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How to Research a Prospective Employer

How to Research a Prospective Employer

What do online dating and a new job have in common? If done properly, they both involve some snooping. As soon as a match shares his or her full name, the savvy among us often go straight online to find out if they have posted anything crazy or rude. And when you’re about to go for a job interview or thinking about taking an offer, you really should do the same thing.

Your new firm probably hasn’t posted any political memes or argued with their mom on Facebook, so what are the employer equivalents of these red flags? What are good signs that the company is stable and you’d enjoy working there? To find out, we spoke with Victorio Milian, an HR consultant in New York City.

Here’s what he says you should look for as you research a prospective employer.

Dig into the Financials

Nobody wants to get excited about a new job that promises you the world, only to find out 90 days later that the company can’t afford to pay you. And yet it happens. To help avoid this, Milian says, you need to dig into the company’s financial information a bit.

If it’s a publicly traded company, its financial statements will be online, Milian says. “The financial statements will let you see growth or contraction in terms of the market,” he says. See what losses or gains the company has had. That will give you a good starting point for overall health of the organization.

But don’t stop at the bottom line, he says. Most public companies also have to include information about lawsuits or issues with investors on their financial statements. This can give you an indication of other issues brewing.

For private companies, Milian says, it’s much harder to suss out an accurate picture of their finances. The best you may be able to do is to search for articles or information about expansion, layoffs, or mergers and acquisitions. Milian says industry or trade news outlets can help paint a picture here.

Read the Reviews

Thanks to the internet, people have carte blanche to share their enthusiasm or frustrations about any company with anyone who’ll read it. If you wonder what it’s like to be a client of or work for a particular company, it likely won’t be hard to find information about it, Milian says.

Sites like Glassdoor and Kununu let employees anonymously share their experience working for various companies. Also, you can Google the company name plus words like “protest,” “boycott” or “stinks,” he says. This should pull up some interesting results, but you should take them with a grain of salt. Anyone with a grievance can start a blog about a former employer or company they’re angry with, Milian says. However, if you see a pattern in the responses, that’s something to think about.

If you discover a company is being boycotted for not giving employees required breaks or for using sweatshop labor, you’re going to need to think hard about whether you’re OK working for it. “No company is sin-free, but you should see if their values align with your own,” Milian says. On the other hand, you may discover your new employer is on a “best places to work” type list and be even more excited about it.

Learn the Culture Through the People

The best way to learn about an organization’s culture and values is through talking with someone who works there — although that can be tricky if you don’t have a buddy on the inside.

In retail it’s much easier, Milian says. If you want to work at the Nike or Apple store, walk in and talk to the staff. Get a sense of their level of service and how they operate. Talk to cashiers and other associates. Ask questions.

Without a storefront designed for walk-in traffic, you’ll need to dig in other ways. Milian says LinkedIn is good for this. See if you have any connections at the organizations you want to work with; reach out if you do. He also recommends networking events. In a big city, there will likely be regular networking events for many different industries and skillsets. If you get involved in that you’ll likely meet various people who can give you some insight, he says.

Sometimes social media like Facebook or Twitter can provide valuable insight into a company, and sometimes not. Milian uses Zappos, the online shoe retailer, as an example. With Zappos you get the sense that you’re tweeting to and hearing from real people, he says. If you ask questions, they respond — usually with real personality. With other brands, they’re so polished that all you’ll ever get is the company line. It may not provide a real picture of what life at that company is about. That, too, tells you something about them.

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