4 Tips for Researching Your Next Employer

Career coaches, recruiters and hiring managers are nearly unanimous in their belief that job seekers should always research a prospective employer from a “bird’s eye” view, as well as what the actual day-to-day work is like.

The web has streamlined the effort involved in vetting a company, but in today’s world of fake news and “alternative facts,” tech pros should take extra care as they search for information.

The danger isn’t just about treating rumors or made-up stories as facts. It also lurks in the biases of those who review and report on companies. In short, everyone involved in your job search has an agenda, and you have to consider that objectively in order to decide whether or not a move is good for your career.

So as you do your research, keep these points in mind:

Understand Everyone’s Bias

Before you sit down for an interview, both internal and external recruiters will offer their insights. Keep in mind that they not only work for the employer, but are bound to spin their presentation in one way or another.

That doesn’t mean everything they say is a pitch. As noted by Nick Corcodilos, who publishes the career-advice website AsktheHeadhunter.com, recruiters are ultimately judged on how successful their placements are in the long run, so it’s in their interests to make sure you’re a good fit for the role in question.

“Recruiters should remind candidates of their bias, but they won’t be in business long if they don’t place candidates who stick,” he said. “Candidate should expect good advice about the company, manager and job if they’re working with a good headhunter.”

Still, recruiters are “gatekeepers for the company, so they omit certain things,” said Rita Friedman, a career coach in Philadelphia. While those “things” may not be major, the recruiter has to balance the need to talk up the company with the necessity of raising any flags that might dissuade you from joining.

“Obviously, I’m motivated by the fee, but I want everyone excited for the same reasons,” added Will Kelly, managing director of recruiting firm Veredus’s Dallas office. He even asks his clients to critique their own workplace, because he wants candidates “to know the good from the bad.” By probing on the client side, he can let candidates know about (for example) a troubled transition from Waterfall to Agile management. Besides helping paint a realistic picture, he might excite a tech professional who sees an opportunity in helping smooth a process or team.

One good rule of thumb here is an old reporter’s maxim known as “the rule of three.” Essentially, if you find three separate sources that report the same information, you can proceed on solid ground. But if one source says “A” while most others say “B,” proceed with caution.

Use Your Own Research as a Balance

Company information is available from many sources besides recruiters. For public corporations, you can check out filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies. For almost any business, you can read the company website and press releases, and see how it’s been covered in the news. All of this can provide context and balance to what others may tell you, Friedman said.

But don’t just take all that information at face value. Review sites such as Glassdoor can be great, for example, but “two reviews about a 500-person company doesn’t tell you very much,” Friedman observed.

Also, put everything you learn in the context of your job and career. An online review or even a conversation with a current employee may not be meaningful to your particular situation. As Friedman put it, “I think IKEA’s a great company, but the experience of a sales person on the floor isn’t going to compare to the experience of someone in their IT department.”

There’s Value in the Research Itself

Many recruiters and employers attach a surprising amount of meaning to the fact that you’ve gone out to do your own research. “People make time for what’s important to them,” Kelly said. “When a candidate does their own research and does it well—especially if it’s unprompted—it’s a serious indicator of their interest in a position.”

Another advantage to diving in yourself, Kelly said, is you can uncover connections inside the company, or even within the team you want to work on. You may find you once worked at the same firm as the hiring manager, or that someone on the team graduated from the same coding boot camp.

Such tidbits can extend an interview’s scope and get you a more granular view of your job. “High-level company information has value, but it’s limited,” Kelly added.

Also, doing your own research is “akin to doing your own résumé instead of hiring a résumé writer,” Corcodilos said.“[Others aren’t] going to know the candidate as well as the candidate knows themselves.”

At the same time, Corcodilos said, the fact you’ve done your homework “doesn’t mean candidate should be afraid to ask questions.” There’s value to picking a headhunter’s brain, he said. “Candidates should expect good advice about the company, manager and job if they’re working with a good headhunter,” he said. But again, “You still need to do your own research.”

Don’t Make Yourself Crazy

Many job seekers complain that they don’t have enough time to thoroughly study every employer that interests them. Friedman said there’s a way to manage the process.

She suggests getting an overview of recent news and the company’s basic business before a telephone screen, then doing a deeper dive if you’re invited to an in-person meeting. That way you won’t waste time on a full research effort, but will still be able to handle the phone call smartly. That’s important. “Many job seekers,” she said, “don’t take the phone screen seriously enough.”