How can I tell if the business I am interviewing with would be a good place to work, or if I am better off staying where I am?
A new job is always a gamble, but if you put in a little effort, you can have a reasonably good understanding of what your new job would be like.
Know what's important to you and why you are looking for a new job. If you are unemployed, this is easy; you need a job and a paycheck.
If you are currently employed, why are you looking at this job? What kind of change are you looking for? If the main reason you are changing is that you don't like or trust your boss, do your co-workers have the same type of problems or is it just you?
Do you want more responsibility or a complete change in what you do? If you are clear about what you are trying to achieve, it will be easier to evaluate a potential job.
Get the facts. Do a little research. Find out how long the company has been in business. Is it old and stable or young and trying to grow? An older company may offer more security, but it may also be tradition-bound and less flexible. A young company may be more risky, but could give you the opportunity to try your hand at something new every day.
Whom does this company compete with for customers? If it has local customers, what kind of reputation does it have? If you are looking for a long-term position, be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the business you are considering.
Is it a family owned business? How many members of the family are active in it? If half the employees are related to the business owner, you may find yourself in the middle of family fights or power struggles. There are unique dynamics in a family run business and you may have less opportunity to take on more responsibility if the senior roles are reserved for family.
Do a little detective work on how employees are treated. Ask one of your interviewers for a tour of the facility and a look at where you would be working. Make sure to take a look at the employees' bathroom. If it is disgusting, that is not a good sign.
What about a place to eat lunch? Is there a kitchenette, or a broken old table in the corner? If the manager's office is nice and comfortable, but the employees' don't have a fridge or microwave available, what does that say?
What about the equipment or tools used? Are they old, or up-to-date and well-maintained? Is safety equipment available and in place?
Notice team-building and motivational posters? Companies with happy employees usually don't feel a need to put up those posters.
Have you met your future co-workers? Were they relaxed and cheerful? Do people look like they enjoy being there, or are they somber, looking at the clock every 10 minutes?
Vague on details is a big red flag. Have you been given a job description, on paper, with enough detail that you know what you would be doing most days? Would your new boss expect you to hit the ground running, or will someone be available to provide some training?
The owner of a very small or young company may not be able to provide more than a general description of the work, so ask how work is assigned. If the answer is something like, "we never know what is going to happen, so you need to be able to go with the flow," that could be exciting or frightening; it depends on you.
Have you been given pay and benefits details in hard-copy? Has the hiring manager talked about performance standards or how your job performance will be evaluated? If you are told "we will see how things go," that is another big red flag.
If you are considering working for a friend, you need to be especially careful. Good friends are hard to find and harder to keep if the two of you suddenly think it would be fun to work together. You may be compatible as friends, but not as supervisor and employee.
Go about your job search with your eyes wide open and look at everything critically. It is rare to find a job that gives you 100 percent of what you want. If you find one that gives you 70 percent and you can live with the remaining 30 percent, you are doing pretty well.
Virginia Detweiler is a human resoucres consultant and has taught business and managment at Walla Walla Community College and Walla Walla University. Questions for her columns are welcome and can be submitted to her email address at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those used will be edited to remove information that would identify the sender.