What to look for when selecting a new company to work for?

Are you changing jobs?

When it comes to changing jobs, is never an easy time. Many people change jobs because they are not happy where they are, and others simply change jobs for a new challenge.

Due to the current shortage of high calibre candidates in the Australian IT industry, head hunting is becoming more and more popular, or perhaps necessary, which is creating a false sense of urgency and leading people to make mistakes.

What you miss when changing jobs:

Due to the competitive nature of recruitment the Australian IT industry, companies and recruiters are pushing candidates harder than ever before to commit to offers more quickly.

This push often does not give the candidates sufficient time to complete their research on the company they are joining prior to making the commitment to the new role.

In some extreme cases, the role they ended up accepting is simply not the role they thought they had applied for!

Many of us have made this mistake. We have accepted a role without doing sufficient research and have have to put up with the results!

What to look out for when changing jobs:

My advice to you is to spend the time necessary to research and properly evaluate the position and the company prior to making any commitment. If you are that good and the company really wants you, they’ll wait a couple of days for you to complete your research. If they are not prepared to wait a couple of days and pick another candidate, they were probably only trying to fill the role and were not worth working for.

If you are applying for a general mid level role in a company with sixty or less employees and end up:

  • Having more than two meetings
  • Meeting more than four people
  • Having to do presentations

*BEWARE* This is generally the sign of a political environment! Run while you can!

Things to check prior to joining a new company:

This section includes a number of areas that I think you should look into prior to accepting a role in a new company.

I don’t believe that you should [or would have time to] look into each and every point below. Take the items listed as guidance and concentrate on the areas that mean the most to you. If you think of key items that I have not listed below, please leave a comment and I’ll add your points to the list.

I am the candidate, can I really ask such questions?

Yes! Companies ask you for a resume, ask you about everything that you have done and call your references to make sure that you fit with that they are looking for. So why can’t you do the same to them?

Ask the recruiters, interviewers and some staff a few questions each and see what they say. If they don’t want to answer you, they must have something to hide. You need to make sure the position and company is just appropriate for you as you are for them.

1. Research the company – perform your own background check on them!

Find out a little more about the company that you are speaking to [or targeting] to allow you to understand more about them, how things work internally, and how their current employees feel about working there.

The basic steps for finding out background information are:

1.1 Check LinkedIn

  • Does the company have a complete profile on LinkedIn such as Kiandra IT?
  • Check the average tenure length based on employees LinkedIn profiles. Please remember that this is indicative.
  • Check to see if there is there an “Ex-Employees” group on LinkedIn
  • Check to see if the current employees are active on LinkedIn. Are they updating their profiles and connecting to recruiters?
    • This is generally okay for people in HR, Sales and Marketing, bad for most other roles
    • If these are general staff, beware! This is a sign of unhappiness and a world of churn about to unfold.

1.2. Look for Company Reviews

1.3. Gain some internal insight

  • Ask a friend or LinkedIn connection to see if they know anything about the company. You might be connected to someone that has previously worked in the company.
  • Have a coffee with someone that works in the company that you don’t know. Arrange this using LinkedIn or Twitter.
  • Dial a random number in their phone number range and initiate a conversation with whoever answers the phone!

1.4. Check for noise on Twitter

  • See what customers think of the company by doing a basic search on Twitter using their name (Twitter Handle) or Hash Tag
  • Monitor current employees Twitter accounts to see what they are discussing online. You can generally find a Twitter link on their LinkedIn profiles

Unhappy employees generally talk and Tweet about their experiences! If you are not able to locate sufficient information on the company and it has been around for a while, be wary!

2. Does the company care about their brand? Do they believe in marketing?

2.1 Brand awareness

  • Have you ever heard of the company before now?
  • Have your friends heard of the company? If so, ask them how they know about the company and what they think of it.
  • Does the company a positive reputation in the industry?

2.2 Website and online presences

  • Does the company have a website?
    • Is their website complete, relevant and up to date?
    • Do you believe what they say on their website? If you don’t, their customers won’t…
    • Are there spelling and grammar mistakes on their website? If so, be cautious. Their website is their first point of contact with their [potential] customers, and if they have no pride here, they’ll have not pride anywhere else.
  • Have they got an informative LinkedIn company profile with the products and services they offer?
  • Have they got an active Twitter account? Tweet them, ask a question, and see if they get back to you. If they don’t get back to you, they won’t get back to their customers, which is not a good sign.
  • [If Appropriate] Have they got a Facebook company profile

2.3 General

  • Call the general office number and observe the following
    • Do they have a proper reception?
    • Is the person that answered the phone knowledgeable?
    • Do they care?
  • Does the company have at least one internal marketing and communications person?
  • Does the company clearly communicate its mission and vision to all internal staff?
  • Do internal staff believe in what the company is trying to achieve and support the mission?
  • Ensure the company has a good current portfolio of clients.
    Make sure that the portfolio includes what has been done in the past 18 to 24 months because many companies present portfolio’s that are out-dated with customers that are no longer customers
  • Does the company engage in Social Media such as Twitter and Facebook?
  • Does the company feature in any media such as industry publications or journals?

3. Does the company have a sales team that is friendly and knowledgeable?

  • Does the company have a team of dedicated sales people?
  • Does the sales team understand what they are selling, are they able to demonstrate it, and can they clearly convey their value proposition to their prospects?
  • Ask them where they find most of their business?
    They should be active in multiple channels and not rely on word of mouth. Word of mouth will enable survival, but not let a company prosper.
  • Does the sales team focus on any particular markets?
    This is not important, but if it sounds like they take anything they can get, be cautious.
  • Does the company have a list of recent case studies and testimonials on their website?
    You should be able to verify at least two of them online.
  • Meet the sales team and ask them a few questions about their products and services
    • Are they knowledgeable?
    • Do you believe what they are telling you?
    • Ask them why a client would want to use their services?
    • Ask them company what their value proposition is?

4. Company Culture

  • Get an indication of the internal company culture from multiple sources, including:
    • The recruitment agent
    • The interviewers
    • A current or past staff member
  • Ask to see their office facilities
  • Ask the company why they think you will be a good fit and suitable for the position?
  • Does the company believe in Transparency? Validate this by asking an employee.
  • What level of social engagement does the company have with their employees? Do they have drinks and food on a Friday night? Do they take their teams out to lunch?
  • Do they recognise good work by giving out awards?

5. What size company should you join?

This is always a difficult question to answer. There is no straight answer and we all need something different. The notes below are simply general notes and you need to make your own decisions here.

  • Small companies are great when you are young and ambitious, but as you get older and mature, you tend to require something a little larger with more structure to satisfy your needs.
  • Larger is not always bigger. Bigger companies tend to be more political and hierarchical.
  • Smaller companies tend to be more ad-hoc with a level of chaos at times. They do however present you with far more opportunity which allows you to learn more.
  • Review the companies current head count vs. the length of time the company has been around.
    A good company would have more than 30 people after 20 years!

6. Performance management

  • Ask the company if they have a performance management system in place to track the progress of employees, divisions and the company as a whole
  • Ask the company how they go about measuring the performance of employees
  • Ask the company how KPI’s and targets are formed

Here is an interesting quote about Atlassian that I found on the BRW website:

Atlassian has completely changed the performance review system for its 200 employees in the past year. It scrapped contentious ratings and performance bonuses, shifting to a flat 8 per cent annual salary increase for everyone, backed with monthly “coaching conversations” between managers and team members.

7. General things to look out for when joining a new company

  • Do you agree with companies mission statement and do you believe in their values? If you can’t find these on their website, consider them as not having any!
  • Does the company have a strong leader that has been successful in the industry? A strong leader needs to have:
    • Good communication skills
    • Be known in the industry
    • Be ethical in nature
    • Be a subject matter exert in their area of expertise
  • Is the company structure based on silo’s and/or hierarchies, or do they promote a flattish structure?
    Silo’s and hierarchies are generally more political and less collaborative than a flat structure.
  • If it is a public company, review their annual reports for the past three years and observe:
    • How stable the company has been over the last three years.
    • Check the head counts to see if and when they have had any recent jobs cuts
  • Ask the company how they manage their resources and how they go about forecasting their resource requirements

The top 10 things employees look for in a company

This is a summary taken from the book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix it.

  1. Employees want purpose
  2. Employees want goals
  3. Employees  want responsibilities
  4. Employees want autonomy
  5. Employees want flexibility
  6. Employees want attention
  7. Employees want opportunities for innovation
  8. Employees want open-mindedness
  9. Employees want transparency
  10. Employees want compensation


You can read more about the top ten things employees want in Issie Lapowsky’s great post on

I hope this helps some people when evaluating a new company.Please leave any feedback you may have in the comments below.

[Update] 7 May 2012: Added Australian Company Review sites in “1.2. Look for Company Reviews” above

One thought on “What to look for when selecting a new company to work for?

  1. As a software guy i’m particulalry concerned about some nerdy things, like

    do you have a beer fridge?
    do you have engineering processes?
    “the Joel test”
    do you *care* about what your doing?
    do you believe in quality?

    And, as a *software* guy I’m really interested in:

    do you have a beer fridge?
    when I tell you I don’t own a tie, and certainly don’t own a suit, are
    you going to get upset?
    are you happy in your job?
    do you feel like everyone on the team can be themselves and be respected?
    is this a new position? Is that because you’re growing?
    Oh, the last guy left? Why was that?

    But, as a **software** guy, I’m also thinking about:

    do you have a beer fridge?
    how’s the financial health of the business?
    can you weather a storm, or another GFC?
    is the management structure flat?
    if i’ve got a problem has someone got my back?

    But, ultimately, it all boils down to this

    do you have a beer fridge?

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