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Dana WilsonWhat do you do if offered a job that sounds too good to be true?

A headhunter calls and says he has the job opportunity of a lifetime.  Do you jump on it or back off and consider it carefully?

Big mistakes are made when emotions take precedence over sound, objective reasoning.

Masterful executive search professionals, better known as “headhunters,” are exceptional salespeople. They choose their words carefully, and before you know what’s happening, you find yourself practically taking a job you know nothing about. After all, it’s hard to resist being stroked, complimented and flattered and told you’re the perfect candidate for a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Before you’re reeled in with gushy praise and hyperbole, ask yourself, “Is it really the job of my dreams?”

Your mission is to find out before you make a regrettable faux pas.

First, think about the headhunter’s role in this job-hustling drama. Masters of spin, their allegiance is not to the job candidates.

The hiring company pays headhunters mega fees totaling some 33 percent of the candidate’s first year’s salary, plus expenses, whether or not a placement is made. That’s why headhunters present a utopian picture of the company they’re working for. They’ll get paid whether or not a placement is made. But, the headhunter is also concerned about building long-term relationships with the company. What better way to accomplish that than by dredging up candidates the company hires?

All the more reason to be doubly careful.

Avoid problems by checking out the company and your motives for considering the job. Try to be objective, which is no simple feat. Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect job. Learn to be street smart and look at a company from every conceivable angle. This is particularly true of technology companies.

Other advice to follow:

Information is gold. Tap your network and invest time in research to find out everything you can about the company.

Be prepared for each conversation. Come up with incisive questions. You’re not only protecting yourself but also gaining the interviewer’s respect as a smart and tough candidate who is looking out for himself.

How well is the company doing? Has it cut or increased technology budgets?

Is technology a high or low priority? And does top management support it?

Get a sense of the culture of the company.  How much turnover is there among managers and top talent?  What are the reasons for it?

Talk to customers. Find out what they think of the company.

 Get on the Internet and find as many articles as you can about the company.

Talk to former employees.  Get their take on the company’s strengths and weaknesses. If the company had major problems, find out what they were and if they were solved.

How does the financial community evaluate the company? Financial news is easy to find. Many respected financial analysts have their own blogs.

Evaluate a turnaround (if there is one). Pick the right one and your career could catapult. Choose a bad one and your career will suddenly nosedive. What better example than Lew Gerstner taking over IBM in 1992.  Any smart techie who took a chance on the once venerable hardware giant would have made the best move of his career. Gerstner not only turned the ailing technology giant around, he charted a new and profitable course. Heroes are often born out of adversity.  And the irony is, Gerstner could barely turn on his computer.

Finally, apply the brakes of reason and consider the pros and cons of your present job and whether it’s worth leaving. You may discover that you’d be taking a big chance by setting your career back several years. And the sexy salary isn’t worth it.

Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.

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