The #1 question to ask a prospective employer before you take the new gig

Posted April 7, 2010 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

As you go up the leadership ranks and build your successful track record, there’s no doubt that – from time to time – some new opportunity will beckon or some new employer is going to come courting.  Everyone knows that there’s a degree of sunshine that gets blown up your backside during the interview dance, but in my experience there’s only one question you ever need to ask to know if the new gig is right for you.

 Are you ready?  (insert drum roll here).

 “What is the tenure of senior people in this organization?”

 That’s it.  That is truly the one question that is going to give you the “real deal” about what it’s really like to work there.

When you hit your mid-career as a leader, I find there’s a certain “been there, done that” when it comes to compromising your values and putting in time under dysfunctional leadership.  If you’re heading into a role that puts you in direct report zone of the company CEO or one key level below, this question is the one to ask to make sure that the leadership of the company jibes with where you want to put your talents.

So, if the answer comes back that the tenure of senior level employees is less than two years, call that a big fat red flag (call it a reason to run if the CEO is an entrepreneur in a privately held business!).  Dig deeper and find out why people have left.  If the reasons sound fishy, they probably are and you need to take a close look at the leadership style from el Presidente.  It’s probably bordering on abusive.  Most smart people at senior levels don’t stick around long or put up with that type of behaviour, so a revolving door is a clear sign that something’s amiss.

If the tenure is nice and long then, again, find out why.  Is the CEO a superstar or is he/she just surrounded by a bunch of yes people?  If you’re an ambitious “mix it up” type of person, you may not fit a conservative leadership culture and may need to take a pass.  (I’ve seen many talented people fail because their leadership didn’t fit with the dominant culture created by the CEO and his/her top team).

CEO’s cast a long shadow into their organizations.  In my experience, one of the best ways to find out whether it’s one that you want to stand under is to find out more about your peer group.  Revolving door CEO’s don’t deserve to work with high performers like you.

Happy leading!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Joan Del Tin says:

    I am intrigued by your mentoring roundtable and I submitted my application. Wondering iof you knew Renate Weiler?

  2. […] The fact that 18 out of 22 employees resigned within a year under Ouimets tenure speaks to what I’ve pointed out in a previous post: a revolving door is a lead indicator of lousy leadership (in my opinion).  It got me thinking […]