When I consider doing an interview or accepting a job offer, I’ve always just picked what felt best, but how should a person decide? The money and the job itself are obvious but how do I know a place is the right company for me to work? I’ve made some mistakes and I’d rather not make another! Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

right companyUltimately, this is one of the biggest career questions you must face. I find that people go job hunting mainly because they joined the wrong company to begin with. As you realize, money isn’t everything. And I know you’ll know when the money is right.

I take five key factors into account when I try to help a job candidate decide if a company is right for them.

These are the fundamental criteria on which I think you should judge an employer. Evaluate an employer based on:

  1. its people,
  2. its products,
  3. its finances,
  4. its prospects, and
  5. its reputation.

Define these anyway that makes sense in the situation. You must explore each of these factors in as much detail as you can. (If we have to pick the three most important of those, I think it’s 1, 2 and 5.)

As you make your inquiries, you’ll see that some aspects of this approach are a little touchy-feely in nature, and some require objective research and analysis. This approach requires a lot of something you probably do in your work: talking with people. (See also: How can I find the truth about a company?)

You could fill a book with information about just one company. But you must decide how much is enough.

So I put it out there to everyone: Is this list sufficient? Would you skip over any item? What would you add? How would you flesh out each of the criteria?

Maybe more important, how would you get the information you need to effectively assess whether a company is the right place to work? What questions would you ask?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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  1. Nick, you are absolutely right about your list. But I’ve been on interviews where the manager lies. Yes we’re profitable. Yes our product does this when it really doesn’t. Yes it all kumbaya here. Travel is only 10 percent of the time.

    • @Lucille: Yup, that happens too often! It’s why “research” and “talking to people” must go way beyond what you learn in the interview. Like anything else (e.g., how you do your job), you must dive deeply to get the info you need. So many job seekers settle for the “script” we’re given — send in the resume, apply, do the phone screen, read the company’s web page, go to the interview. That’s a dangerous fallacy. If you’re good at your job, you can be good a doing the prep work and unearthing the info you really need. Same skills requiried!

      • I was asking these questions to my direct manager and above. They still lied in every case.

    • Reminds me of a job I had for a few months in 2005 to 2006. I was told travel would be Monday to Friday; it turned out to be Sunday to Friday. Also, I learned the hard way that the company’s staffing model was to overhire and lay off later.

  2. Hi Nic, yes, those are definitely the main points. I think there is a further point that is not mentioned in there explicitly, but is most likely included under The People: The Company Culture. In my 40 years of taking on new jobs and hiring others to join me, I have become convinced that the culture is hugely important in those decisions. Does this company’s culture fit me, my personality, my style of doing business and my career plans? Or, when hiring, does this person understand and support our company culture? If I have not been able to answer those questions with a solid yes, I have always moved on and did not regret it afterwards – actually, in a few cases my decision was proven to be the correct one. Too often we place way too much emphasis on the salary, title and other “fluff”, and not on what makes the difference between a series of jobs and an enjoyable career path. I wish someone had told me that when I was 20. It should be taught in school or at university!

    • @Brian: This is why I recommend bringing the candidate in to participate (within reason) in a working meeting of your team, whatever it is they normally do on their own. Encourage the candidate to participate. Few people can “fake” such an experience. You’ll learn a lot. Candidates should ask to do this and employers should require it. No free work allowed!

      • @Nic: Yes, a modern version of the practice from the 60’s and 70’s in the US when the boss and his wife would invite the candidate and his/her spouse to dinner – to see how they fit in.

  3. One additional to consider: its culture. And ask several people, not just the interviewers, if possible.

  4. The writer’s question invites the question. Why not consider flipping the search. First by using your list and asking yourself what do you want to see in a company? Does it have to meet All points on the list. Is there a priority of importance to you. Then go looking for companies (which suggests a lot of research and work). When you have done that & have a target list. Then see if you can find a job(s) in them. And take note, absence of a job that rings your chime may indicate that there should be, which presents you with an opportunity to sell such a need and nominate yourself to fill it.

    Back to your point. I think “process” should be on the list First overall, how does the company conduct business? chaotic? methodical? Ironically a successful start up may hit the former spot, and a well established company the latter. Whatever it is can you live with it?

    More specifically, is what processes (or lack thereof) govern the conduct of your profession, how you will make your living there, your ability to add value, support of your beliefs? and grow for example in an earlier edition of this newsletter there was a discussion involving a finance guy who was appalled that the company was not following standard accounting practices and further had no interest in improving it.

    For example, my profession for a # of years was QA. Unfortunately it’s common to find businesses that shovel crap out the door to hit their shipment targets and financial targets quite willing to roll over any semblence of QA organizations until it bites them in the ass. A painful environment for the developers, manufacturing and QA organizations. And like the financial guy, if you then add zero interest in improving the lack sensible business practice, you won’t want to work there.

  5. All of these topics are HR inspired smoke screens. As some mentioned, “managers (alwsys) lie!” True. So, what does matter?

    First, know what you want in terms of pay and benefits, including pre-paid sign-on bonuses. Mske a specific list covering the net 5 to 10 years. Incude promotions, titles, authority; especially committed pay!!! Five years is the absolute minimum! Get sizeable miney up front before you leave your current job. Then People, Product, …. Reputation really does not matter. But remember that you do want to acquire additional valuable experience, and college training (MBA? special certificate courses, etc all paid in advance by the employer so that you will be more valuable when you again change jbs.) Lets be honest and not still fooled by HR – NO manager tells the truth, but a signed legal document specifying bonuses, salaries, promotions, etc in great detail that is legaly enforcable does in fact FORCE the company to honor that legal document if they honor nothing else. A sigtnificant additional benefit – when ypu interview for your next job, no one will question why you want to leavr, you might not even tell them why beyobd “it wasn’t a good fit”.!!

  6. I’d break people down a little more. 1a. Is your manager capable of treating you the way you want to be treated, 1b. Are your co-workers people you want to be around for 1/3 of your life, 1c. are the company leaders (CEO, COO, CFO, etc) people that you feel comfortable being represented by in their competence, integrity, and empathy. If those are off, the effect on your life will not be good. Some have mentioned culture, but that is also too broad. Most companies have micro-cultures, so focus on what directly affects you.

  7. I’m in an “essential” industry, so 2-4 are completely moot for me, and #5 is either positive or has no significance in this industry.

    The ONLY thing I care about beyond the job duties/pay/benefits is HOW I WILL BE TREATED. I don’t even really care about who the other people in the organization are as long as they DON’T ABUSE ME. I get along beautifully with nearly everyone in an organization, *especially* the people everyone “warns” me about as being “difficult”, “impossible to please”, “constant complainer”, “demanding”, “angry/aggressive”, “grumpy”, “hard to work with”, etc.

    But there is always ONE in every organization who is just determined to dislike and resent me, usually due to their own insecurities about some aspect(s) of their job, and no one EVER warns you about that one! I’ve frequently been able to turn even *those* relationships around if the person is the least little bit openminded and willing to see that I’d love to *help* and *support* them in their areas of weakness (not being arrogant here; they wouldn’t feel threatened in the first place if I weren’t obviously and significantly more skilled in an area than they were).

    However, if the person is adamant about having a hostile relationship, *I’m* perfectly happy to limit interactions to those absolutely necessary to conduct business. The problem arises because most of these individuals aren’t mature or self-aware enough to agree to leave each other alone, and then I become a target.

    1. So how can I ensure that there is NOT that ONE person in a new organization?
    2. And how can I ensure that such a person isn’t transferred to my area or hired after me?
    3. Where do you go to do THAT kind of research? Because the WORST instance of that abuse in my life was instigated by a woman in the organization my husband works for. It was permitted/facilitated by my husband’s previous manager, who I knew socially, and with whom we have dozens of mutual friends. I knew a couple of people on my old team socially, and no one had any idea this would happen. If I had landed at ANY of the other SEVEN locations, everything would have been great, and I would still be happily employed in a job I was VERY good at; I was proud of; and I genuinely loved. But my life became hell the minute I crossed paths with this woman who instantly hated me and made certain I knew it every single day for a solid year.

    So what else could I possibly have been done to avoid that nightmare and anything similar in the future?

    • @Autistic: It’s not unlikely that someone like you describe will turn up in an organization. Their mere presence tells you something about the place. But how do you avoid this? I think the only way is to meet and talk with as many people in the organization as you can. That’s one reason I recommend asking to attend a “live” work meeting of the team you’d be on, so you can (1) see for yourself, and (b) get a chance to talk “off to the side” with employees. Ask questions like, “Do you find that anything or anyone hampers you from doing a good job?”

      I think only employees (current or former) are going to tip you off to the presence of a problem employee. Think of this as “reverse reference checking,” where you invest the time to get the skinny on the team.

      A company that allows one person to pollute the team waters has other problems, and they should not become yours. Wish there was some magic solution. I just don’t think there is.

  8. I’ve concluded that you can’t be guaranteed that the boss will answer your questions about culture and fit completely
    I’ve taken to asking process questions. What’s the process when people have opposite points of view?

    That does rule out a few jerks.

    But if I get the job and find out quickly that this isn’t a fit I restart my search. And I may not mention this job.

    • @Lucille: Again, I think it’s a matter of getting as many data points as possible. You and others are correct — you will get some dishonest answers. I like the process question you ask.

      Another approach that might work: Ask several employees (not together), “Who on the team would be a good mentor or guide to a new employee?” Then follow up with, “Who wouldn’t be?”

      It’s a roundabout way of asking who you can rely on and whom to avoid. Then I’d try to get more info from others about the potential problem person, and go from there.

      This kinda makes you wonder, what’s HR doing about such employees?

      • HR is probably doing nothing about such employees. Pre labor shortage, their managers would have found ways to make them uncomfortable so they would leave.

        Now, if a person is doing ‘some’ work, and hasn’t been guilty of serious misconduct (embezzlement, other types of stealing, assaulting another employee, etc.), such people may be there for quite a while because of the difficulty of replacing them.

        The alternative is to find some way to make them leave, and for the manager to do the work, or put it on other team members, until they find someone. How long? Months? Years? And how many other people on the team will leave because of the increase in work with no increase in pay?

        I’ve lived through a similar situation where half – literally – of the people at my level in my group left. My workload was increased by 30% for no more money. Sometimes 70% when we were covering for PTO. I gave 2 weeks notice and left.

  9. It seems everybody loves to get caught up in a countless no conclusion circular HR discussion. The nitty-gritty is you must always be looking for a job . And if there’s problems like all these touchy feely questions that have been discussed ad nauseam go to your boss and then your boss’s boss and tell him what what you think and ask him to solve the problem. If he can’t or won’t choose to solve the problem, you are still looking for a job so take one of those offers and move on. That means you’ll get more raises faster by changing jobs faster and you won’t be sitting around on your rear end discussing this kind of thing forever and ever and coming to no conclusion.