I recall an interesting statement made by Pete Deemer(http://www.goodagile.com/) when I was attending his training session on Scrum, and I quote "To sum up, what is a career? It is a sum of many ordinary days at the office with a few turning points in between. "
On a deeper level, we as individuals are responsible for both the turning points (job changes and promotions) and the ordinary days (which organization we serve). Choosing the right employer is a critical decision, and yet it is not given the due attention it deserves. This article is an attempt on my part to capture all the techniques I have used over the years to arrive at an informed decision. While it is impossible to know everything in advance, an investigative mindset and enough leg work will ensure that you arrive at a fairly accurate estimate of the potential employer.
At the end of the day, we are responsible for our career decisions and consequent career direction. "You are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul. You are the architect of your own destiny" - Brian Tracy
Assuming that you have clearly decided upon your long-term career direction, the next step is to ensure that you are working in the right organizations which supports your long term career goals. It rarely happens that any single organization meets this criteria - often, every organization we choose to serve may just help you proceed ahead onto the next rung on the corporate ladder. But if we make a wrong choice we can sometimes land in organizations which actually push us backwards and in the final analysis, it is time lost and can cause a lot of frustration and stress. Hence it is extremely important to make the right choices. Below are a few effective techniques.
Check out the financial health of the company
This is a very important aspect, but most people fail to do a proper check probably due to lack of knowledge / skills as to what is to be assessed. At the end of the day, you don't want to be stuck up in a company which cannot afford to pay your salary or which is short of funds. Various factors need to be taken into consideration like :
- What is the cash position of the company, is it cash rich? This will tell you that you will not face salary problems for the next few years in the company.
- Is it self-funded or is it funded by venture capitalists? What is the debt v/s earnings position of the company?
- If it is a publicly listed company they need to put up their balance sheet, income and expense statements on the company website. Seek an experienced chartered accountant's help and he will give you a correct picture. Any amount of window-dressing cannot escape the sharp eyes of an experienced CA.
Many people base their opinions about a company based on what is stated on the company website, which is grossly insufficient. Remember, the corporate website is a tool intended to colour your opinion in a certain fashion. Hunt for facts, go to any length to gather factual information. Facts don't lie. The balance sheet and other financial statements are hard financial facts - put in effort to understand them in totality.
Another thing to do is to do a quick search about the company on financial sites - local and international. For ex. Economic Times, FT,etc. Statements made by top management will give you a fair idea about the broad direction of the company.
Find an insider
The best information about any organization will always come to you from an insider - a person who is an employee currently or has just quit the organization you are targeting. Find at least 3 insiders and independently seek their opinions. Seek out the common feedback - that's the reality
. Just having 1 opinion won't help - it may be positive or negative relative to the individual's experience in the organization. But common feedback provided separately is usually accurate. Your networking skill is of paramount importance for doing such checks - find someone you know who knows someone who's an insider. Networking does not happen overnight - if you have been a loner with a limited network then find someone in your friend circle who has strong networking skills. And ask the questions - usually people provide the information.
One more factor to keep in mind is to speak to insiders across multiple accounts when it comes to service based companies or multiple lines of business (LOB) when it concerns captive centers. Work environment, conditions and sometimes even the salaries can differ (across different LOBs depending upon their budgetary constraints).
Ask for a written Job Description
This is a simple step - but an important one, in my opinion. You can ask for a written JD the moment you get a call for the interview. Usually you will get one of 3 responses :
- A detailed, precise JD which gives all the details of what is expected in the role
This is a positive signal. This indicates that roles and responsibilities have been clearly defined in the organization and probably it is a structured, process driven organization.
- A loosely created JD which lacks clarity about roles and responsibilities
This indicates that some degree of structure exists, however, this may not be the ideal place to work.
This is a warning signal. No formal JD indicates that roles and responsibilities have not been formally defined. You may enter the organization in a particular role and may be expected or asked to work in an entirely different area.
Sometimes, a good JD may just be an indicator of a good HR department and may not convey a true picture of the organization. However, you can use the written JD as one of the factors when evaluating an organization.
Check out employee reviews on the internet
One good way to find out internal information about a company is to check out reviews posted by employees on sites like www.glassdoor.com
. A lot of times, reviews are posted by negative, disgruntled former employees but it is information nevertheless. Sift through all the posted reviews and try to list down the common feedback - the common feedback and patterns which you observe is the reality. You can then use this feedback as discussion points with insiders. At the actual interview, if things go well, you will be given a chance to ask questions. If you have done your ground work by then, you can use the employee review points to frame intelligent questions to come to a fair estimate about the company. Once again - the trick is to ask the same questions to multiple people if possible and to try and seek patterns in the feedback.
Check out the profiles of existing employees on LinkedIn. The job responsibilities, project details mentioned will give you a fair idea of what to expect. If an organization is using fancy designations to lure good candidates - for example, let's say you are being offered the job title of AVP(Assistant Vice President) , please make it a point to check out the profiles of existing AVPs on LinkedIn. This will give you a fair idea of what to expect. Sometimes you can have the job title of AVP and may actually have to work as a Project Lead - this is a classic case of job title / designation having no relation with the actual role. Be wary of such smart gimmicks.
The other thing to look for is patterns in the profiles of existing employees. For example - if the organization has a high proportion of CSMs(certified scrum masters) it indicates that Agile using Scrum is a top priority for the organization. Try to seek patterns in the current job responsibilities of existing employees - it will give you useful clues.
Befriend the support staff
Make it a point to smile and interact with the support staff - security guards, peons,etc. Pay attention to them and strike up conversations. Firstly, they will feel happy when given attention and secondly, they can be an incredible source of information. More often than not the support staff are aware of the deepest matters of the company, particularly when it comes to knowing the people better. And they will happily share the information provided you use the right people skills.
Ask the right questions to enough people
Towards the end of the interview it is a normal practice to ask the candidate "Do you wish to know anything about this company?" Depending upon the time available, the way the interview went and the interviewer's mood you need to utilize the opportunity well. You need to have your list of questions ready based on the research you have already done (of course, you don't remove a paper list in front of the interview panel but you need to be prepared). Ask questions about the following things:
- What's the working culture in the organization? Do people believe in putting in late hours, working on weekends, etc?
- What is the leave policy in the organization?
- How does the appraisal process work? How are the goals and KRAs set every year? Are the KRAs aligned to organizational / business unit goals ? Does the organization follow a 360 degree feedback system?
Ask enough questions and ask the same questions to multiple people. Once again, the common feedback received will allow you to come to a correct evaluation.
Analyze the offer carefully
Do not make the cardinal mistake of just looking at the CTC (cost to company) figure. Please keep the following points in mind:
- Check out the variable component in the salary if there is one
- Check out the non-taxable components and the taxable components
- Check out the perks,etc
- If you are shifting to a different city, factor in the cost of living in the new city, house rent, cost of new things to purchase,etc to arrive at an accurate figure
- Check out if the company pays bonuses
- Check out if there is a relocation allowance and the associated amount
Take financial stock of your situation
- Check out your current liabilities - housing loan instalments, other loans, yearly payments towards insurance, monthly cost of living, etc. Factor this against an additional 10% of variable salary (which happens in times of recession) - what does the final figure look like?
- Ideally you should have enough cash to pay off 6 months of monthly expenses, loan instalments and an additional 10% for any medical contingencies.
This is extremely important - for any reason if you temporarily land in a position where no money is coming in, you can still sustain yourself. Strong financial posture will lead to lesser stress, clarity of thinking which in turn will lead to better choices.
Seek expert opinion
After completing your entire analysis, seek the opinion of 2 persons who are experienced, knowledgible and whom you can trust. They may bring in perspectives which you may not have thought of before. They will also provide a clinical 3rd party assessment as they do not have any emotional stake in the matter.
Delay your entry if possible
This may not sound an entirely professional thing to do, but if anyone else you know is joining the same organization you can try and delay your entry so that you get feedback from the other person. This strategy can sometimes be a life saver.
Have multiple offers in hand
If possible, you need to have more job offers in hand just in case you need to hit the exit button sooner and if the new job / organization is not to your liking. As your resume is already in the market there is a higher chance of achieving the same.
In the final analysis, remember, you and only you are responsible for
your situation in life - not the economy, not any company, not your
parents, spouse, friends,etc. The job change decision impacts many lives
along with yours - so make it a point to do your homework correctly.