Maybe you are one of the lucky people who has found a great place and you never want to leave. If so, congrats. I have been at a few great places and I loved it.
The only reason I left each of them, was when they underwent a major changes and the dream ended for me. Once I came to grips, that things would never be the same, I had to go. My heart compelled me.
The first time this happened, it didn’t seem like it would be hard to find another Eden. Somehow, this simple search unfolded into some kind of quest.
When I started my quest, I didn’t know what to expect. Some places that I tried, were okay, but not excellent. I imagined there were better options out-there, somewhere. When I heard about a better-sounding place, I moved-on. Some places turned out to be bad, and they made me reconsider if I should have stayed at an “okay” place. Eventually, I even found a place or two that sounded like a dream but turned out to be more like a nightmare. Before then, I had not believed that there were actually places so awful in the world. They actually made the bad places seem not-so-bad, in comparison. Each new place was another big learning experience and each caused me to grow in several ways that I had not anticipated.
In my journeys, I have learned a few things about detecting bad places and how to avoid them. Perhaps you can benefit from my findings.
How to avoid a job that will make you miserable
#1 Know yourself
Think about jobs or environments that have made you miserable in the past. What made things so bad there? It might be easy to pin it on one person, but think about the environment that helps a bad person thrive and allows a bad person to operate in such a unpleasant manner. During an interview, you cannot simply ask “Does Kip work here?” You can however, ask questions about how a team is managed/lead and about criteria for evaluating the performance of the team and its leaders. You can ask about the ways that the developers are involved in the process and what involvement they have in gathering requirements. You get the idea? Instead of thinking about the people, think about the processes that would empower or disarm a tyrant.
#2 Ask popular questions that require answers:
- What is the turn-over rate for this team? A great team will have a low turn-over.
- What percent of the team is comprised of contractors (aka, cannon-fodder)? A good employer will strive to retain good help, and will not rent disposable people.
- What does this company do for morale-building activities? Basically, do people even matter?
#3 Think about what you would like to do and where you want to be someday:
- How does a person move-up in this organization? No room for movement = congestion = tension. (Even if you don’t care about moving up, it could still affect you indirectly).
- If a person does a good job, how are they recognized? (What are the carrots?)
- Tell me what you do for mentoring staff. How many people are currently doing this?
#4 Don’t fall for hype or cave-in to pressure.
401k and medical benefits are nice, but nearly every place has those now. Think about the things that many companies struggle-with:
- Ask about software licenses and equipment. How much new/old technology is still around and therefore maintenance is required/optional?
- How much cutting-edge stuff am I allowed to try?
- Where do fresh ideas come from? (followed-up by) Tell me about the last time that someone like me, actually implemented that kind of fresh idea. A great place will be excited to brag about cool stuff.
- Ask to see the place where you might sit. Does it look livable? Do the neighbors look harrowed?
In the end, keep a few things in mind
- Even a perfect place, could change and become an imperfect place. The reverse could happen too. You just have to add/remove the right/wrong person. The company has to have a healthy environment to attract good people and have them prosper.
- No place is perfect. You are still getting paid to do this. Don’t act like too big of a diva.
- There is a saying “the grass is always greener over the septic tank”. In other words, crappy environments are often ripe with opportunity. Which can be nice, if you know how to capitalize on the opportunity. Otherwise, it is just unpleasant.
- Every place has flaws and irritating people and bad habits/quirks. Just accept it, up-front.
- If every place seems bad, then perhaps the common-thread is you. Yeah, I know that hurts. If you are the type who gets irritated too easily, then you might want to work on that, instead of constantly seeking a better place.
- If all else fails, keep in mind that you don’t have to work here forever. Stick with a job for at least a year. If it continuously gets worse, you can probably get another job somewhere else. Just be sure to learn from your mistakes and don’t keep making them over and over again.
I’m sure some of you are wondering: did I ever find another eden? The answer is Yes, I’ve worked at two of them. The key to both, was having a great boss. I still don’t know how to interview for that.
As-for the place I’m currently working, it is really good and it has a lot of potential. I’m optimistic that my counter-interview process is paying-off for me. Good luck to you!