How to research a prospective employer

posted in: Job Doc Blog | 0

Q: I have a history of being very thorough when I consider a new opportunity with a new employer. I have been happy and successful in most roles that I have accepted.  One weakness I have is that I have not been thorough (or thorough enough!) at evaluating a company before I join.  The employers have not been a good fit for me.  Any advice?

A: This is a great question!  While a role can be ideal, culture, work environment and leadership can all impact an employee’s job satisfaction.  Here are some thoughts:

  1. Lack of responsiveness and attention. The company doesn’t respond to your emails, phone calls or other inquiries.  “We are so busy” is not an excuse.  The candidate experience doesn’t matter to them.  However, it is important to understand that not every interaction is going to be a human interaction at every step of the process.  Email and texts are more commonly used to give candidates updates, especially with smaller companies or start-ups since resources are scarce.  Leaving a candidate hanging, with no information and no updates, is unacceptable.  I would suggest checking emails every day.  I have emailed candidates and they often will find my emails in their spam/junk folder, so be sure to check your spam/junk folder.
  2. An employer is looking for “the one.” They have a job spec a mile long and they expect a super human to walk in and announce, “I am here, willing to give up my life and ready to work for you!”  They screen, interview, discuss, re-interview, check references and they still can’t decide to extend an offer.  Usually this is more about the employer and not about the candidate.  They don’t realize that there are no perfect candidates. Truthfully, there are only qualified humans who can perform the requirements defined within the role. An 80% skillset match is reasonable, while a 100% skillset match is rare.  Perfection does not exist in humans (or employers).  Every hire is a risk.  Employers try to mitigate risk.  It is a balance.
  3. Sometimes you can spot concerns within the company using Glassdoor of Comparably. Some disgruntled employees and former employees will use these sites as a forum to vent.  Again, candidates can’t expect perfection either.  There might be some “dings” but you want to see a pattern of positive reviews, especially in the areas of importance to you.  However, if you read about a pattern of concerns, it is worth asking about.
  4. Reporting relationships matter. I am noticing candidates asking more questions about the hiring manager.  They want a supervisor with strong management skills.  They want someone they can learn from.  A weak, inexperienced or abrasive supervisor can be a deal breaker.
  5. Employers sometimes think they have a “cool factor” that other companies don’t have. There is a gray area between pride and arrogance.  Some employers think they are so unique, that candidates should come running through their door.  In Boston, there are many, many companies that are unique, interesting and cool places to work.  Taking pride in a company is great.  Pride + steroids = arrogance.  Arrogance is a turn-off.  Humility and continuous improvement is more attractive to most candidates.
  6. One way to try to better understand the culture is to talk with a current employee or former employee. Former employees can be a useful resource because they can speak a bit more freely. Use LinkedIn to research the company.  Do any of your contacts work there? It is one perspective but it is another data point.
  7. Ask about turnover. Employees shuffling in and out can be a yellow flag.
  8. Ask about higher level roles and how they source candidates for those roles. If they always turn to candidate pools outside the company, that is sometimes a yellow flag.  Do they post jobs and consider internal candidates for higher level roles?  Do they offer a career path?  Or do employees join the company and get “pigeon-holed” into a role?
  9. What do their employee benefits look like? Are they competitive?
  10. Ask a prospective employer how they would describe the culture, the leadership team, how decisions are made and how challenges are resolved. During the interview process, ask each interviewer.  Is there consistency?

Finally, how do they treat you when you are interviewing?  Do interviewers greet you warmly?  If it is a face-to-face interview vs. a video interview, is the interviewer on time?  Do they commit to share information about the next steps?  Candidates pick up on non-verbal cues.  Sometimes these non-verbal cues can reveal a bit about the company culture too.

There are many impressive employers in Massachusetts.  However, every candidate has a different list of “must haves” so it is important to know yours and then try to assess a potential employer’s strengths and weaknesses.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.