How exciting! You have an offer to work with an agency that you’re really looking forward to! Maybe it’s in a specific field of humanitarian aid you’ve always wanted to try out, or you know that it will help to fulfill your calling in life. Hurry up and sign on the dotted line, right?!


Actually, not so fast. The best thing you can do is pump the brakes a bit. That doesn’t mean you cannot still harbor your excitement for such a life changing opportunity! The last thing you want to do is rush into a situation based on ill-conceived information, or lofty assumptions from promotional pamphlets. It’s best to really vet out the organization and what’s really provided for you before signing the contract so you do not regret it later.  Maybe you aren’t sure which questions to ask, and that’s ok. I’m here to provide a sound starting point to evaluate your offer before you put pen to paper.

As a seasoned humanitarian worker and coach, I’ve found, astonishingly enough, that the following questions are often not really clear when it comes to signing a work contract. Many organizations cannot clarify the information they supply in response to these questions, and fail to provide satisfactory answers. This comes up again and again in my work with my clients. If these questions are not clear before you start, it is an absolute recipe for disaster.

But, this is not one-sided. Keep in mind, there are also questions you need to ask (and answer)  yourself about your own motivation to sign the contract. Failing to do a thorough evaluation of your expectations will lead to frustration and demotivation.

In order to make sure you know what you’re getting into, be sure to consider our Top 5 things to Clarify before Signing your New Employment Contract!

1. Understand your job:

This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people just accept what they think they’re getting into instead of really digging deep to learn more. This is not a time to let vague descriptions pass as a true picture of what you may be carrying out in your job -- push for more information. Ask about not only what exactly you’ll be doing day in and day out, but strive to understand what the days and weeks will actually look like.  Make sure you know as much as possible what is expected of you mentally, emotionally and physically.

Ask yourself the following:

  • Is your task really completely clear to you?
  • Do you understand your job description?

If not, you need to be relentless with your questions to the organization until you feel you know exactly what you will be doing and are comfortable with their answers.

“​If there is a downright dread that you think will just go away once you arrive, you’re only fooling yourself.”

2. Understand the basics of your Contract:

Similarly to above, it’s easy to accept what you’re given by the organization without much time spent diving into the details. Don’t become so blinded by your excitement that you forget to dig into the benefits the organization will offer you. 

Yes, this is Humanitarian work, but you’re still an employee, and deserve to be treated as a valued asset.  This may be the most stressful job you’ve ever had, and you need to know that you’ll be taken care of, regarding a myriad of situations. Make sure you’ve asked direct questions regarding the terms of your contract, so that you know what exactly they are responsible for regarding your wellness and safety.

Also, be sure you’ve asked about your contract in detail, including the expectations around:

Overtime, Trial period, Salary, Health insurance, Time off, Extra hazard Pay, R&R, Housing allowance, etc.

It may be a red flag if the organization cannot answer direct questions regarding the employment contract. Make sure you’ve read it very carefully in its entirety so you can identify any ambiguous language that needs more clarification, as that may put you in a bind.

3. Understand your first course of action for when you arrive:

You can pretty much bet that as soon as you set your feet in the soil of your new destination, things will take off rapidly. That is definitely not the time to try and evaluate if you made a good decision, or to start digging into questions that you should have a handle on before you get there.

Being as prepared as possible when you land will show your new team members that you’re serious about the job, and willing to not waste any time. This can help you start out positively, and will work towards building rapport more quickly with the group. However, wandering about like a lost lamb and burdening a busy team with unnecessary questions will not help you or them.

It’s imperative, at a minimum, that you understand your first priorities when you arrive. It also behooves you to understand the issues being faced in their entirety. You need to have difficult conversations with those interviewing you about what is really going on behind the scenes, why people before you have left, and what are the most frequent and major complaints of those still working.

It’s crucial that you understand the following:

  • Do you know what the first “construction sites” will be for you? (i.e. What will be the first priorities in your job?)
  • Did you receive a straightforward and honest assessment of problems in the project?
  • Do you know what you are getting into?

If all you’ve heard are rosy depictions of the environment, team, and mission, you should know differently by now. There will be hardships, and that’s expected, but you should make sure those difficult scenarios are ones you’re comfortable facing.

4. Understand Your Intentions:

Having a true, deep, self-reflection is crucial as well before signing your new contract. If you’re floating on a fantasy, you will be sure for a letdown.  You need to ask yourself why you really want it and what you’re expecting to gain from this job.  If you come to the conclusion that you may not be in it for the right reasons, that’s ok, and great that you’ve realized it, but it’s time to let someone else have that opportunity.

You really need to do some deep contemplation on the following:

  • Do you want the job for the right reasons?
  • Is it your dream job?
  • Do you have the right skills and experience for the job?
  • How does it fit into your career development plan?
  • Will it be a step forward to your dream job? Are you just in it for the money?

    Remember, there are no wrong answers to this, but figuring this out before you sign will be better for both you and the organization.

5. What is your gut feeling about this?

Our bodies are a great barometer to measure situations we find ourselves in.  Your gut feeling may be the best measure of whether this is a great opportunity for you. If you have deep seated hesitations to follow through, then you need to figure out why that is, and see if you can find out more information to alleviate that doubt. 

However, if there is a downright dread that you think will just go away once you arrive, you’re only fooling yourself.  You need to understand how you feel about this before putting yourself in that situation, with a contractual commitment, might I add.

Really dig deep on the following:

  • Do you have a good or bad feeling in your stomach?
  • Are you clear about your job expectations?
  • What do you expect from this job?
  • Does it look and feel as if the job/organization/assignment can deliver on that?
  • Are you excited about the opportunity? Or are you just dreading the job already, but just feel under pressure to get the first job that comes along?

Hopefully you’ve done the “gut check” before now, but be true to yourself if you have not already.  Remember, you haven’t signed anything yet. They can always find someone else for the job, so there’s no need to martyr yourself - that will backfire later.

These questions should sum up some basics, but do your research to make sure you haven’t left anything out. Remember, you’re signing this contract as well, and you’re responsible for holding up your end of the bargain. If your desired organization cannot answer these questions, then it may mean it’s not right for you. There are plenty of other humanitarian missions, and you can eventually find one that not only suits your needs, but can make it the best experience possible.

Still not 100% clear to you? Then why not call me and we find the answer.

About the Author Robert Laude

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