Searching out good employers takes effort

Taking time to suss out potential bosses is worth it

You’ve attended the job interview and heard all about how the boss has an open door policy, how performance reviews are conducted regularly and how training needs are always met because staff are the most valuable resource.

However, when you start the job you discover the boss’ door is only open if it’s good news. And the performance review system is a joke with no checks and balances to ensure they are even carried out. And training? Only if it’s in your own time and free.

So how can job candidates get it so wrong? How can they tell if the picture a company presents bears any resemblance to reality?

Writing on Fast Company, Margaret Heffernan says few companies are honest about their culture. She says a lot of work goes into making them look “inviting, successful, and fun”.

She says the Great Place to Work Institute believes the common denominators of being happy at work are: “trust that management and co-workers are reliably, fairly and openly informed; pride in one's work and colleagues; and enjoyment of both the process and the place.”

Heffernan has some suggested questions for candidates to ask when they have contact with a company they're considering working for.

They are: Do you meet people at different levels of the organisation? Do you meet in an open area or are you shut away in a conference room? Do different people give consistent answers to the same question? Are they trying to second-guess what you want to hear? Are their websites consistent? Heffernan says Rolls Royce US makes a big deal of diversity — but does not mention it on its UK website.

Heffernan says if you are offered a drink, “always accept — and see who goes to get it. You may be told the hierarchy's flat, but it isn't that flat if only assistants get the coffee.”

She suggests finding out the take-up rate of any family policies and seeing if anyone can tell you about their last holiday.

“Can they even remember it? Does the sparkle in their eyes remain when the conversation reverts to work?”

She also suggests finding out about the heroes of the office. “Heroes are containers of value: Those who are admired will show you what is admired.”

Heffernan says that perhaps the greatest single indicator of all is staff retention.

“How long do people stay with the company? In companies with fast staff turnover, no one builds strong relationships…”

Writing on the Sydney Morning Herald, Pam Kershaw quotes a study by HR consultancy Hewitt Associates which found five areas that the best employers shared leadership commitment to employees; the employment experience they promise and deliver; the connectedness between people and organisational strategy; a high-performance culture where outstanding achievement is important; and an alignment between people practices and business objectives.

Kershaw writes that Hewitt Associates managing director Mick Bennett suggests job seekers visit company websites to see how responsive they are to employment inquiries. “The kind of people they use for their graduate-recruitment programme and the sorts of questions they're prepared to answer will also indicate how they treat their employees.”

Bennett suggests applying a truth test: “Do you get a sense of authenticity from the organisation, or is it flim-flam?"

Writing on Monster.com, Michael Neece says it's important that people work for organisations that have similar values to them. If that's not the case, it can be stressful, unrewarding, even depressing at times.”

He says the job interview is the best opportunity to assess the culture.

“Culture is expressed through the words and behaviours of each employee. Company or department leadership sets the overall tone.”

People should assess the following: how they are treated during the job interview; the phrases the interviewers use frequently; whether there is an unspoken tone to the questions asked; how the environment feels; how prepared the interviewers are; if they were treated like a prisoner or a guest; and if their responses to questions were treated with suspicion or professional curiousity.

He also suggest applicants ask about the company or department culture, how the company deals with conflict and how it recognises employee accomplishments.

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