It's hard to turn down any job offer in this economy, but recent corporate downsizings and employers' desires to keep expenses to a minimum may be eliciting performance expectations that can't be met by any mere mortal, let alone a brand-new employee. Job seekers on the Dice discussions board have noted an increase in doomed-to-fail jobs, which they characterize as situations where new hires are expected to learn new technologies and execute the duties formerly performed by multiple workers within the first 90 days. Despite valiant efforts and racking up substantial overtime, these new workers are often released if they fail to master all of their responsibilities.

Laid OffIndeed, second quarter worker productivity climbed 6.4 percent, according to newly released data from the Department of Labor. It was the fastest increase in productivity in the nonfarm business sector in nearly six years and comes after massive job cuts.

While it's not always possible to spot a doomed-to-fail scenario before hiring on, ask interviewers these questions to avoid accepting a role on the mission impossible team.

  • Why is the position vacant? If it's a newly created position, or if the manager is back-filling a job due to a recent promotion, that's good news. If you'll be assuming a role formerly held by a promoted worker, be sure to ask if he or she will be training you, since your performance will be compared to someone who was quite successful. If the former employee quit or was fired, find out why, so you can assess whether you may suffer the same fate.
  • What changes were made in response to the recession? If IT workers were laid off, ask how projects and workloads were calibrated in response. While it's fine to expect an increase in productivity after a layoff, if 25 techies are now handling workloads that used to be done by 50, it's a red flag. If projects have been delayed due to layoffs and budget cuts, ask when the projects will resume and how many additional personnel will be hired to handle the work.
  • May I see the performance plan? At the very least, you need to know the major job responsibilities and how your performance will be measured, especially during any probationary period. Asking how you'll be measured and what you'll need to learn is critical to estimating whether you'll succeed.
  • What's the department's annual turnover rate? Turnover rates vary by industry and position, and attrition can temporarily spike after large scale changes in the work environment. However in most mature companies, annual turnover in professional positions rarely exceeds 10 percent. If turnover seems unusually high, ask about the underlying causes to make sure you won't be the next casualty.

-- Leslie Stevens-Huffman