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5 Questions to Ask Before You Start a Job

Finding a new job can be hard work. Candidates live and breathe the deliberate grind of a job search. It can often take months of research, networking and self-marketing activities to find the right opportunity. Then comes the actual hiring cycle. This will take an average of nearly 43 days, according to an Accounting Principals-Google Consumer Survey of professionals across industries. That’s almost two full weeks longer than job-seekers think the process should take. And while it might be tempting to jump at any job offer, you want to make sure it’s the right fit. You don’t want to waste your time – time that could be better spent looking for the perfect employment.

1. What’s important to me in a job?

The first question you should ask, is one you must ask of yourself. It’s important to take the time to think carefully about whether the job is the right fit for you. So what’s important to you? Do your professional and financial goals align with the position? Whether you’re unemployed or looking to switch jobs, making a career move without asking the right questions is a misstep

  • Culture: Get a feel for what it’s like to work for the company on a day-to-day basis. Talk to current employees you already know and connect with others available through your LinkedIn network. Find out whether the company runs on a strict 9-to-5 schedule, or if flex-time and telecommuting privileges can be earned. It’s also helpful to know the expectations for being reachable by text, email or phone after hours and on weekends/holidays. Additional items of interest: whether the firm goes with casual or traditional attire and open vs. office-based floor plans.
  • Commute: If the potential new job requires a lengthy or traffic-packed commute, imagine what it will be like during the morning and evening rush and in inclement weather. Take a test drive in those conditions and compare to public transit options to gain perspective on whether it’s doable over the long haul.
  • Company direction: Learn as much as you can about the company’s reputation and standing in its industry, as well as future plans. Online searches should fill in some of this information, particularly financial reports. However, feel free to dig deeper when talking to your point of contact. Executive coach Karen Elizaga suggests asking about innovative projects or technologies that factor into the company’s strategy and how they may impact career roles.
  • Reporting Structure: Don’t assume that the interviewing point person will be your boss. Sometimes team members share various steps in the hiring process and split jobs among groups or departments. Expect a formal offer to include a written statement of your job title and reporting relationship.
  • Travel expectations: Proactive career planning calls for full disclosure on the percentage of time you’ll be expected to travel for work. Get a complete understanding on reimbursement policies and potential comp days.
It’s important to take the time to think carefully about whether the job is the right fit for you. So what’s important to you? Do your professional and financial goals align with the position? Whether you’re unemployed or looking to switch jobs, making a career move without asking the right questions is a misstep.
 
Ask questions during the interview process about the actual position’s duties. Those answers are definitely important! But it’s as important to know the right questions to ask after you’ve been offered the job.

Here are some questions to ask your potential employer before signing on the dotted line of your acceptance letter:

2. Can I review the benefits package?

On average, workers earn a 5.2 percent pay raise when making a job transition. To get a more refined salary estimate for your new job title, factor in your prospective employer’s location and company size by using this handy online calculator. Ask how often you’ll receive salary and performance reviews, and whether you’ll have opportunities to earn bonuses or incentives.

Benefits packages might include anything from retirement and health insurance to stock options and vacation time. Every company has a unique package, so it’s important to focus on what matters most to you. When it comes to benefits, you’ll find a lot of variation from company to company — with the tide steadily shifting toward employees paying a greater portion of health insurance costs than they did in the past. Ask about health, dental and vision coverage, if/when you’ll be eligible and how much you’ll be responsible for paying. While on the topic, inquire about qualifying for and conditions of 401K and stock purchase/award programs.

Not all benefits start on your first day. Consider when the benefits will kick in (especially health insurance coverage) when planning your transition. For example, if it’s a month before your health insurance policy starts, you may have to think about budgeting for COBRA coverage until it does.

3. Does the company have a 401(k) plan?

A 401(k) plan is one of the best financial investments you can make for your future. A 401(k) allows tax-deferred funds into a savings account. This account is only taxed when withdrawn for retirement.
 
Although it’s a popular retirement option, this may not be the plan your company offers. Understanding different plan options is necessary for long-term planning.
 
You should also ask what percentage of your contribution, if any, is matched by the company. Asking this will also help you figure out how much you should be contributing from each paycheck.

4. Does the company have a tuition reimbursement program?

Tuition reimbursement benefits are important if you’re planning to continue your education. Keep in mind that the amount of reimbursement may be limited. There may also be eligibility requirements to keep in mind.
 
Knowing whether you qualify for tuition reimbursement will allow you to plan. 

5. Am I eligible for bonuses? If so, is this offer base compensation only, or does it include bonuses?

Not all companies offer bonuses, and not all employees are bonus-eligible. Make sure you understand what your total compensation package entails. For example, if you receive a base offer, ask if you are eligible for bonuses and what is required to be considered. Are holiday bonuses given? Will you be eligible for one?

Let’s say you’ve successfully made it through the preliminaries. At that stage, a legitimate new job offer often brings a huge sense of relief — and sometimes a rush to acceptance.But there’s good reason to take a measured approach before the final handshake. Consider a survey of over 1,000 U.S. employees that found 31 percent had quit a job within its first six months. “Step back and think expansively about your objectives,” advises Jeff Weiss, author of the HBR Guide to Negotiating. “Think about the offer in terms of your development, your quality of life and the variety of the work you want to do.

PARTNER UP FOR THE BIG DECISION

It’s good practice to step through all the aforementioned aspects of a job offer. Some of the above tips will ultimately matter more to you than others, depending on your circumstances. Let’s face it: Not many people work through their entire career via “perfect” positions at every stop.

When it comes time to respond to an offer, pressure from the interviewing company is never a good sign. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for time to make your decision. “A general rule of thumb is that you can take two to three days for your final response,” says workplace expert Lynn Taylor. Express appreciation for the opportunity, she suggests, and then ask if you may reply on a specific date. Be sure to stay true to your deadline.

Bear in mind that 81 percent of employees report being happier at work when the company makes effective use of their skills and abilities. At decision time, a trusted recruiter can help you drill down on a job offer to find the things you value most. A recruiter can also get you feedback from the hiring company that you might not be able to get on your own.

Click here to read more about working with recruiters and why hiring managers like having them in the loop. And make sure to get the full low-down with our new Accounting & Finance Career Guide.

Sometimes, it’s about more than just the job – so make sure you’re asking all the right questions when you get the offer. For more career tips, visit accountingprincipals.com.

 

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Accounting Principals

We're Accounting Principals--a leader in finance and accounting staffing. In fact, since 2010, we've been part of Adecco Group, a Global 500 company and leader in staffing services around the world. But this isn't staffing as usual. We take quite a different approach than most staffing agencies. A people-focused approach. We believe in forming real relationships with both our clients and our candidates. We want to understand the needs on both sides.

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