Excited about that promotion or new job opportunity? Along with the pay increase, larger title and greater responsibilities, you know it will be a challenge. Yet, you’ve heard some things and feel something nagging at you.

Pay attention! Sometimes that great new role is not what it seems. Are you getting on a career success rocket ship, or entering the Twilight Zone?

Know What You Are Getting Into

Man in suit sitting in job interview
Man in suit sitting in job interview

Diane (not her real name) was recruited to a new, related industry. The hiring influence told her that he was bringing her on board to be a change agent. He planned to shift the culture of this well-known public firm, and would be working to bring in more people with her expertise.

She did well in the onboarding and training program, and was highly regarded by those with whom she worked. During the first six months of her tenure, she did so well that she kept being assigned to greater and greater responsibilities. One leader even said to her, “you will go far here.” On her third assignment, she was given much greater responsibilities, and expected to continue to do well. On reflection some time later, she recalled that she had been warned by two people that the new superior she would report to “didn’t work well with strong women.” Driven, and encouraged by her success to date, and knowing that she had cultivated good relationships with male supervisors elsewhere, she determined she could handle it.

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Early in this new assignment, she immediately uncovered graft that had been going on for sometime and alerted her supervisor, responsible for the region, who was taken aback. She imagined he’d appreciate the losses she had stemmed. She worked to create community and build morale in her unit, and to introduce the changes she had been told she had been hired for. While some responded well to these changes, most resisted them. Her new supervisor seemed tough, impatient and even unpleasant with her. He did not seem satisfied with any progress she made, even when she knew she was improving results over her predecessor.

She worked hard and long hours and told herself that she didn’t have to see him much and that patience, persistence, and hard work would pay off later. She was wrong. The people who warned her about this particular leader were right. Over time she discovered that her supervisor worked to undermine her and turn people against her. She was forced out. This had never happened to her, and it took her quite awhile to recover from it in terms of her self-esteem. Afterword, she learned of other instances like this at this particular organization.

Things You Can Do To Avoid Career-Threatening Moves

Two men shaking hand during job interview
Two men shaking hand during job interview
Ask Around

As you interview, ask questions to better understand what is valued, supported and rewarded in the culture, as well as to learn about the leadership style of the person you will report to. If possible, speak to those he or she has worked with. Link with people on LinkedIn and ask questions about what is celebrated and what doesn’t work in the culture as well as the leader’s style. Pay close attention. Your immediate boss has a lot of power over your career. And, when you get a new boss, your job can profoundly change, in my experience working with executive coaching clients. What worked great with one leader, may not work with the new supervisor.

Build Relationships

As you advance, know that the greater the responsibility, often, the more complex the dynamics. There are more groups and individuals you must work well with and influence. This can be especially shocking as you move from individual contributor to a leadership role. Proactively cultivating relationships, and building your reputation, influence and goodwill are as or more important than “getting things done.”

Work On Your Reputation

What reputation are you cultivating? How do you want to be seen? Who might influence, support or derail that? Authentically cultivating relationships with these people and groups, and learning what matters to them is critical.

Ask Questions

Ask yourself if you are set up to win in this situation. What questions do you need to ask about how you will be supported, including resources you will need? Pay attention to any inconsistencies in what you are hearing. Clarify them as best you can.

Explore Your Support Structure

If you are brought in to be “a change agent,” learn about what support structure is in place or and ask for what you need. Many “change” initiatives are not successful in achieving desired outcomes because there has not been comprehensive, holistic assessment, planning and implementation that includes the practices and systems to involve people in understanding and owning the change, and why it matters.


There are a lot of good resources out there. The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins is a great read to help you think more strategically about any new role, and what to focus on before accepting and in the early months of a new role. This early period is your foundation for success. One person told me the strategy of interviewing top leaders as part of the early days in a new role was critical to influence-building and making progress in what became a very tough situation.

Study Online Reviews

If you aren’t already, study the online reviews if you are considering going to a new organization. One person learned that most people didn’t last longer than 18 months in one name brand organization.

Jackie Sloane is an executive coach and leadership development and organizational change consultant. She speaks May 3 in Chicago on how to Activate Leadership in how you plan and conduct meetings. Learn more about her here.

Have any more tips for seeking out new roles in the workplace? Let us know down in the comments.