office environment, commute time, telecommuting options, hours, tools (laptop, cell phone), pay periods, etc. These things, while not job-specific, are vital to your satisfaction with any position.

Make a list of questions prior to your interview and simply ask. These are basic inquiries that should be easily answered. But any of them could be the linchpin in determining whether the role is right for you over the long term.

Dan Cobb is vice president of enterprise solutions at Yoh, a leading provider of high-impact talent and outsourcing services and a unit of Day & Zimmermann. For more information, please visit www.yoh.com or http://blog.yoh.com.

This story, "Is any job better than none?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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