Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.


A reader writes:

I am currently interviewing for a job and I think I may get the offer. I just finished up my third and final interview and expect to be notified soon.

However, I am struggling because the position has been described differently by different interviewers and does not seem to match the job description. The job description states that the position is primarily administrative. It was made clear to me, when I met with the executive director, that actually it is a fundraising position, including grant-writing and soliciting major gifts. But in my second and third interview (with a board member and the organization's founder, respectively), they stated that it was less focused on fundraising, more on administration, with some overlap. In my last interview, when I asked the founder for clarity, he said he would have to speak to the executive director.

If the job description says one thing, the executive director says another, and other staff say something else, what do I do? I need more clarity before I accept the role. I'd be happy with it either way, as I enjoy and am good at both administration and fundraising, but I want to know what I'm getting into. How should I ask for this clarification? Should I ask for an updated job description? Or for something written into my contract?

You're absolutely right that you need to get this clarified before you accept the role, if it's offered to you. Too often, people spot conflicting information like this in the interview but don't resolve it before taking the job, and then end up frustrated when the job turns out to be something different than they thought they were signing up for.

If you're offered the job, you can just be direct about this: "I've heard differing perspectives on the role from Jane, Bob, and Apollo, and it sounds like they were still ironing out whether the role would be fundraising or administrative. Where does that stand?" And if you're not already talking to the executive director, I'd ask if you can schedule a phone conversation with her -- or with the manager for the role, if that's a different person -- to hash it out. They should understand why you'd want this, and if they resist, that's a red flag.

And yes, I'd ask if you can look at an updated job description as part of that conversation, saying something like, "Since the role has gone through some changes, could I get an updated copy of the job description, to make sure that I'm clear on what you're envisioning?"

There's also another piece of this that you shouldn't neglect: the question of what was behind the differing perspectives in the first place. There could be a perfectly reasonable explanation, such as a simple miscommunication between the executive director and the other two people. But it could be something more worrisome, such as an ongoing battle for control between those parties, or a sharp disagreement about the role that will continue even after you start. If it's the latter, you want to learn that now -- not after you start.

Plus, having that conversation will give you some valuable insight into how the organization operates, beyond this specific job. Are there communication issues? Fuzzy thinking or lack of planning? Confusion over goals and structure? Or was this just a fluke that doesn't reflect deeper issues? All of that will be helpful information as you evaluate the offer as well.

And to be clear, if you do conclude that they're fuzzy thinkers or poor internal communicators, that doesn't mean you must reject their offer. It's more about you getting a better understanding of the landscape there so that you can make a better decision for yourself about whether it's the right fit for you or not. Some people can work just fine in that type of context, and others don't. This is about making as informed a decision as possible.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

Published on: May 14, 2018