You are about to accept an exciting new career opportunity! But are you paying attention to red flags?

The Leaders Edge has been supporting executives through career transitions and providing them senior outplacement support for over 20 years. Many of us in the company have had significant experience before that helping executives navigate the job market. As a result, we understand that when changing jobs or careers, professionals often face feelings of anxiety, doubt, and tremendous stress. Career transition work requires a high-touch, sensitive approach as each leader is unique with a different background, set of skills and career ambition.

When we coach executives who are making career decisions – whether they are in transition voluntarily, involuntarily or they are being recruited away from a role or organization – we know how critical it is for them to focus on a multitude of details. We ensure that they are not only doing their due diligence regarding skill and cultural fit to the new position, but that they are paying attention to any “red flags” warning them of impending difficulties.

However, there is no guarantee that, despite conducting due diligence, problems may not surface – such as a poor fit with a CEO who does not “walk the talk” or a change in leadership that could not have been foreseen or an acquisition which takes place unexpectedly. We too often hear from leaders whom we have not worked with that they did not spend enough time paying attention to signs in the interview process that eventually derailed their ability to be successful in the new role. In these instances, the talented leader discovers – shortly after making a move – that they had not fully attended to the “red flags” quietly waving in their peripheral vision. Unfortunately, they either were so excited about the job opportunity or anxious about being unemployed, that they jumped too fast. When we later hear about these scenarios, we have asked the executives to reflect on what could have contributed to their making the wrong choice. By hearing their stories, we can share those lessons learned.

Generally, upon looking back, people either saw or felt that something wasn’t right or did not explore in greater depth the landscape of a new opportunity. In one case the increase in compensation was extraordinary and enticing. In another, the leader had not asked to talk with other key stakeholders during the interview process. They successfully sabotaged him once he started work. It is incredibly important to meet the key stakeholders and determine whether they are supportive.

In yet a third example, a transitioning leader failed to uncover several outstanding litigation issues that brought down the company she had just joined. Most frequently, however, the job responsibilities, authority in the new position, and resources available to make things happen as stated in the interview process, were found to be neither true nor accurate. Understandably, in the process of persuading someone to come on board, the job description and potential for success can be overblown.

Our experience shows that it is critical to listen to those quiet “voices” and when making a career choice, have a trusted advisor or seasoned career coach who will hold the mirror up, be available to you when you need to touch base or have a concern, and make sure that you fully pay attention to all aspects of that “great” offer.

So, what is our best advice to those of you considering new job opportunities? First, list the criteria for the new position that are essential to you and evaluate the job according to that list. For example, key ingredients might include:

  • Position and title
  • Culture
  • Reporting structure
  • Alignment with the CEO/peers
  • Geography/commute
  • Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Stock incentives
  • Challenge and stretch
  • Mission and purpose
  • Independence and autonomy
  • Work-life balance

Then, set up a grid of your favorite opportunities and, on a scale of 1-5, measure honestly each important component on your list. If the total score is not high, you are facing a “red flag”.

Finally, do your homework. In addition to research, talk to people and trusted advisors who are familiar with the firm or its products and services. Ask them for their candid opinion. Investment advisors are often happy to share what they believe the prospects are for a company. You may not be able to predict whether the company is an acquisition target, but you can negotiate a ‘change of control’ agreement that will protect you if the company’s ownership changes hands. This is especially true for start-ups and companies owned by venture capitalists.

A strong and experienced coach can help you in your search, but most importantly in your evaluation of opportunities that are a good match to your skills and interests. You need to keep your eyes wide open in this important process of change. Let us know, as experienced career transition coaches, if we can help.