At a recent career Q&A for international executives, the most popular subject was finding a job abroad, but a close second was how much company turnover should impact when to turn down a job. One executive was courted by a start-up that let its top two executives go within six months – should he still join? Another executive learned the predecessor for the role he was being offered had been fired – how can he be sure it’s not a problem with the role? Yet another executive feared turnover in general – when its high should you even look at that company? There’s no question that discovering negative information about a company should make you think twice about joining the company, but average turnover, a specific failed predecessor or even failed management are just one of many factors in deciding on a job. Here are five questions to probe when your due diligence on a company turns negative, before you turn down a job offer prematurely:
What are your other decision criteria for wanting this job?
There are dozens of other factors that should influence whether you accept a job – I blogged about 40 decision factors just last week. The turnover might indicate the company is a tough place to work but that might not bother you or be a priority for you. There could be many other more important reasons for you to take the job anyway. One client heard negative information about the person who would be her boss. She accepted the role anyway because it was a jump to the executive level, a significant pay increase, and her current boss was planning to leave. A new boss TBD might be just as bad, and she would have declined an otherwise good offer for nothing.
Is the bad news even relevant to you?
What causes other people to leave isn’t necessarily going to be a problem for you. Even if the predecessor for the role you’re taking left in short order, that predecessor might have been incompetent. That person might not have your skills, expertise or background, and you might have a totally different experience. Of course, you want to check if multiple predecessors came up short, in which case it might be that the role is mismanaged or under-resourced or otherwise set up to fail. In that case, you can try to manage around that — maybe you’re good at lobbying for resources or running a lean shop or you can deal with lots of types of management, including the bad kinds! Just because other people failed at the role doesn’t mean that you will and that you should turn down a job.
Are you getting a fair or even advantageous trade?
But what if you are sure it’s going to be a super tough role? Let’s say you know the predecessor was in fact competent, and s/he still couldn’t get the job done. OK, so you know it’s going to be a slog – stress, probably long hours, lots of uncertainty – but perhaps there’s enough compensation or career opportunity or whatever hazard pay you require to make entering this danger zone still worthwhile. The trade-off that you need is what you should be negotiating for. If you get what you ask for, that’s a strong sign that you should not turn down a job – after all, they really want you!
Do you have enough downside protection to cover your risk?
In addition to being compensated for the tough working conditions, you also might negotiate for a guaranteed severance or a minimum bonus for the first year or for specific resources (e.g., budget, staff) to protect you on the downside. Just like there is a price that is high enough that you don’t turn down a job, so there is a protection arrangement that removes enough of the risk so you don’t have to turn down a job. If you get a guaranteed severance of one year’s pay, and you’re out of there in a short time, you’re now getting paid to do a more thorough job search.
Are you looking for reasons to decline?
You want to do due diligence on a company before you join to ensure you don’t accept before knowing what you’re really getting into. But no company is perfect, so make sure you’re not attributing too much weight on the turnover because you’re really just anxious about something else. Maybe you’re nervous about leaving your current job, where you’re already established and familiar. Maybe you’re not confident about your ability to produce in the new role. These insecurities are understandable, and you should work through them specifically. Don’t make up reasons to turn down a job offer that you otherwise would want.
I’m not trying to convince anyone to accept a job they don’t want. The above questions are a counterweight to bad news you might get that causes you to turn down a job prematurely. Look at all your decision factors, look at your own capabilities (you are not your predecessor), calculate the upside and the downside with this information in hand, and make sure you are not overemphasizing this bad news to avoid something else. Remember that more people regret the things they don’t do.