Discussion: November 17, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s Q&A a reader says he goofed when he didn’t check out his new employer carefully enough.

After I accepted a position with a local company it became evident that the way the leadership of the company was managing internal operations was going to sink it. Three months later, I left after the operations exec left. Shortly thereafter the company was on life support. How could I have done a better job investigating this company before taking the job?

Have you had a close call? To what extremes have you gone to check a company’s bona fides and to avoid career disaster? Our reader wants to know so he can avoid making the same mistake again. Good idea!


  1. Former employees are also a good source of information, if any are within your LinkedIn network. I’ve been on the other side of this approach; a few people interested in joining a company I just left asked for my opinion. While former employees may or may not be frank, a lack of enthusiasm or encouragement to pursue the position is a telling sign. Also ask the employer about its attrition rate, and check via LinkedIn how many people have left in recent months. If it looks like an exodus is occurring, especially within the department you’re considering, you probably don’t want to get involved.

  2. One source I heard about is to go to a local church or other religious institution. Talk with the Pastor/Priest/Rabbi. Odds are good that there are congregants there who have talked with them…

    I’m a Freemason, and we’re EVERYWHERE. :) Lodges can be a good place for such intel (have to be a member).

  3. Thanks for the input. The problem occurred due to changing industries and knowing no one in the industry I was going to. I did not interview any employees in the company other than the ops officer. He and I connected and convinced me to jump on board. In the future my course will be different.

  4. Hi,

    My two ways of checking out employers include high and low tech.
    – High-tech is on the internet and “google” the company name with “sucks.” Bad info will surface.
    -Low-tech; watch shift-change for manufacturing and end of day for office. Are the people walking together? Do they have pleasant facial expressions? RUN AWAY, if they are not walking together and are not happy. This in my estimation, is an environment where they do not “play nice” during work. Also, what kind of vehicles are they driving? If most of the employees are driving old and worn out cars? RUN! There will be no raises after you start.

    Both are beneficial ways to figure out the culture and if the company is a “good” financially stable place to work.

  5. From my experience with small businesses (think 10 – 20 employees) a good way to check things out is to talk with the owner. See if they’re willing to go over some of the financials with you. If they’re loathe to do so that can be a bad sign. Also seeing how the employees interact with the owner can be another good/bad sign. If they don’t seem at ease around the owner that is very telling. Also if the owner won’t make time to meet with you that is an additional bad sign. The good signs of course are if they’re open about the financials, the employees are comfortable around the owner, and the owner will actually talk with you. In my experience owners love to brag about their company if they’re looking forward to growth or are doing healthy. The one company that failed all that criteria that I worked for is currently on life support, and it was hell to work there too.

  6. Great advice, Nick. And timely for me—I am on the verge of getting an offer from a national non-profit, and am trying to figure out how to check them out before deciding whether or not to accept. You have absolutely the best job hunting advice on the web—thank you!

  7. A friend who worked as the CFO for a tech start-up shared an interesting story with me: A management position was offered and accepted by a candidate who had to relocate to the area. The CFO felt bad for the fellow, because she knew that the company was in poor shape and likely to fold. She said that if he had asked to see the company’s financial statements he would have figured that out. But he never asked to see them.

  8. I was once very close to taking a high paying job with a venture capital firm—until I asked to see their portfolio. It was a bunch of loser investments. Shortly thereafter, they went bust and I heard things got nasty particularly with regards to “clawbacks”. I am so glad I didn’t take that job!

  9. Once an offer for employment has come through, it is then and only then that you are in a negotiating position. Before accepting my current role, I arranged a tour of the facility, a meeting with my new team members, and an introduction to the management team. I also negotiated my next minimum pay rise. The organisation went to lenghty efforts using a headhunter to identify me as a potential candidate, so once I knew my new manager was interested (not HR) and we had developed a relationship through the interview process and a number of phone calls, I knew I had some bargaining power.

  10. It sounds so basic…but I googled a company I had an interview with and up popped a salary search engine and commentary about how this company had been lowballing their employees for years in the $$ department. They also got terrible reviews for their benefits package AND a few people were MORE than honest about how they had been looked over time and again regarding any type of decent promotion or merit increase. I emailed the next day and declined the interview. It never ceases to amaze me what you can find out on the internet!

  11. Two and a half years ago, when looking for jobs to do after my PhD, my first priority was a minor oil company in the same city. I had an interview and they told me that, yes they had enough money to go along. Didn’t get the job because they got someone with more experience; fair enough.

    Fast forward to today; the company has only roughly the equivalent of $5 million in cash&cash equivalents, an unpaid bill of $15 million for their share of their first exploration well, and several more well commitments coming up.

    Serendipity, anyone? I will take a closer look this time!