How to learn about an employer, while still a candidate

Ask the Job Doc.
Ask the Job Doc. –Boston.com

Q: I think I do a great job at evaluating a role and deciding if it is “the right one,” but…. I don’t do a great job at spotting problems within a company before I join.  Historically, my roles have been a good fit. The companies have not been a good fit.  Any advice?

A: You ask a great question!  Sometimes the role is ideal, but the company, culture, work environment is not.  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.
  2. An employer is looking for “the one.” They have a job spec a mile long and they expect Super Man/Super Woman 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 Glass Door. Some disgruntled employees and former employees will use Glass Door as a forum to vent.  Again, candidates can’t expect perfection either.  There might be some “dings” but overall you want to see a pattern of positive reviews.
  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 or inexperienced 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.
  6. One way to try to better understand the culture is to talk with a current employee or former employee. 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?
  9. What do their employee benefits look like? Are they competitive?
  10. Ask a prospective employer how they would describe the culture. 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?  Do colleagues say hello to each other in the halls?  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.

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