Whether to give up independence

Dear Joan:
I have been a consultant for the past several years in the human resources area. One of my clients has been very happy with my work and now wishes to hire me in a permanent human resources position with the company.

I am seriously considering this offer and I think that it would be a good next step for me since I was told that I could shape it any way I wanted. There is a small staff that I would be supervising. I like the organization and have a lot of knowledge about the industry. I also get along very well with the vice president who would be my boss.

I am scheduled for an interview in the next few weeks to discuss the position and the salary with this senior person. I am under the assumption that this is a job interview and there is no guarantee that I have the job. I could benefit from your thoughts about what kinds of questions I should be asking my potential future boss. Since I haven't worked inside an organization in this kind of work, I don't know exactly what I should be asking.

Have you ever visited an old, distant friend for a long weekend, drained a lot of coffee pots while you solved each others' problems, wished you were roommates again and then as you drove home said to yourself, "Gee, I'm glad I don't have her problems."

Moving from the world of the independent consultant to an internal position could turn out to be a great opportunity or a little like actually moving in with that old friend. As a consultant you could leave the problems behind but as an insider you will inherit those problems and be expected to help solve them.

Before you move in, ask yourself why you want to do it: are you willing to trade independence for security, are you happier working within a defined structure, do you enjoy administration, can you deal with office politics, do you like to follow through on implementation, do you enjoy supervising others?

These personal insights will help you come up with questions you will want to ask your potential boss before you unpack your suitcase. Questions such as, What kinds of decision-making authority will I have? Am I free to explore my own solutions to business problems or are there preconceived solutions that I will be expected to implement? How free will I be to manage my own time? What are the important (formal and informal) organizational rules I will need to follow?

In addition, there are some internal people/politics questions you may want to explore. What happened to the person who had this job before me? If the job is newly created, what was the impetus? Why wasn't this position filled with an internal candidate and is anyone upset about filling the position from the outside? As you look at the staff, what are their strengths and weaknesses and how would you rate their credibility among your peers? What major business strategies does the CEO want the Human Resources Department to work on? Do you report to the CEO and what impact does that have? What projects have been cut from the HR budget in the past few years? What (and who) causes your biggest frustration when implementing new ideas?

You will also want to ask him or her questions about the way in which you would work together: How would you define "success" after I had been in the job for one year? What would be the first priority in my job? How involved would you be in my day-to-day operations and how would you want me to communicate with you? How would you define your role as it relates to mine? What are your pet peeves?

Once the job offer is made, ask questions about salary, bonus, 401-K plans, insurance, profit-sharing, membership in professional organizations, educational and development opportunities and vacations and hours. Do this before you say yes and then ask for a day to think about it.

If you're unsure about what salary to expect, contact the president of the local professional organization in your field and ask him or her for some data or a rough estimate. They are usually well-established professionals who have experience and contacts and would be able to give you some idea, however, protect yourself and don't reveal the name of the organization. You don't want word leaking out that there is a job available before you have first crack at it. If the salary isn't what you expect, factor in the total benefit package and any intangibles you can negotiate. For example, if the company will pay to send you to seminars to get more technical training or allow you to take a little "comp time" in lieu of vacation or pay, it may be worth a few less dollars.

Finally, it would be smart to keep in touch with some of your key clients. Although their role will change from customer to colleague, it would be wise to keep the embers of the relationship glowing should you decide to return to consulting. Who knows, you may even be offered a bigger job in one of their companies in a few years. In any event, you'll probably feel a bigger sense of freedom if you know you could move out and return to your independent life if you chose to.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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