For Candidates: Looking for Good Employers
There are loads of small red flags that can tell you a lot about a company. Here’s what to look for.
During the hiring process, employers can accidentally tell you a lot about how they operate without actually saying anything. You can help yourself a lot by thinking about what you’d value in an employer, stability, or opportunity, or security, and thinking about how they might meet those values. If they have a good employer brand, they’ll find ways to get this across to you.
On this blog we’ve discussed before how employers can be more considerate in their hiring process to create a better experience for candidates. But the question for those candidates remains- what should I be looking for to find a good employer?
What constitutes a good employer is a little vague, and hugely variable depending on what you’re looking for. Different companies will fit different candidates, that’s the nature of the job search. But what you can look for is signs that a company should be avoided, because they suggest a high turnover, a lack or respect, or bad management, all things that could make your experience working for them unpleasant.
Glassdoor and Employer Branding
Before you even get to the interview, you should be researching the company. Not only will this help you shine as an engaged and active candidate in your interview, but it’ll also let you get a sense of what the company might be like to work for before you even set foot in their door.
Glassdoor is a website that allows employees to review their employers, letting other potential hires know about what goes on there. It works pretty well as a first port of call when researching a company, but shouldn’t be your only tool, for a few reasons.
Unfortunately, you can’t just go off the company’s glassdoor score as is. Most companies will tend to have an average of about three and a half stars out of five, which says basically nothing. This means that you’ll need to look at the actual reviews themselves carefully.
Five star reviews with no cons or no details should be disregarded, these are often written by management to artificially boost their rating. Likewise, one star reviews that don’t seem to match up with any others are usually not helpful. Glassdoor is anonymous, so it’s very easy for a disgruntled employee to misrepresent their experience. Instead, take a range of relatively recent reviews, and look at them for details. If the same issues keep cropping up, it can be reasonably assumed that they are a genuine issue
Every company has an employer brand (meaning a reputation for what they’re like as an employer). This is especially true with more established companies. They will tend to have a pretty strong employer brand grown organically over time. More difficult is if you’re looking into a startup, or smaller company. Your best bet to get a handle on this is to review a company’s website. How do they present their team page? What about the job advert, did they use a lot of meaningless buzzwords? Getting a handle on this will let you think about whether they’re the right fit for you.
They Waste Your Time
Recruitment can get quite expensive for a company, especially when they’re looking on a large scale. Therefore, if there are obvious mistakes, like interviews starting late, untrained interviewers stepping in to cover for someone missing, or if you’re made to feel more like a nuisance than a prospective employee, this could point to a fundamental flaw in management. There may be frequent hiring mistakes, a high turnover in staff, or uneven applications of hiring processes.
Mistakes happen, and smaller companies especially can occasionally get overwhelmed during the hiring process, especially if they accidentally fall on days where the workplace is unexpectedly busy, but they should still treat you with respect, and appreciate that you’ve given them your time. If they fail to notice or apologise for these mistakes, that could be a warning sign.
What do they not want you to know about the role, that they wouldn’t tell you everything about it?
Vagaries and Hypotheticals
When you sit down to an interview, consider how the interviewer is talking to you. Do you feel like they know who you are, or are they opening with lots of basic questions about you and your qualifications that should be apparent from your CV or cover letter? This could suggest they’re not taking their job seriously, that the company has a high turnover, or even that there’s not a great deal of communication in the hiring department.
Likewise, look at how your interviewer answers any questions you ask them. If they seem to be avoiding answering you directly, this could suggest they have something to hide- what do they not want you to know about the role, that they wouldn’t tell you everything they can about it?
It’s a popular interview technique to ask a candidate how they’d deal with a particular hypothetical situation, and it’s not an unreasonable one. The odds are that this is a situation that the company has dealt with before, or anticipates dealing with in the future. Not only should you consider how best to answer this question, you should consider if this hypothetical is part of a healthy business.
Attitude and Appearance
Loads of pre-interview advice will tell you that how you present yourself to the company is vital, and this is accurate. Turn up on time, dress appropriately, and be polite to everyone. What the advice doesn’t always say is to consider the same aspects when you look at the company.
While you wait for your interview, survey your surroundings. Is the area clean and ordered? Does it feel personal, or ascetic? Is there a balance between professionalism and approachability? Have they put you out of the way in a little room on your own?
What about the other employees? Do they seem at ease and, if not relaxed, at least not overly stressed? How do they treat you, do they say hello and try to engage with you? Do they seem to get on with each other, or can you sense tension?
There are a lot of little things you might notice, don’t let it cause you too much worry. Instead, think about the kind of place you’d like to work, and whether or not this place might reflect it.
If they can’t put on a good appearance for you as a candidate, when they should be most trying to impress you, what will it be like when you’re just another employee?
It’s a sad fact that many job seekers will, at some point in their search, be asked questions by interviewers that are illegal. Many female candidates report being asked if they are married or intend to have children, for example. Naturally, this is a huge red flag, but why?
The biggest issue this flags up is, obviously, that the employer might be using discriminatory hiring practices. You are well within your rights to end an interview if someone asks you a question you are uncomfortable with answering, although equally you can simply state that you don’t wish to answer, or answer in a non-committal way (‘Could you explain to me how that might impact my ability to perform the role,’ for instance or ‘It won’t be an issue’.) Any interviewer who does not respect your comfort probably isn’t worth working for.
But in a lot of cases these questions are actually mistakes of phrasing from the interviewer, rather than strictly malicious intent. This is also a problem, however, because it could indicate that the interviewer probably hasn’t been adequately trained. This could give you a clue as to the management styles of the company.
Some interviewers may try to get around certain illegal questions related to race, gender, age, etc. by asking you what your comfort level with certain aspects of the business might be. For example, they may draw attention to a team being male led, or that a substantial number of the staff appear to be older than you, and ask whether or not you’d be comfortable in that situation.
While this could be innocently intended, it also puts the onus for being comfortable in a certain situation on you, and could be taken to imply that, if there are any issues, they would be your fault for ‘not fitting in with the team.’ Not a good sign!
No employer is perfect, and there are always mistakes that can happen even when they are operating in good faith. But by keeping an eye out for consistent red flags, you can evaluate and decide whether or not a workplace is right for you, or at the very least, minimise the chance that you are surprised by it.