In my second week at one of my last jobs, a secretary came up to me and remarked that none of the previous hires in my new position had lasted long. Had I been a bit more hip to this sort of thing, alarm bells would have gone off in my head. I now know that other than obvious factors like the pay, benefits and location, there is quite a bit of information you should try to obtain before accepting an offer.
1. Can you handle the hours?
Many people declare that working long hours are the norm in Singapore, and think it’s worthwhile if they’re paid enough. You might be able to work like that for a while, but eventually you’ll end up hating yourself when you realise that years have passed and you now no longer have a life outside of your cubicle. For others, exhaustion leads to ill health and depression and might even result in a burnout, which could stop you from working altogether.
Find out what the hours are like for the employees in your department. If everyone is leaving after midnight every day, you need to ask yourself if you are seriously prepared to handle such long hours. Know that working hours in Singapore are some of the longest in the world, and it is actually conceivable that you’ll be worked to death.
2. What’s the boss like?
It’s said that people don’t quit jobs—they quit bosses. I have found that statement to be quite irrefutable. I’ve worked in companies where everyone was getting paid the same wage according to their experience, yet certain bosses had loyal employees who stuck around for years, while others had to replace their entire team every year or two.
If you know someone who works in the company you’re interviewing for, try to get some inside info on a particular boss, but be wary of the fact that employees tend to be quite tight-lipped and diplomatic, especially if they don’t know that particular manager personally. If your job comes from a headhunter, ask for feedback on the bosses.
Bear in mind that the headhunter is trying to sell you the position, so read between the lines. There are some bosses a headhunter will effusively tell you are “very nice”, while they might try not to say too much about others. If you can’t stand being micromanaged, ask how involved the boss is. Some headhunters will also have information on the general company culture; for instance, if you’re looking to work for a Japanese company, you’ll have to be extremely punctual.
3. Are the existing staff happy?
The happiness and morale of existing staff is one of the surest indicators of how happy you’ll be on the job. As someone who worked in a team which left en masse almost in its entirety within 2 years, I know what’s like to work in a place with very low morale. Coming to work becomes a real drag. This is especially so because there is often a good reason employees are unhappy, whether it’s bosses who don’t respect their staff, terrible HR policies or unfair treatment.
Be wary of the fact that an employee in the same company under a different boss and on a different team might be very happy, while those under a different boss are miserable. As such, you want to try to get to know someone on the team or at least in the same department you’ll be working in. If the entire team is brand new, unless it’s a very young company, you should probably be suspicious.
4. Do they seem desperate to fill the position?
You don’t need to do any undercover sleuthing to assess just how desperate they are to have you on the team. I once went to an interview where they hardly asked me any questions. Instead, they kept talking about how difficult it was to fill the post and how the others had left for innocuous reasons such as childrearing.
A company that remains on good terms with its former employees usually has no trouble filling a role as existing staff will try to get their friends on board if it is truly a good job. On the other hand, at a crappy company, existing staff actively discourage their friends from applying—believe me, I’ve seen it happen. If yours is a fairly competitive industry, you want to join a company that has options, not one that’s scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Have you ever taken a job without asking one of the above questions and later regretted it? Share your experiences in the comments!