Eight ways to avoid walking into a terrible career move

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For the first time in over three years, the job market for financial services professionals is looking healthy and many people, who would often have endured more work without a commensurate increase in salary or job title, are now seeking new opportunities. But how do you know you’re not walking into something worse?

The job application process is akin to visiting a house when it’s up for sale – the competition for success may be tough, but the company and individuals in the team you’re applying to will do their best to present themselves favourably, particularly to attractive candidates. It’s therefore important to do your due diligence before accepting a position. Here, according to recruiters and careers coaches, is what you need to do.

1. Get to know the firm’s employees – past and present

The job application process is not necessarily the best time to raise any doubts about the position you’re applying for. Maintain a veneer of excitement about the job until it gets to the offer stage and then start to get to know individuals in the firm, advises John Lees, a careers coach and author of How to Get a Job You Love.

“Talk to anyone who has worked or is associated with that employer – former employees, current staff, any external suppliers you know about,” he says. “Get a feel for the culture and what’s it’s really like working there – not the management gloss you would have been presented with.”

2. Work out the social media buzz

In the financial sector, social media is used either by corporate comms teams or members of the public venting their anger at a particular organisation. However, finding people who matter in the industry giving genuine opinions on the working culture is a worthwhile investment of your time, says Luke Davis, client account director at Robert Half.

“Social media and review sites allow current and former employees to share information. While there are always two sides to every story and you should not base your decision entirely on this feedback, extensive negativity from previous employees may be a red flag,” he says.

3. Beware flashy job titles and above market pay

Grandiose job titles are all too common in the financial sector and banks are indeed keen to pay top performers more in order to attract them. However, don’t be fooled into thinking you’re something special – the chances are if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. “Paying over the odds or offering a flashy job title is usually a sign of desperation,” says Andrew Pullman, founder of consultancy People Risk Solutions and a former head of HR at Dresdner Bank. “If something sounds good, I’d be more wary and really do my research.”

4. If there’s a one way flow of information, wonder why

You may be used to being quizzed within an inch of your life during an interview, but if it’s all about you, start to worry, says Davis. “Be aware of companies who are only interested in your skills and experiences and who don’t share any information about their company. The interview is not only a chance for them to get to know you, but also for you to learn about them,” he says. “Throughout the interview you should be asking questions and as long as you are not querying sensitive information, the employer should offer you insight, especially as employment is such an important decision.”

5. Check employee turnover

If a potential new employer is a miserable place to work, or the boss is a nightmare, there will be plenty of collateral damage. If turnover is frequent within the organisation – or indeed the position you’re applying for – there’s a reason. “If there’s a poor manager, employee turnover will be high,” says Pullman. “Meet the team informally, see if the chemistry is likely to work for you. If they decline, this should be another warning sign.”

6. Check out the development opportunities upfront

It may be that the job you’re applying for expects you to come as the fully-formed article and is offering good pay, but little in the way of development opportunities. If this is OK with you, then obviously continue, but if training, development and career opportunities are your ultimate aim, make this clear. “Although your company can help your career, you ultimate have to own it – make your aspirations known to any potential recruiter,” says Pullman.

7. See the working environment

Again, it’s a case of removing the rose-tinted spectacles during the recruitment process and really seeing what it’s like to work in an organisation. “Come in for a couple of hours and see the dynamic of the team. If you don’t feel comfortable, back out before you start,” says Lees.

8. Find out everything you can about why the firm is recruiting for this job

Is it a new role? If not, why are they replacing the previous incumbent? Is it down to expansion? “If an employer avoids discussion over the reasons why the role is available or offer disparaging remarks about the previous employee, it may mean that they have something to cover up,” says Davis.

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