Gauging the Health of a Prospective Employer

The other day I read an excellent article over at Cash Money Life, How to Evaluate a Job Offer. It was a very thoughtful review aimed at helping job applicants compare the true benefits of a particular job offer. With any offer there are tangible and intangible benefits to consider, and it is the intangible ones that are usually the most difficult to evaluate. When I’ve gone on interviews in the past I have used the opportunity to learn a bit about the health of the organization by paying close attention to the work environment.

A Stale Company Website

It is always a good idea to review a company’s website before going on an interview. A well-conducted interview should involve questions from both parties, and if you don’t do your homework you may not have any intelligent questions to ask. Phrases like, “I read on your website…” or “I see from your company’s website that you are involved in…” show an expressed interest in the company, and in the job. Interviewers like this sign of initiative. While perusing the site take a look at news items, or a recent projects section. Are these areas outdated? It could be the sign of a lazy webmaster, or it could be a sign that little is happening at the organization. Review the executive staff bios, usually found under “About” or “Management” tabs. Do any of the bios indicate someone is the “acting” director/manager? This could be a sign of a recent shakeup as the eliminated position is now being covered by another executive.

Empty Offices

Nothing says “we aren’t growing” like vacated offices, unless there is only one empty office and you are you are hoping to occupy it. Corporate headcount has a natural ebb and flow, but an abundance of empty offices is a warning sign. Either the company is in the process of “restructuring” and has failed to replace workers, or they have not grown into their space according to anticipated plans.

An Empty Snack Machine

Empty snack machines can mean one of two things: the vendor is slow to replace items, or items are consumed rapidly. It is the latter that we are most concerned with. Employees working long hours frequently have to hit the snack machines to supplement what should be their dinner hour at home. Low snack supplies could also be a symptom of workers plowing through their lunch breaks (which is fine occasionally, but shouldn’t be the rule).  Pillows, blankets and cots (yes, I’ve seen them stowed under cubicles) are also obvious red flags.

No Personal Belongings

A worker who feels content in their position likes to decorate. Family photos, plants, souvenirs, etc. all tell me that the employees feel their position is stable and that the employer encourages a work/life balance. If I don’t spot any of these comforts, and instead find lots of empty walls, cleared desks and a bland decor, it tells me that the employees are “traveling light.” This is a sure sign of discontent, or a nomadic lifestyle, neither of which say much for the stability of the work environment.

Comments

  1. Also check out the employees themselves. If they all look miserable, frustrated, or extremely aggravated, it’s usually a bad sign.

  2. Great article! I hadn’t considered a few of these before. I’m writing a little more about my job offers today, and I’m pretty sure which job offer I will accept. Thanks for the mention! :)

  3. Checking out the website is a must. From experience, there are a couple of other possibilities for a stale website, both also red flags: Leadership doesn’t care enough to invest in the website, which means they don’t understand the realities of today’s world, or people are too overworked to keep up with the website. I have worked at a place where both were true.

  4. Get copies of financial statements (assuming you know how to read them – possibly the most important is cash flow). If the company is public, they are available from the SEC online. Even if the company is private, and you’re interviewing for a fairly senior position the employer should not have a problem disclosing them in confidence. If they won’t disclose them, beware.

  5. Excellent tips. No matter how good a job sounds, if the employer is on its way out there’s no point in crashing with them.

    I was able to evaluate the closest library just by going there before I applied for the job. Turned out to be the size of my apartment. So I looked at the next closest, which was a good size and had a vibrant circulation. In fact, it’s a bit understaffed for the traffic….but they don’t expect us to be completely on top of things, either. Just to do our best.

  6. I’ve been in so many different workplace environments. Every business has its problems, but some are deal-breakers.

    The “daddy-track” is much more appealing to me right now than the fast-track. Life in the right lane going 60 on the interstate is where it’s at. :)

    I wonder if it would be considered out of line if I asked employers for their references – vendors, customers, and past employees.

  7. That’s an interesting point of view for sure. However, in my last company we had several empty offices because of our rapid growth. They had to shift employees around so much in order to accommodate new leaders coming on board. I also personally didn’t like to decorate and our CEO had a policy about stuff on the walls.

    And, of course, if you check the K’s and Q’s for the company you can see their debt/asset ratio which is the most important thing to look at.

    Obviously, it’s just one point of view and every culture is different.

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