Published July 17, 2013
Any company can look good on paper, but job seekers should assess the financial viability and long-term career path of potential employers.
The 2007 financial crisis and drawn out recovery took its toll on many companies, and experts suggest candidates research to determine whether a company is heading upward and gaining momentum, or is in a downward spiral.
“The interview should be a two-sided conversation,” says Amanda Augustine, job search expert at TheLadders. “A lot of people go into an interview assuming they’re there to answer questions.” A job seeker needs to understand how a company operates and whether the opportunity would be a good, long-term fit.
Whether you’re looking to join a start-up or a well-established firm, experts suggest researching the company as much as possible to determine its direction.
“Ask pointed questions to understand business models, what challenges they’re facing and how they’re dealing with them, how decisions are made and the leadership structure,” recommends Augustine. Be sure to talk to someone who’s worked in the organization for a few years to get a different perceptive of the workplace. “If [a company] really wants you, they’ll want you to understand the organization you’re joining,” she says.
To help your vetting process, experts suggest the following tips on how to research and evaluate a potential new employer:
Know why you want the position. “If you’re going to a startup, they’re going to sell you on the dream,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder.com. If money is a priority, understand any incentives and benefit packages. “You have to know why you’re going to work there—if you’re going for stock options and not rounding out your decision, you may be disappointed.”
Know the role. Augustine recommends asking every person you interview with about the posted position’s expectations. “If that’s unclear, that’s a red flag,” she says, since it suggests the role hasn’t been fully developed.
Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s career expert, suggests finding out if the opening is a new position or if it replaces a former worker. If the role is new, understand if the company’s willing to invest in a recently-formed position.
“Hiring is a huge indication of whether they’re doing well.”
Keep current on the industry. “Follow industry trade publications like a hawk,” recommends Williams. “Whatever your publication is, it’s where you’ll get announcements and be on top of the industry.”
Headlines can give hints downsizing or company growth. “Beyond the employer perspective, analyze news reports that will give you insight into how the company may be changing on a macroeconomic level,” says Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glassdoor. Use this information to figure out if you want to be a part of this company.
Know the goals. Ask how the company is doing now and its six-month outlook, says Dobroski, and compare this to industry and national surveys to get a better perspective.
“You want to understand if they’re managing the business like a business or if this a fun hobby they’re doing in their garage,” says Haefner.
Read online reviews and talk to employees. “Find out what it’s like to work at a company—information is all over the internet,” says Dobroski. Remember to take postings with a grain of salt—disgruntled employees are more likely to post reviews.
Ask friends and family if they know anyone at a company or in the interested industry who can provide a better perspective.
Review the numbers. “Look at the financials,” says Haefner. Read earnings statements of publicly-traded companies, especially their forecasts.
For a private company that’s not required to disclose its financials, Haefner suggests asking whether they met their goals each quarter. “You don’t need to know the revenue, but you need to know the trends.”
Williams advises asking detailed questions about the different lines of revenue, the potential income sources and the revenue model, as well as how they define their customer base. “These kinds of financial questions bode very well in an interview. Pay close attention to the employer’s comfort in answering these questions—if a company’s growing, he or she will know the answers and will share specifics.
“The fact that you’re asking about revenue models will improve your chances of getting the job—this shows that you’re invested in being part of the company’s financial success,” says Williams.
Look for red flags. When you’re walking around the office during the interview, observe the office environment, says Haefner. Look for red flags like outdated technology, worn down furniture, and whether workers are conscience about their workspaces.
If there’s no sign on the door, for example, Haefner suggests asking why in a diplomatic way. This question could open a discussion about growth or a whole variety of things—there could be more focus on building the business rather than decorating the office. “Maybe they just moved or are going month-to-month with the lease,” says Haefner. As you walk through the office, decide whether that’s the environment that you want.
“If you’re on the interview, what you see is what you get,” says Dobroski. Ask about anything that you see that’s out of place or a red flag. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask about any doubts, but be sure to be tactful in your approach.
Ask more questions. If you have a job offer and you’re on the fence, ask to talk to other people on the team you’d be working with if you hadn’t met with them during the interview process, says Dobroski. “If an employer’s open to this, that’s great. If they’re not, that may be a red flag.”