When considering a new job, there are plenty of employee perks to covet: beer-on-tap, free lunches, ping-pong tables, and, as of late, remote work. However, I believe candidates should focus more on employer benefits and opportunities that await them after landing a new position: maternity leave, learning and growth funds, opportunities for advancement, and as of late, remote work! Perks are great, but benefits are truly valuable.
But so often, when interviewing for a new job, we have tunnel-vision and only think about the salary and commute to work. And yes, those things are undoubtedly important, but among the many things we learn in 2020, I hope we learn to hold our employers to a higher standard. We should continue to use our voice in all interactions — including interviews.
The next time you find yourself served with the inevitable, “Do you have any questions for us,” during a job interview, I hope you serve back one of the following questions.
“What are your company’s philosophy and mission surrounding diversity and inclusion? How has it evolved over the years?”
Why ask it: This question tells your potential new employer that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a priority to you, and subsequently, to other top talent in the industry. Regardless of where the company’s heart lies on the subject of social justice, companies will put their bottom dollar wherever they need to in order to retain top talent and consumers. Further, asking this question will condition executives and leaders to understand — even if just strategically — that not caring about its people is detrimental to its business and success.
The follow-up question about a company’s evolution with social justice will help signal where they likely are in the stage of understanding that our country, and capitalism overall, was built on a system of oppression. I know from personal experience that it’s very different to serve a leader who believes in reforming the system versus a leader who believes in abolishing it. One believes tokenism is progressive; the other understands tokenism is a complete detriment. And that difference can play a crucial role in an employee’s experience at a company, from how they’re perceived to their potential success in the workplace.
And for those businesspersons with a conscience and who care beyond a bottom line — it will remind them social responsibility isn’t a volunteer event once a year — it’s a mission to dismantle white supremacy.
What to consider next: If they don’t have a clear mission, or if it’s clear they’ve never thought about diversity and inclusion at all, understand that this is going to be a problem when conflicts, harassment cases, and issues arise. Your safety and well-being could potentially be compromised anywhere — let that be clear — however, the less educated your leaders are, the less of a boundary they will know to protect.
I had to learn this the hard way when working at a small start-up. The company didn’t have a human resources department at the time, and I doubt diversity and inclusion initiatives were high on the list of priorities. It became problematic when I began experiencing microaggressions in the office and sought out help from management. My concerns were brushed off as neuroticism; one manager went on to claim I had a “victim mentality.” Thankfully, much changed at the company during my tenure, but I still get a rush of hot blood through my body just thinking about my early encounters.
“How did your company respond to the Black Lives Matter movement and other social injustices?”
Why ask it: As heavy as this question may seem, companies must be held to a higher standard of social responsibility, particularly by white employees, and that means they should care about the Black Lives Matter movement.
I’ll be the first to admit how difficult it has been to see past employers who had previously snubbed D&I proposals in the past, now give them resources, a public platform, and executive attention. However, I will take a company’s thorough action plan for change — with receipts — over a boilerplate about “listening and learning.”
The company and its stakeholders should care about their response to injustices because it directly impacts the customers and employees they claim to care about so deeply. If they’re not willing to “save face,” they are almost completely unlikely to help you in any meaningful way in the face of adversity. Not impossible, just unlikely.
What to consider next: The answer to this question will ultimately determine many things, notably, how they keep their company and its leaders accountable to use their platform responsibility, and what they truly give a damn about. Keep in mind, civil rights — the human right to live — shouldn’t be deemed “political.” It is the difference between life and death, right and wrong. Should you come to conclude the employer chooses to stay silent in the wake of tragedies and injustice, it will be safe to assume they uphold similar politicking in their company.
“What policies has your company put in place to ensure workers are successful, no matter their lifestyle or socioeconomic status?”
Why ask it: Often, a company will have procedures and programs to uplift and further propel workers who are “shooting stars” or high-achievers. And while motivating top performers is strategic, and ultimately beneficial to the company, all of their employees should have opportunities to shine. This means employees who perhaps aren’t already making six-figures or a fat holiday bonus. It means the employees who have to work harder because they don’t have a college degree, something deemed a defective flaw by the company.
I’ve worked at places where employees left because they were ready to expand their family but felt the company would frown upon their having a child, or feared it would halt their trajectory in some way. I’ve also seen groups of workers — often older employees or those with obligations outside of work — worried that they wouldn’t be fairly reviewed compared to their single, 20-something counterparts.
At a former girlboss-type employer, I was astounded to learn about their meager maternity leave for employees and poor benefits options. During negotiations when I pushed for more details on their plans to update the benefits, I was countered by explanations of “most of the company is under the age of 26 and on their parents’ plan, so it doesn’t make sense for us to invest there quite yet.” Or “well, only a few of the women have children, and they all have nannies.” Newsflash, you don’t stay 25 forever, and not everyone can hire a nanny. Those two things should be deemed roadblocks to success.
These valid suspicions create a culture of exclusivity, divide, and discrimination, leaving the privileged to garner greater success, and further marginalize those who barely got their foot in the door.
What to consider next: Many employees are entirely vulnerable to their company’s poor leadership, regardless of policy. So investigate the policies they’re proud of and begin your deliberation with it in mind. Similarly, a lack of policy isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, but you should at least be prepared for the working environment you’re agreeing to join. Understand what cards are stacked against you and what opportunities await you before your first day.
“What development tools do you offer to support your employees?”
Why ask it: We’re no longer living in a culture where you stay at the same company for 25 years to be rewarded with a fancy watch and a pension. However, a good company should at least be investing back into their employees. They might offer a growth or wellness stipend for continued learning, or a 401K company match, or a leadership development program for all employees, regardless of level.
What to consider next: If the company you’re looking to work for doesn’t offer any of these options, I would consider negotiating a higher salary, if possible, because that means it’s up to you propel your professional training — and that costs money. Again, the lack of opportunity does not need to be a dealbreaker, but it’s something you want to consider when thinking about your future, career trajectory, and how you would like to spend your energy at work.
It is a privilege to be exceptionally selective when job-hunting, especially during a global pandemic. The vast majority of us are in a modern survival mode where even basic benefits and levels of compensation feel extraordinary. And while you don’t want to walk away from an opportunity to provide for yourself and your family, if you have the privilege to be selective, consider the value of your time and energy. Invest your talents, gifts, and skillset into a company that’s consciously and responsibly moving within its industry.
Jazmine Reed-Clark is a true crime and self-improvement junkie working in HR, and a millennial who (finally) knows the difference between a stock and a bond. She thinks.
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