Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What you need to know before your start a job

You've been offered the job, congratulations! Once you have decided to accept, there are a few things you should make sure you know before you begin your first day.

That phone call telling you you've got the job can be such a happy shock that you can't even remember what was said. But before you shout out "I'll take it!" make sure to inquire about the salary. This is something that you may have discussed in your interview. If not, it is important to hear what the amount is before your excitement gets the better of you. You may also want to find out whether you are paid weekly, bi-weekly, twice a month (not the same thing) or monthly (though this has become rare). Also ask if there is a holding period before your first pay. Many companies pay a cycle behind so you may have to work up to a month before your paycheques start rolling in.

When you are told your start date, inquire about the general office hours. Do they sound a little early or perhaps conflict with your child's day care schedule? Now is the time to see if your schedule has any wiggle room. You may be able to negotiate alternate hours, or the use of lieu time. Asking these questions will also help you determine your new company's policies towards tardiness or alternate work situations like tele-working.

The standard starting vacation time is two weeks. But that doesn't mean that every company will offer that. Some may give more, others may offer only stat holidays and 4 per cent of your income in lieu of days off (this happens frequently with short-term contract workers). You may also ask how many years of service are expected before vacation hours are increased. It is important to know that when you take your holiday time is legally at the discretion of the employer. While many companies do try and accommodate employee preferences, they are not obligated to do so. You should ask about holiday black out periods during which you cannot take vacation like those often instituted at insurance or accounting firms.

Supervisor's Name
The person who interviews and hires you may not always be the person who will supervise you. This is especially true in larger companies that have HR departments or multiple managers doing the same job (a retail store chain for example). When you are hired it is a good idea to ask your supervisor's name so that you know who to look for on your first day. This is also a good time to ask how they would prefer to be addressed. While it is becoming the norm in many workplaces to address colleagues and employers by first name, it is not always the case. When in doubt always use the correct honorific (Mr. Ms. Dr. etc...) upon first meeting and continue to do so until you are invited to do otherwise.

Does your company offer a health plan? Is it paid for by the company, the employees, or as a cost-share between the two? This is important to know because it can effect your paycheque significantly, depending on the plan and who is paying for it. Also find out if you can opt out of some or all of the plan, if you are already covered through a partner or other family member's plan. Before you run out and get that first massage, make sure you know when your benefits kick in. Some companies do not offer benefits until a probationary period is completed so you would be responsible for any medical expenses during your probation. It's also good to clarity if you are eligible for the benefits offered by your company. Some contract or part-time workers are offered a higher salary instead of the benefits packages given to full-time employees.

Work Environment
In your interview you may have had the chance to see some of your soon-to-be colleagues in action. Was the office buzzing with chatter? Did people have radios on their desks? Pictures of their families? If you are working outside or with machinery, was it very noisy? Did people have protective gear on? These are indicators of the kind of environment that you will be working in. If you didn't get the chance to see the area where you will be working, make sure to ask a few questions about the environment. It's important because your workday is made up of much more than just your work. To find out a little more about some typical workplace cultures read our article Company Culture: A Primer.

Does this office allow employees to wear jeans? Only on Fridays? Can you wear sneakers? Is a tie required? A hard hat? Are there restrictions on the size of your earrings or types of hair styles you can have? Find out in advance if accepting your job means saying goodbye to your tongue stud or requires the purchase of a three-piece suit. If you didn't get a sense of the dress code in your interview or aren't sure what "business casual" means, feel free to check. When in doubt, err on the side of formality but don't take it too far. Wearing jeans in a suited environment looks sloppy, but wearing a suit into a room full of khaki pants and flip flops is no better.

Unionized Workplace
You should have been told in your interview if your workplace is unionized (or found out through some company research). This does not always mean that the job you are taking will be part of the union . If you are a contract worker, someone who deals with confidential company information (the director's assistant for example) or someone who supervises even a few other staff you may fall outside the union. In most unionized workplaces membership in the union is mandatory for positions covered in the collective agreement. In these cases dues will be taken from your paycheque. If you are going to be joining a union, make sure you ask for a copy of the Collective Agreement so that you can familiarize yourself with the rights and responsibilities of your new position. Also make sure to find out who your union president and union stewards are. At this point you may also want to inquire when the current agreement will expire. Bargaining can be a heated business and if your new company has a history of union strikes, company lockouts, or long periods of work to rule, you may find yourself on the picket line sooner than later.

Initial Training
Most employers hope to provide new training to staff, but often employee shortages or deadlines mean new employees "hit the ground running" with very little preparation. Now is the time to ask about what training will be provided to you, and also what you may be able to do to prepare yourself before you arrive. These types of questions make you seem willing and eager, and also keep the idea of new staff training fresh in the employer's mind.

Probationary Requirements and Performance Reviews
Most new employees spend some time on "probation". This is a period of time that allows the employee to get comfortable in a new position and offers the employer a trial period in which they can weed out a bad fit. Theses periods can range from a few weeks to a year. Some companies withhold benefits and vacation days until an employee has passed the probationary period, while others allow full access from day one. This is an important question to ask. Companies that hold vacation or sick days may allow you some time off work if it is needed, but will not pay salary for the days that you miss. Sometimes it is necessary to take personal time, but it is best to avoid taking too much time away from work during your probationary period (even if you have your benefits and vacation). Remember, this is your chance to make an impression.

It may seem early to be asking about reviews when you haven't started yet, but this is a good question to ask for those who are being put on work probation. Knowing how they will be rating your performance can help ease your nerves while you are being put to the test. Will they give you a chance to make adjustments if they are unhappy with your work? How do they deal with unsatisfactory performance? What are they looking for in your on-the-job performance? The more you know, the better you can give them what they want. And get what you want.

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