I've held several jobs where it was not apparent to me right away what management considered most important. Sometimes the jobs were exactly the same but because of the order of priorities they were executed very differently.

For example some places considered the most important thing to work as fast as possible. Others thought not making mistakes was most important and working fast was pointless because there was always more work. Others it was knowing how to deal with every possible contingency. Others thought appearance was the most important (whether on paper or in person). One manager told me appearing confident to certain people is important and asking them questions diminishes this. Naturally I tend to care very little about appearance but if I'm told to do so I will.

When starting a new job how can I get a sense for these types of things? Should I ask the manager what they consider the most important?

I know a manager may reply "they are all important" which isn't really helpful. That is why I'm asking how to phrase it here :)


I really don't think you can ask the question well, and I think generally people would struggle to answer effectively.

Even if something is "the most important", there are usually degrees to which the other stuff matters. And it's a very tough thing to quantify.

So what you should do is speak with your boss to make sure you clarify expectations. I would not phrase it as some sort of priory thing.

Regarding work speed vs quality, I'd probably be observing what your peers are doing, and accept any corrections offered. It's never one thing at the absolutle expense of the other, so you probably won't get it right first time.

  • 2
    "I think generally people would struggle to answer effectively." -- very much so. Some of the patterns of value judgments described by the OP, and they're not uncommon, are things noone would admit to, especially if done out of fear. It will be evident soon enough.
    – Pete W
    Mar 7 '21 at 20:07

I'd just ask.

What's more important at this company? Making deadlines or having high quality code?

I'd argue that dealing with as many scenarios as possible falls under the umbrella of good code.

Appearing confident is completely unrelated to making deadlines or having high quality code. It's characteristic that can serve you well anywhere.

  • 3
    90% of bosses are going to answer "both" and leave thinking the asker believes the only way to be fast is to do a poor job, and the only way to do a good job is to ignore deadlines. I would not recommend asking so blatantly. Mar 7 '21 at 17:44

Over on Travel.SE, people often ask questions somewhat like "what is a better place for a vacation, Italy or China?" Obviously, many people vacation in each place and feel it's the best, and some have done both and enjoyed both. This is what your "speed vs quality" question is like. It's unanswerable. Most of the time you should be fast and high quality, and have done the whole thing with confidence while remaining calm and unruffled in the face of unexpected occurrences, not having to work any overtime, and finding the time for self-maintenance to whatever standard of "professional" and "polished" is called for in your work place.

Yes, we all know there are times you can't do that. But it's pointless to ask in advance "hey, if I have to choose between meeting my deadline and looking confident, which should I choose?" No matter how skewed your workplace is in one direction, the answer will never be that it's always deadlines or it's always looking confident. This is why it's great that you have the self awareness to know that different teams have different values. Now what you need to do is watch and listen. When you run into trouble, do they say "just meet the deadline, get it live, we can make fixes later" or do they say "it has to be as agreed and if that means it slips, let's start planning that now." Do they rebuke you for not predicting this trouble? Do they tell you ask the client (or whoever) directly, or do they say they'll find out for you? Slot all this information into your framework about the values in this team. Better still, observe this (and ask gently) when similar things happen to team-mates. Over time, you'll build up the answer you are looking for.

You may move to another job before you get a complete picture. Heck, you may even move because of the picture you're developing. When you're interviewing for the next job, see if you can ask a few questions that bring some of this information to you sooner.


When starting a new job how can I get a sense for these types of things?

Normally, this is the kind of thing you can discern quickly by paying attention to how your peers to do their work.

Should I ask the manager what they consider the most important?

If it isn't obvious by watching others, then certainly you need to have a discussion with the manager.

Certainly a manager will seldom value one aspect to the exclusion of all others. But through a discussion or two, you should get a sense of what is actually valued/rewarded, and what is not.

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