Smart job hunting requires picking good target companies carefully. Why apply for jobs at lousy companies? Life’s too short. It’s why I tell people There aren’t 400 jobs for you. At best, there might be a small handful. Don’t just look for a job. It’s far better to doggedly pursue four, five or six right companies than to shotgun the job market and go after every wrong company out there — just because the job boards let you.

This reader has a very, very smart approach to checking out companies. Yep, he checks a company’s references, and he does it like no one else I’ve ever seen. He starts by using the most credible references he can think of: church ministers. This gives a whole new meaning to being blessed…

I couldn’t agree more with your strong advice to carefully research a company’s reputation, in your article Peeling The Offer. I’d like to share an experience I had that illustrates just how important this is.

I applied for a management position and made it through four phone interviews and then a site visit where I was interviewed by three people. Following the interviews I felt that I had a very good shot at the job but I had some very bad feelings about the company, including the fact it had 150% staff turnover and all supervisors and managers had less than one year on the job. I would have been responsible for all new-hire training and it looked like I was going to be chasing a moving target even before I started to ask why the turnover rate was so high. I left the interview and stopped at a local sporting goods store on my way out of town. I mentioned to the store owner that I was in town for a job interview. Without hesitation the store owner said, “You don’t want to work there. That place is a mess.”

The next day I set up meetings with the ministers of the two largest churches in town. Ministers know a community. I asked both men about the reputation of the employer. I said I would appreciate their wisdom, advice and assistance and promised to keep their comments in the strictest confidence. One declined to say much, other than to agree that the company had a very high turn over rate. I felt that his reply was significant for what he did not say. He did not say it was a good place to work or that I would be happy working there. The second minister was much more vocal. He said that a number of his parishoners worked at the company and absolutely hated their jobs. He said the plant manager was extremely difficult to work for, the accident rate appeared to be very high, and working conditions and benefits for the hourly workers were very poor. Even though I would have received better benefits as a manager, I have major issues with a company that treats its hourly people like dirt.

I decided that if two local ministers – men of decent reputation and good education – couldn’t say anything good about an employer, I certainly didn’t want to work there. So I sent an e-mail off to the corporate recruiter with a “Thanks, but no thanks” message. I’m still looking, but I can sleep at night.

References on a company are key. References can save you time, trouble, and pain. But this story takes it up a notch: If you want useful references, go to credible references. Ministers. I love it.

  1. Hi Nick,

    I absolutely love this idea! Thanks for sharing it.


  2. Interesting perspective Nick. I’ve never thought to ask a church minister about a company’s reputation. That just proves networking as an excellent tool. It’s what landed me my current paid position as well as a previous position at another nonprofit. In both cases all I had to do was talk with family friends, who found out about these organizations through other contacts. The executive director of Center for Independent Futures–the organization where I am currently employed–is highly respected throughout the community not just by local citizens but by a few state politicians as well. In a previous position she taught students with disabilities, so I suspect it’s no wonder she’s well-known and respected. The same was true of the other nonprofit at which I worked. As with Center for Independent Futures, the founder of Natural Ties was also its executive director. The organization was started when he befriended somebody with autism back in college. People began noticing the two of them together and thought, “O my God! We should have something like this in our local communities and at other colleges and universities!” I’m getting off on sort of a tangent here I think, but my point is network network network! Experience has taught me that networking is a great way to obtain employment.

  3. Great idea! It aligns with the premise that the “interview” should really be a two-way, interactive dialogue between the candidate and the company representative(s). The company’s responsibility and objective is to learn if the candidate matches their needs. The candidate’s responsibility and objective (and obligation) is to learn if the company matches their career needs and values. So, the ministry of references is an added blessing of valuable data.
    Thank you!

  4. Norm,

    Now you’re getting it. Job candidates too often take the role of a supplicant, begging for an offer. They should be politely but firmly pressing the company to demonstrate its worthiness as a good place to work. The candidate who allows an interview to become one-sided loses. Some fear being passed over. Any company that will pass over a good candidate, just because he or she asks good questions, isn’t worth working for.

  5. Holy Networking, Batman! What a great idea! :)