Career Advice: Job in Jeopardy? 10 Questions You Should Be Asking

Feb. 17, 2005
You can read the writing on the wall if you know the right questions to ask. Plus, five tips for researching your company.
Sometimes there’s just no way to predict when you might lose your job. But if you can recognize the warning signs, you might be able to salvage your position, or at least prepare yourself for an imminent job search.You have to know which questions to ask. So here they are, 10 of them. Use them to help you spot the myths (the party line) your company espouses and separate them from the truth.1. Is there talk of a merger or acquisition? This is probably the #1 reason to be on the alert for impending downsizing.Myth: Everything will stay “status quo.”Reality: Sooner or later, the workforce will be consolidated. In many cases, this will include plant closings of redundant or outdated facilities.2. Are profits down? Is the outlook for company earnings generally gloomy?Myth: It's just a bad year. We’ll rebound soon.Reality: Cost-cutting is the easiest way to shore up sagging profits. Jobs are usually the first to go. Remember, the higher the salary, the more savings there will be with eliminating your position. 3. Has a new exec been hired, a so-called “hatchet” man? (Or, have consultants been brought in to “analyze business performance”?)Myth: We’re bringing in outside expertise to streamline operations and implement best business practices. This will strengthen the company's financial position.Reality: Their first recommendation is usually to downsize the existing labor force.A few more questions you should be asking:4. Is the company the target of significant lawsuits? Has it become embroiled in external difficulties such as lawsuits over product safety or GMP or financial disclosures? The money to pay settlements and legal fees has to come from somewhere.5. Did a key product fail to get FDA approval? Look for downsizing or freezes until approvals are attained and commercial operations can begin.6. Is your company surrounded by negative public opinion (because of a scandal or corporate misstep)? 7. Is the company not paying its bills, or stretching payment dates? Are vendors calling about not getting paid?8. Are budgets being cut in other areas? Yours may be next.9. Has business travel and education reimbursement been curtailed? Maybe these small cost savings for your company won’t be enough.10. Are veteran employees being forced into early retirement or asked to leave on a voluntary separation program?There’s no reason to be paranoid about all the evil things your company may be up to. But knowing which questions to ask to ensure a healthy skepticism can keep you on high alert in an unstable job market.You can also be more proactive and learn more about your firm. Here’s how:
  1. Pay attention to what financial experts are saying. Is your company in the news a lot? Is the reporting unfavorable? Study industry trends.

  2. Read company press releases and annual reports. See any red flags?

  3. Follow the stock price and watch for sudden declines.

  4. Google your company and the names of key execs. What are outsiders saying? The press can dig up dirt long before executives are forced to admit there is a problem.

    Tip: Google has an excellent news alert in Beta testing. Go to and click on news to set up alerts.

  5. Study your company as if you were looking for a job there. Use the same due diligence you would for a prospective employer.
About the AuthorJoAnn Hines "packages" people. She makes it easy for others to transform their careers in much the same way she did. Her "how to" workbooks, informative articles, and tutorials demonstrate the steps to take career and professional development to the next level. Hines believes in the power of her experience and advice. As a result, much of her advice is free or is offered for a nominal charge. To learn the ropes and "Package Yourself" for success, email her at [email protected].
About the Author

JoAnn Hines |’s Resident Career Coach