The Most Important Question to Ask Before Taking a New Job

After interviewing hundreds of companies, I’ve noticed a few important patterns that increase your likelihood of being successful. A big part of doing well in the interview process, is being able to tell a compelling story of your last few jobs: What did you get done? What was your impact? Do you have any data to back it up?

In my 20s, I was excited to be getting any work at all, and everything was a learning experience. So I took any project, without thinking much of it. My favorite saying was “The Human Centered Design Process applies to anything, so I can work on any project in any industry.” That may be true, but it also left me with a couple of projects under my belt where it was really hard to tell a compelling story.

If I could turn back the hands of time, I’d ask the hiring manager this question every time:

“In 2–3 years from now, what will be the story of what we accomplished? What will be the impact that I had here? Can we try to answer that question together?”

This line of questioning is a typical case of “starting at the end” — thinking about what you want the end result of your next effort to be. A lot of people don’t ask this line of questioning. They think about needing a job to pay the bills. But if you’re thinking beyond just a job, and about deliberately shaping a career, this is the most important question you can ask.

If you don’t ask it, you risk taking a series of jobs that may be convenient in the short-term but maneuver your career into a dead end in the long-term.

Another benefit of this is that it helps you get to know the hiring manager on a different level. This question will force them to think more deeply about this role and its trajectory. If they can’t answer this question clearly, chances are this isn’t a job that you should take, no matter how well it pays.

If you don’t ask that question, you risk taking a series of jobs that may be convenient in the short-term, but maneuver your career into a dead end in the long-term.

This isn’t our parents’ world. People don’t stay in one job until retirement anymore. Applying this “start at the end” line of questioning to your career decisions will help you shape your career proactively, rather than reacting to whatever comes your way. This will be especially important later in your career when you perhaps have three competing job offers that all sound like great opportunities.

Jamal Nichols runs Truth About Design, the platform for candid truths and guidance for the design industry. We have lots of awesome classes and guidance that help you become a better designer.