The working world is more like the dating scene than most of us would like to believe. Research suggests that interview decisions often come down to attractiveness and perceived similarity to the interviewer. Job seekers often focus on prestige or the material benefits of working for a certain employer.
At least compensation and prestige do have implications for a candidate’s career growth; managers using interviews as a way to recruit a fantasy football team aren’t doing much for their organizations. Still, one legitimate complaint that hiring managers raise repeatedly is that candidates don’t do enough (if any) research on the organization beforehand, and often don’t even understand the job description. Admittedly, a lot of job descriptions out there are (intentionally) vague, so it’s impossible to understand all that will be involved in a particular role, but it’s good to have at least a general idea.
Here are some tips about what to look for when you research prospective employers to determine if a job is a good fit for you:
How big is the company? Is it public or private?
- Where to find this information: The company’s website (usually under “About Us” or “Careers”) or on LinkedIn. Or do a general web search.
- Why it matters: Small (under 500 employees) companies are usually privately held. This often means a less formal work environment, with the possibility of employees being directly involved in shaping business decisions. The downside is small companies don’t have the cash reserves enjoyed by larger, particularly publicly held, companies. They also tend to reflect the whims and idiosyncrasies of the owner. New graduates often find it easier to get jobs at small companies and move up to larger ones. Large companies usually can offer higher salaries and a more comprehensive benefits package than small companies. If a company is publicly held, most of the decision making about key changes has to go through a lengthy approval process, so change tends to occur on a longer timeline in larger organizations. Typically, the company’s performance, names of all members of leadership, as well as compensation information is available for everyone to review, so there is a greater sense of transparency with public companies. They also tend to be more stable than small companies.
What are the demographics of the company’s workforce (particularly age and level of education)?
- Where to find this information: If it’s a small or new company, you might need to wait until the interview. Some websites can also shed light on this type of information.
- Why it matters: While diversity is good for organizations, being the token anything (young person, woman, racial/ethnic minority, 50-plus person, etc.) can be stressful. Plus, working with people who are similar to you in age and educational attainment means that you are more likely to develop close bonds with your coworkers. This can be valuable if the work you do involves a lot of team projects and late nights at work.
What are some potential career tracks for you within the organization? Or, if you are pretty sure this is going to be a “stepping stone” job for you, how is this position at this company going to help you progress in your career?
- Where to find this information: The company’s “About Us” or careers page, or LinkedIn.
- Why it matters: Staying in the same job for a lifetime is rarely an option anymore. Hiring managers want to fill the positions that are open now, but a new employee is a big investment, and organizations typically want all of the training and experience you gain to translate into someone who will help them gain an edge in the market at some point. If you do some research and realize you don’t see yourself at that company beyond three to five years, it’s good for you to know. (It’s also good to keep that information to yourself.) The better you understand your career goals, the clearer and more compelling your responses will be when interviewers ask about your future plans.
As you research employers and prepare for interviews, use the guidance suggested here to ask yourself how you see the company fitting your needs and expectations. If you see you need to compromise while you’re in the honeymoon stage, that relationship isn’t getting off the ground.
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