They say the grass is always greener on the other side, and when it comes to finding or switching jobs to a new employer, workers are advised to look before they leap.
Before applying or agreeing to a position with a new company, experts suggest potential hires not only try and negotiate the best pay and benefits package, but also research the culture of a company. Many career and workplace companies produce “best” and “worst” places to work lists, and while this information can be helpful, experts advise taking them with a grain of salt
“It’s important for the job seeker to understand the methodology behind creating the lists,” says Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glassdoor. Lists may require companies to submit a completed form or to pay a fee to be considered, while others may be entirely based on employee feedback. “The lists should be easy for you to use and understand,” says Dobroski. “If you can’t find the methodology, it might be a red flag.”
Know the criteria and what the best and worst places to work are measured against, says Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s career expert. “You don’t want to blindly be deterred or encouraged to apply to a company when you don’t understand the lists. Understanding the criteria will help you decide if it’s the company for you.”
Once you understand how the lists are created, experts recommend tips on how to use them during your job search.
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How can lists help?
If you don’t know where to start with your research, companies on the “best places to work” lists tend to be places where employees have career opportunities, feel a clear vision from senior management, have respect among colleagues and impact lives, according to Dobroski. “This list is a place to start to see if the companies you might want to work for embody these attributes.”
If a company you are interested in working for is on a “worst” list, do your own due diligence and understand why the company made the list, recommends Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder.com.
“There are so many lists and you do need to look behind the curtain to see what criteria they’re using and what you value.” Older lists might have more credence but in general, they give free marketing to companies. “You should have your own questions to get the information you need and the lists shouldn’t be your own data source,” says Haefner.
What if a company has bad reviews?
“In larger companies, you’re going to have people who feel good and bad—everyone’s entitled to an opinion,” says Mike Steinerd, director of sales recruiting at career website Indeed. Even though reviews provide insight on the business, management size and the culture, don’t base your entire decision on reviews. Focus on what’s important to you and filter these reviews to see if they’re appropriate for your situation.
A decent number of negative reviews about certain issues are a red flag, says Haefner. “If you’re interviewing with a company, you need to ask about that and see what they say. You’re not trying to make them defensive but it’s your one chance to get insight.” Experts suggest collaborating with someone you know who works at that company to try to determine if the reviews have merit.
What should you look for in a company?
Experts suggest considering the benefits, compensation package, commute, when merit increases and reviews occur, and hours. Ask what would be expected of you in that role and if you meet or exceed those goals, where you can go, says Steinerd.
If culture and advancement are important to you, Haefner recommends asking about the management and career opportunities. If you want a collaborative team environment or independent culture, find out about people’s management style. Many lists seem to prefer companies that have a collaborative, open and team-based environment and while attractive to a lot of people, some people work better independently, says Haefner.
“Be an active participant and don’t just go by someone else’s word,” says Williams. Define your criteria and have standards—know what kind of environment is a best fit for you and create your own best and worst list.
What do you do if you get an offer from a company with bad reviews?
“Take [lists] with a grain of salt—do your due diligence and research,” says Dobroski. Figure out if the company’s a good fit for you by talking to current and former employees if possible and weigh the pros and cons to make the best, most informed decision based on thorough research.
Amanda Augustine, job search expert at TheLadders, suggests thinking whether this job will be a stepping-stone to help you get to your ultimate goal. “While being employed is attractive to employers, it cuts back on the time you can dedicate to the job search,” says Augustine.
At the same time, know the environment you want to work in and what’s important to you. The more you invest in the process and ask questions, the more likely you are to stay for longer than six months, says Williams.
If you’re unemployed and you receive an offer but really don’t want to work for that company, consider your situation, says Steinerd. “If you already know upfront that you don’t want to work there, it takes a special person to go in with a smile every day.” If for some reason, you’re dismissed after a few months, that would be a blemish on your resume and it will come up in future job interviews.
Consider temporary or consulting work instead, says Steinerd. “Given the economy, more employers have been engaging temporary workers and consultants. For someone who still needs money, they are other options and a lot of firms do provide benefits after a grace period.” Working nights and weekends can provide the flexibility to look for full-time work.
If you take a job that’s not your dream job, understand what you’re moving toward, says Williams. “Figure out what you’re going to get from it.” Leverage one opportunity for another and create a strategy to help you get ahead.
“You have to feel like you have control over the situation,” says Haefner. Don’t forget about your goals and that you want to be in an environment where you’re going to excel. “Don’t lose sight of that personal brand you’re trying to build,” says Haefner.