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Job seekeers can avoid work life disaster

Recently, I asked a friend how her new job was going. I expected to hear how happy she was at her new job. Instead, she told me it was a disaster. I decided there must be others out there in the same situation. With people out of the job market for months, it's easy to jump at the first decent offer that comes your way. I figured I should give job seekers some advice on the front end for finding a job that fits their life needs. Below are some suggestions from my Miami Herald column. If you've experienced disasters, please share your story or offer advice. I am sure it would be helpful to others.

'Dream' job offer? Here's how to make sure it's not a nightmare in disguise

Before you take a `dream job' that could turn into a nightmare, do your homework. Company cultures vary widely.
   Mary Young heads the career center at University of Miami, in Coral Gables. She is advising Stephanie Aoun, who already has a job when she graduates.
Mary Young heads the career center at University of Miami, in Coral Gables. She is advising Stephanie Aoun, who already has a job when she graduates.

By Cindy Krischer Goodman


After nine months of unemployment, Susan Sands took a job as an administrative assistant. Two weeks later, she wished she hadn't.

A single mom, Smith discovered her boss was a workaholic, that taking vacation was taboo and that the work day ended well after 7 p.m. She was headed for work/life disaster.

The job market is showing signs of life, but with U.S. unemployment at nearly 10 percent, and Florida at 11.7 percent, most workers feel fortunate just to land a position. In fact, they feel so fortunate, that they often ignore warning signs that the job doesn't fit with their life needs.

``What's happening is that people are enamored by a brand or a certain kind of profession and they take the offer without doing due diligence,'' says Mary Young, director of Ziff Graduate Career Services Center at University of Miami School of Business. ``It's potentially disastrous for everyone.''

One worker I spoke to is a caregiver for his elderly father. He took a job that involves much more travel than was in the job description. Now, while miles away, this worker is getting phone calls from hospitals, doctors, strangers -- and his father, whose memory and health is slipping. He's considering leaving his job. ``I needed to get back to work,'' he told me. ``It's been a disaster.''

For jobs filled in the last year, turnover is hard to track. James Pedderson, spokesperson for global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, believes most people who landed positions are hanging on to them, building their network of contacts, keeping their résumés updated and waiting for the economy to strengthen.

Before signing up for your dream job that might become a nightmare, you need to dig deeper into the company culture. In most companies, there is a wide range of benefits, that when packaged together, can really make a difference in a worker's life. Often that information is available on a company website.

``It's not a guarantee of a family-friendly workplace, but it's a start,'' says Judith Casey, Director of the Sloan Work and Family Research Network at Boston College Graduate School of Social Work. Almost as important, she says, is learning if the benefits and policies can actually be used for the position you are considering without suffering a penalty. ``Some organizations for example, may allow flexibility for their supervisors but not for their line workers,'' Casey explains.

When work/life problems crop up, they typically involve a person's supervisor or the business owner. Benefits may be available, but if your supervisor isn't on board you might as well work for an employer who doesn't offer them at all. Experts suggest you probe your future boss during the interview. Ask questions such as ``How long have you worked here? If I could talk to people who work for you, what would they say?''

Finding out why a position is open is important, too. You might ask: ``Was the last person who had this role promoted? Also, ask about work hours. You may want to check out the parking lot in late evening and see how many workers stick around after standard hours.

The best sources of information on culture are insiders. At the office, people talk. When they leave a company, they talk. Consider a Google search to see what surfaces. Ask if your social network might know someone who has worked at this organization and more specifically in your future department. ``In huge companies, one department might be great and another a sweat shop,'' says Catherine Jewell, career coach and author of New Resume New Career.

For someone looking for a family-friendly workplace, check out the various ``best places to work'' lists. For more work/life benefits, try pinpointing companies where women fill top positions and females are a larger proportion of the workforce.

A Families and Work Institute study revealed that 82 percent of companies with women in half or more of their top executive positions are more likely to provide traditional flextime and daycare than those with no women in top management. And, workforces with a larger proportion of women are more likely to provide family-oriented benefits. A company's website can be a treasure trove of information on what positions are held by women.

Employment attorney Frances Green suggests if an employer touts himself as family-friendly, ask for examples. ``If the employer can point to such things as flex-time work for employees or job-sharing arrangements, such policies would suggest that the employer values a good work/life balance.''

Whether you are a 20-something who wants time for a hobby at night or a 60-something who wants a reduced schedule, job interviews are about whether the position fits your needs, too.

Marcia McPherson, CEO of Employment Resources, a staffing company in Tamarac, says candidates mistakenly allow a job interview to be a one-way conversation. ``Go in prepared with questions. You are trying to see if you are a match. If flexibility is important, go in prepared with that question.''

Stephen Wing, president of Corporate Voices for Working Families says companies now realize that flexibility is the number one benefit most workers want, which makes getting past lip service tricky. ``You really want to ask open-ended questions about their policy.''

How you are treated during the interview also will give you insight into culture, Jewell says. ``Were you offered water or coffee? Do they have respect for your time? If you felt disrespected, don't take the job.''