I often argue one of the biggest mistakes people make when they change jobs is that that don’t know themselves. Specifically, I don’t think they have a complete handle on what makes them happy in their professional lives. Beyond that, I also feel it’s important for employees to fully understand their overall situation before they take the first step toward evaluating a job or career change. Here are 5 great questions to ask before you job search.

5 Great Questions to Ask Before You Job Search

5 Great Questions to Ask Before You job Search

Current Situation—What Do I Have?

In assessing your current situation, understand that your current employer will serve as one of the greatest emotional influencers when you change jobs. The company and its people will force you out or keep you in. Understand and review areas such as your relationship with your boss and coworkers. Based on our organization’s assessment of over 6,400 candidates, 78 percent cited their boss as one of their top three reasons why they are open to leaving (or have left) their job. There are a few interesting notes related to this statistic. First, it seems to transcend the health of the employment market. During two three-year periods (between 2005 and 2007, a favorable employment market, and 2008 and 2010, an unfavorable market), the percentages were virtually the same. Second, it also seems to be universal across job positions. That is, our company evaluates employees across the entire business spectrum—senior-level executives as well as sales, marketing, human resources, recruiting, finance, accounting, product development, information technology, and various other managerial and junior-level positions. This trend would seem to support the conclusion that people generally quit people before they quit companies.

Even so, the exact opposite also is true as it relates to overstaying. Many individuals are unable to leave their job because of the relationships they’ve developed with their boss and coworkers. As an executive search firm supporting our clients in securing employee talent, we notice these relationships as one of the single greatest obstacles in extricating employees from their current organization. As such, we evaluate it upfront to determine whether we will face an issue when it is time for the candidate to decide whether to accept our client’s offer of employment. You should evaluate this for yourself at the beginning as well. Take a deep look at these relationships and determine in advance whether you will have issues saying good-bye. That alone can save you significant time researching and interviewing with a new company.

Also take a very close look at why you are open to leaving. I call them “wounds,” but this can include anything from a minor annoyance to areas you despise about your current job and employer. Are you appreciated? Provided opportunities for career growth? Working with great, smart people? Paid well? Keep in mind, there is absolutely no reason to change companies if you cannot improve the areas you feel are lacking.

Lastly, make sure you have a good handle on all the wonderful things your company and job provide you. While many of these areas will be tangible, such as your compensation or commute, many (if not more) will be indefinable, such as your potential opportunity for growth.

Requirements—What Do I Want?

Make sure you know what you want and what makes you happy. This is your list of requirements. Early in our discussions with candidates, we gather this information, and I refer to it as their Value Package Criteria. This is a holistic view of a person’s requirements and how she will evaluate whether the new employer can meet her needs. It is not a matter of whether you are interviewing with a great company. It is a matter of whether you are interviewing with a company that is great for you. In essence, evaluating these criteria will help you determine the overall value the employer can provide to your career and life. After all, a job is far more than simply trading your time for money. These days, work is often integrated into our social lives, and many individuals are working in jobs that blur the lines between work and play. You must evaluate the mixture of what you do, who you do it with, where it is located, how much travel is required, and so forth. It is extremely prudent to highlight all the requirements you have as well as weigh them by order of importance. That will help you objectively determine whether the job opportunity is good for you.

I’ve mentioned that we have observed over 6,400 employee candidates in the past few years. Based on performing this exercise with each of them, I’ve determined that—when probed—they favor twelve areas as the greatest influencers of their happiness and longevity with a company. I stress it requires probing, which means you need to allocate an appropriate amount of time to evaluate what truly makes you happy. Otherwise, you risk identifying it only when it is lacking. I have discovered through my line of questioning that most people fatigue after identifying four or five criteria. Therefore, don’t be surprised if it takes a few iterations to develop a more complete list. I also suggest speaking with others about what they enjoy (or don’t) about their jobs and companies, but keep in mind your list of criteria and its order of importance will be as unique as your fingerprint.

To see the list of the top 12 criteria employees are concerned with, see Overcoming the 2 Greatest Job Changing Challenges (Part 1).

Timing Considerations—Can I Actually Leave Now?

Timing is everything, as the saying goes. I think that much of your success in work or life has more to do with when and how you enter a situation than what you do along the way. Of course, you can make alterations along the way to influence the outcome. I also think that when you quit or leave a situation has an equally paramount influence. Seth Godin’s book, The Dip, might be a nice reference for those evaluating career choices. It helps you think through whether you are at a dead end or whether you should stay focused and stick with it. This obviously can be helpful in evaluating a job change.

Oftentimes, candidates will engage in opportunities to change jobs without strongly considering the timing elements. On one hand, I preach that your dream job rarely comes along when you’re looking for it. (It’s probably like love that way.) It would be prudent, however, to fully recognize any timing issues. There are obvious monetary ones, such as when you receive a sales commission check, bonus, or stock option vestment. There are more subtle considerations, however, that people tend to overlook. These could range from upcoming reorganizations with the current employer to your children starting a new school year or your wife delivering your first child.

Keep in mind that many timing considerations can be overcome in a variety of ways. Even so, it is important to be aware of them and evaluate honestly whether they will affect your ability to change jobs.

Counteroffer Potential—Will I Be Tempted to Stay?

Typically, the last item on people’s minds as they enter an interviewing process is a counteroffer from their current employer. (This excludes those who seek other job opportunities for the sole purpose of holding their current employer’s feet to the fire.) Even so, I suggest you consider whether you have made the commitment to leave your current employer or whether you are “testing the waters.” Either is okay, but you should strongly consider the rationale for why you are open to leaving your current company as well as taking the time to interview with other organizations.

I would suggest thinking through whether there is anything your current employer could do (not would do) to keep you from leaving. If there is anything you can think of, however unrealistic you think it is, I would tactfully approach the appropriate person within the organization to discuss the opportunity. You might think this is corporate suicide. It isn’t. If you are in good standing within your company, your employer will likely respect you for thoughtfully expressing your suggestions. One thing that won’t go over well is resigning because you have another employment offer.

Compensation and Benefits—What’s My Current Annual Financial Value?

Please take stock in what you earn if for no other reason than having a clear picture of what your total annual pot of gold looks like. I genuinely believe that compensation is only one factor in changing jobs, but you should gain a handle on what you earn so you can provide it to the potential employer upfront. I guarantee you will almost never change jobs for the exact same compensation structure. Today, there are entirely too many assets companies can provide their employees. Compensation programs are becoming more complicated, so it might be difficult for you to truly assess the changes. Some of the considerations include your base salary, bonus, stock options, restricted stock units, profit sharing distributions, paid time off, health care and other related insurance programs, flexible spending accounts, and car allowances.