Choosing a Company to Work for
When we look for a new job, some of us have the privilege to choose the company we want to work for.
We either rule out certain companies before even interviewing, during the process or after receiving an offer.
Sometimes we look only at the salary and the location and make a decision. Sometimes we go for the first offer because we don’t want to deal with the processes, organizational overhead or stress. Sometimes we go for the first one to compensate for a major deficit that we had in the current workplace, like a cranky boss, low salary, too boring or too challenging work and more.
It’s important not to neglect other perspectives, which are meaningful to you now or will be in the near future. I suggest to make a list of topics, and compare all the companies you’re in process with, or already received an offer from.
Very rarely a company fulfills all items, so you can either set some of them as deal-breakers, or give a weight to the more important ones. Even if you decide not to compare, you’re at least aware of what you’ll give up beforehand.
The items on the list, or the weights you’ve given them, will probably change over time, as goals are achieved, family or financial situation changes, and various bad or good experiences.
Here is my list of topics:
Career plan: it’s advisable to have career plan with goals (e.g. 2, 5, 10 years) and not just jump from job to job like a boat carried away by the currents in the ocean. Then think how a specific offer contributes to this plan.
Example: you want to become a tech lead — will the company contribute to it in any way, like opportunities, trainings, the technology?
How to find out: the plan is on you, the important questions you have should be answered by the hiring manager.
Industry: is the industry of the company shrinking or dying? Is it stable? Is it lucrative and expanding? Note, this is the industry the company’s domain is in (not the tech industry itself), like HR, education, advertisement, insurance, finance, cyber, etc.
Example: the printed newspapers industry is shrinking, cyber is rising.
How to find out: research the internet, look for trends.
Manager: you might spend more time with your manager than with your spouse. It’s important that you get along, get mentorship and anything else that is important to you.
Example: your manager believes in the same technical principles, knows how to motivate and invests in your learning.
How to find out: do you happen to know her? Did you meet her in the interview? Was she nice and patient? Did she answer the tough questions?Collect some open-source-intelligence on linkedin, github or other places. Ask her reports.
Good cause: does the company produce or service a good cause?
Example: education, clean-tech, porn, gambling.
How to find out: check the company’s website, get info during interviews.
Product: is the product interesting? Inspiring? Brings a lot of value?
Example: yet another ad-tech product you’ve had enough of, vs. a replacement for insurance agents.
How to find out: check the website, ask to see the product.
Vision: is there a vision (i.e. where the company wants to be in the future)? Does it convince you? Do you feel on-board?
Example: “A world without Alzheimer’s disease.”
How to find out: ask about the vision. Can your interviewers tell it without too much thinking?
Mission: does the way to achieve the vision make sense? Do you feel connection to the mission?
Example: “To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.”
How to find out: ask about the mission. Can your interviewers tell it without too much thinking?
Values: do you know anything about the company’s real values? Not the ones on the wall, but what behavior is promoted and what behavior is prohibited?
Example: a person was fired due to a sexist comment or bullying, vs. the asshole genius got promoted.
How to find out: ask during the interview who got recently promoted or fired and for what. Ask directly about the official values and their presence in reality.
Learning: are there learning and growth opportunities, either on the job or official trainings?
Example: you will continue to do the exact same thing you did on your last job, vs. as whole new challenger. Or, the company is growing and you’re expected to manage 3 people in 6 months.
How to find out: ask during the interviews about learning opportunities and the expected tasks.
Education budget: is the company contributing to your learning expenses, like books, conferences, certifications and online courses?
Example: the company has a yearly budget of 1,500€ for any educational activity. Or and MBA is encouraged and partially financed.
How to find out: ask during the interview about it, ask the interviewers how they spent it recently.
Mentorship: what’s the mentorship like? Is there any? Can you mentor others?
Example: the CTO holds a monthly private mentoring session with engineers and managers. Or you’ll be expected to mentor junior engineers.
How to find out: ask the interviewers. Ask who used it recently.
Tech blog: does the company have a technical blog? Is it up to date? Is it interesting?
Example: the company’s tech blog has a post every month about topics you care about.
How to find out: check the company website.
Commute: is the commute long? Is it convenient in all types of weather? Can you use the time to read or listen to podcasts?
Example: 10 minutes by train and 10 minutes walking. Or a lot of parking on the street.
How to find out: try the route.
Location: is the location beneficial? E.g. in a lively area, in a safe area, in a place where you can meet a lot of people?
Example: the company is located on a street so scary, that even the post service doesn’t go there.
How to find out: walk around the location in the morning and the afternoon.
Salary: is the salary enough to keep you from thinking about it? Meaning, if you take the offer, you will not be constantly resentful?
Example: you currently earn 80K and all your friends earn about 95K. Or you know that you’ll be just fine with 65K. Or the average salary on salary.com or glassdoor is higher than your offer.
How to find out: ask friends (but assume many lie or include/exclude benefits and bonuses), check salary comparison websites, calculate your expected expenses, benchmarking your current salary.
Remember that you can demand a higher salary, just that it’s not a negotiation. In a negotiation you would offer something in return, but you’re already expected to give 100% to your employer.
Bonus: are there any bonuses? What do the depend on?
Example: signing bonus, OKR achievement bonus, 13th salary.
How to find out: ask the interviewers, when public, ask who received recently and for what.
Stock options: is the company providing stocks, or stock options in any flavor?
Example: yearly stocks worth of 10K, or virtual options that vest over 4 years.
How to find out: ask directly.
Benefits: is the company providing benefits, such as: insurances, laundry, catered lunched, various classes, etc.?
Example: company is contributing 200€ to a private pension plan.
How to find out: if not proactively mentioned, ask directly about the benefits, preferably after receiving an offer, not before, to not make a bad impression.
Vacation: how many vacations days are given? What’s the policy to request them? What’s the standard in that location?
Example: the company is giving 27 days per year, can request a week in advance.
How to find out: ask directly.
Company’s success: how is the company doing? Profitable? KPIs in a good direction? Reviews about the company from customers, suppliers and employees?
Example: a positive article about the company was published by a trusted source.
How to find out: check reviews of employees, like on glassdoor, check financial websites, search the web.
Reputation: will the company’s name on your CV serve or deserve you?
Example: a name like amazon, google or IBM will open doors for you in the future. Especially important in the beginning of your career.
How to find out: search the web, talk to ex-employees.
Company’s size: do you prefer certain size? Are you more effective in smaller/startup/enterprise?
Example: you’d like to try an early stage startup to learn a lot.
How to find out: past experiences you had.
Work/life balance: is it expected to work normal hours, or are there many cases of on duty, late night and weekends? Can you work 80%?
Example: one week on-duty every month, not allowing to leave home and uncompensated. Or you can choose flexible hours, like 8:00–14:00, then 20:00–23:00.
How to find out: ask directly about official working hours, and some examples of real working hours of people. Or when was the last time they had to work during the weekend.
Parents: does the company treat parents with understanding?
Example: parents can make a break and continue in the evening, or can work from home if the daycare is closed.
How to find out: ask parent employees how it was the last time they needed to pick up their kid during work. Or if there are mandatory meetings on your child’s bedtime.
Remote options: can you always work from home? Several days?
Example: can take 3 remote days per week, and 2 in the office.
How to find out: ask for official rules and unofficial reality.
The job itself: what are the daily tasks? The methodology?
Example: Ruby and React development in a SCRUM product team, writing automated tests and doing DevOps and on-call. Maintenance of existing products and developing new internal tools.
How to find out: job description, ask directly.
The team: is it small? Big? A cross-functional squad or a team of backend developers? Everyone has their own specialties? What’s your preference?
Example: infrastructure team of 4 engineers, all doing the same tasks.
How to find out: ask directly.
Technology: is it interesting? Will you learn from it? Will you enjoy it?
Example: you’re a Scala developer wanting to gain object oriented skills.
How to find out: job description, ask directly.
Travel: how much travel is involved? Does it fit in with your current situation?
Example: drive or fly to clients up to 12 times per year.
How to find out: ask directly about the recent reality.
Minorities: is there any discrimination due to religion, size, age, color, gender, sexual orientation, etc?
Example: a startup with 25 employees, all are white men in the age of 27.
How to find out: examine the employees, for gender, size, age, etc. Ask directly about minorities in upper management or were recently promoted.
Pets: are they allowed? Are you allergic? Would you like to bring your own pet to work? Or maybe you don’t have any and would love to interacts with others’ pets?
Example: employees are allowed to bring in their dogs any day.
How to find out: ask about the rules and the reality.
Vibe, atmosphere: are people smiling? Is everyone working in isolation? Are people nice?
Example: when you arrive to interview, the receptionist is not nice, doesn’t offer any drink. The interviewer is late and keeps you waiting without apologizing. Peoples tables lack any personal items or decoration.
How to find out: scan the people at work, their tables, the behavior. Try to chit-chat with a random person while taking coffee. Check glassdoor rating and reviews (if all reviews are very positive and on the same date — be suspicious).
Turnover: did a lot of people quit? Are many less than 6 months in the company, and not due to growth?
Example: a company was treating its employees so bad, that several rage-quit and tweeted about it.
How to find out: scan social networks for the company name, look for articles. Ask your interviewers how long they are with the company.
Gut feeling: will you be happy to come here every day?
I suggest to prepare a paper or a spreadsheet for all the companies you interviewed for and grade them. Add items you care about to the list (e.g. relocation assistance, a music room, company flights to the Caribbean, legal agreement to continue to work on private projects).
Even though things can change over time, especially in startups, and maybe you will not be able to uncover the full truth, you’d still benefit from rationalizing your choice before and not after accepting an offer.
As Eisenhower said: “I have found that plans are useless but planning is everything.”