10 questions I wish I’d asked prior employers before accepting a job

Look closely.
Look closely.
Image: REUTERS/Arko Datta
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Here’s a question many of us are still trying to figure out: How do I find my dream job? It’s a goal that might take a backseat to more pressing concerns in the short term. But pandemic or not, most of us want careers that are deeply satisfying and hugely successful all at once, with an organization that supports our values and continued growth.

Early in my career, I wasn’t sure this was possible. My first two jobs had similar cultures that didn’t feel inclusive or trusting. I thought I would just have to accept that as the workplace norm and find a way to cope. But when I realized I loved a particular aspect of my job that wasn’t going to advance at my then-employer, I decided to take some courses to help me pursue my talent in this new career area. Through a career fair at school, I ended up finding my dream employer. When I toured the office, I saw that work environments can feel inclusive and have happy employees. After I started my new job there, I realized how good my professional life could be.

Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the questions I wish I had asked all my prospective employers. I’ve made a list here, and I hope you can use them during your job search and interviews.

1. What are some examples that illustrate the company’s culture?

Almost all companies say they “work hard, play hard,” but that doesn’t offer a clear picture of how their cultures operate in practice. To get a truer picture of how you will be treated day in and day out, ask for concrete examples that show how employees are valued, respected, and rewarded on the merit of their work.

2. How does the company treat its customers/clients/end users?

If a company does not treat its paying customers well, how would you expect them to treat its employees? Customer service or client relationships are an important indicator of how you will likely be treated if you were to work there. Make sure to research the timeliness and quality of the customer service. After all, as an employee, you will be a customer of the company’s HR, IT, and other departments.

3. What is the company’s commitment to its community?

How a company serves its community and the world at large indicates its commitment to being kind, and a force for good. Most people want to work for companies whose values they share, and the answer to this question will show what those core values are. My dream company invests the majority of its profits into philanthropic efforts. This helps the company attract people who prioritize helping others. To state the obvious, it feels good to work with people who value kindness.

4. What is the company’s commitment to health and wellness?

Life happens. Look for a company that cares about not only your healthcare policy but your overall health and wellness. Avoid companies that list attractive perks like unlimited paid time off while fostering a culture that shames people who take advantage of those benefits. Ask how what is offered on paper compares with employees’ actual experiences.

5. What is the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion?

How a company treats underrepresented employees impacts everyone. Organizations that champion diversity and inclusion perform better and empower employees to bring their whole selves to work. Be wary of a company that talks about diversity and inclusion but doesn’t reflect these values in practice. One tip is to find employers that engage with local groups supporting diversity or that promote involvement in employee resource groups (ERGs), which are voluntary, employee-led communities that provide support and career development.

I’m particularly proud of the work my employer, Bloomberg, has done to make its workplace accessible for all abilities. The company actively recruits people with disabilities in partnership with organizations like Lime Connect. Our Enterprise Data team runs apprenticeship programs for people with autism, with the goal of developing the infrastructure to support a neurodiverse workforce. And our Abilities Community (B-ABLE) ERG has collaborated with our workplace operations team to enhance the physical accessibility of our facilities worldwide.

6. What impact does the company have in the industry it serves, and how does this translate into the impact you will be making in this role?

Whether or not it’s a household name, an organization that leads in its industry offers more opportunities for you to make an impact. Consider how you define impact and what you want to achieve on the job. Do you want to work with big budgets? Affect thousands of customers? Use cutting-edge technologies? Look for alignment between the company’s impact and the impact you desire to have in a given space.

7. How does the company review your work, and what is the feedback process?

Most companies have formal annual review processes. That’s a good start, but frequency is a key component in an effective feedback loop. Request examples of how employers help you get the input you need to grow. For example, I check in with my manager twice a month to review my goals and receive actionable feedback on how I can improve my performance.

8. What tools and technologies are available, and how does the company evolve to stay relevant?

Efficient tools and processes allow you to spend more time doing your work. Moreover, staying up-to-date with new technologies gives you more transferable skills for your next role, whether within your current organization or elsewhere. Ask your prospective employer about its investments in technology and best-in-class work experiences.

9. What type of training does the company provide and/or invest in?

Quality training improves your effectiveness and sets you up for success beyond your current role. Identify organizations that offer a variety of continuing education opportunities—for both technical and soft skills—throughout the year. Ask if the organization offers any discretionary funds for you to take relevant courses beyond what they may offer in-house. If the answer is no, ask how else the organization might support skills development.

10. What career path options are available beyond the job you are accepting?

A job should open doors for you at your own company and in your chosen profession. Request examples of how current employees have progressed in their careers and advanced within the organization and/or industry. There is no right career path; the important thing is to always be learning new skills, tackling new challenges, and receiving new opportunities. A good employer will understand the value of this.

I hope these questions help you find a company with the answers that are right for you. Keep in mind, it’s not your responsibility to change a toxic culture. Instead, it’s your responsibility to keep trying new experiences to determine your preferences, as well as the non-negotiables that are crucial to your well-being at work.

Be very honest with yourself. For example, if you’re a woman in a male-dominated field—as I am—then you should decide on the level of diversity and inclusion you need and how that should manifest itself in your new work environment. Try using my questionnaire to help you articulate your own values so that you can more easily identify them in your prospective employer. Happy hunting!

Alexandra (Dobs) Dobkin is a software engineer at Bloomberg, following careers in finance and management consulting. She has a passion for mentoring and has delivered presentations at the January 2020 Girl Geek X Dinner, Google Developer Groups’ International Women’s Day events in San Francisco in 2018, and DeveloperWeek NY 2017.