How does an experienced engineer or technical manager choose the best available position from a field of many? How does he or she filter all the data, when multiple offers are intriguing? How do you make the right career decision about accepting an offer?
There are key criteria in evaluating offers, assuming the salary package is right (or reasonably close). Even if you take the wrong job in a firm that scores high using the following criteria, chances are you will make your way into the right job quickly.
You must carefully evaluate each of the following:
Evaluate the individuals you will be working with. While they are evaluating and determining what you can bring to the company, begin doing the same thing.
If you've interviewed with one person (usually a manager), ask to meet other members of the team before accepting their offer. If you’re an electrical engineer, it is worth talking to a software or mechanical engineer to determine how well these groups interact. Speaking with someone outside of your peer group can provide crucial information that will help you make an informed decision.
Request to meet engineers whose own work will directly impact your ability to execute your new responsibilities before you accept the offer. It will help you to understand if you can be effective, and fit in well. It will also tell you a lot about their core competencies.
Typically, job seekers interview for an appealing position and accept the offer -- without ever determining if the people they have to work with are unmotivated, unenthusiastic, or just plain inept. They have evaluated you and checked your references, now you need to do the same.
Any quality manager will have no problem setting up a series of brief meetings for you with other peer engineers, lead engineers, supervisors or Project Managers.
Ask about reward practices - do they recognize good performers with raises, promotions, new and better projects? How difficult is it to get promoted? How long does it take typically? Is most of the promotable staff in my age bracket? Are goals and objectives attainable? How do they personally perceive the company? What is the competition doing? How available are technical resources? Do they encourage employees to attend seminars and other advanced training? How flexible are they? Who drives the company’s direction (marketing, sales, engineering, executive management)? Do they, overall, make good decisions? Are they conservative or risk takers? Do they embrace new technology? What comprises a typical design process?
Do an online search for the management team (by name) - see what the business community is writing about them. Never, never base your decision exclusively on the initial interview... because managers are not ever going to discuss negative items during this meeting (why should they, they want your technical expertise to further their own careers).
You evaluate a product (or service) by comparing it to similar competing products.
How has their product changed to meet the requirements of the customers? Has it changed on a continuous curve, or has it made some advances that significantly changed the way customers benefit from it? Did the engineering group take some calculated technical risks to successfully drive improvements? Could a competing product easily diminish the target company’s product(s)? What is the life span of the products? What new technologies are displacing them? Who is the leader in the industry?
All these what-ifs will suggest where the company (and your future career growth) is headed. How do you think your own ideas (and personal engineering philosophy) would be accepted by management... and peers? Will you be the sole technical expert in a certain area? What is the engineering team generally comprised of in personnel and education? Is the current engineering staff diverse enough to sustain new development and continued growth? Is any engineering outsourced? Do they frequently hire consultants?
These are issues to briefly discuss in your interview. If the interview is over prior to extracting this information, request another meeting to go over your "strategic questions" (if an offer is forthcoming). Most managers can easily provide this information.
Search online. Talk to competitors. Speak with customers.
Many times searching “X company problems" or "X company products” will result in a large amount of information that will address your concerns. One night in front of your computer can likely tell you if you should pursue or avoid the company. It will, at least, allow you to validate what they are telling you.
A great source for depth is someone who works for a competitor, if you know one. They will always have an opinion (ask them to be candid rather than negative). They will be able to supply strengths and weaknesses... and point you to more information.
Speak to end users. They can always identify the deficiencies, and maybe even some benefits.
After you finish your research, apply these same criteria to your current position and employer. Will the offer, based on what you now know, jump start your career? When you've compiled and refined the information you need, you'll be able to assemble compensation, the benefits package and all the other relevant issues and put them into better perspective to make a decision.
If you don’t do due diligence, you are making a decision based on what one (or a few) people are telling you… people that you don't know, can't adequately evaluate in just a few hours... and have never worked with. Most candidates spend more time researching a car, big screen TV or computer purchase than a job offer.
Recruiters will tell you it's a great company, because to them, all companies that use them (and are willing to pay them a significant fee) are great companies. They have a direct financial interest (usually 20% to 30% of your starting salary) to see you accept the offer from the company they are representing. Remember, they don't have to work there and there is no liability for placing you in a mediocre company.
If the company is credible, and serious about you, they will assist you in making an informed decision.
You need to let them know what items you are missing. Don’t hesitate to ask for expanded explanations about issues you have. Managers know that every candidate has different concerns, and the good managers will address and overcome them. They, like you, want a successful outcome.
Exploit these resources to gain a solid understanding of how the company functions, and what they can do for your career. Understand exactly why they are making you an offer, and what they expect from you, both immediately and long term. Don't annoy them with trivial questions or minutia. Don't over analyze every issue, but expand your basic knowledge before making a commitment. It is time well spent.