Spy before you sign: How to evaluate the atmosphere of a company from the outside?

To find the job offer of your dreams is only the first step. You still need to confirm the reality behind the job description is what you are looking for. Then there’s interviews and contract discussions.

During the whole process, the information asymmetry is growing in the company's favour. While they learn much about you by asking questions and proposing tests, you’ll have limited options to gain insights about the company.

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Back at home to “take your time and think about it”, the best you can do is do research with all means possible. You can evaluate the company’s marketing, but most importantly check the people of the company, which is the goal of this article.

Find out all you need about a potential employer

To research a company and it’s employees, almost nothing is as powerful as LinkedIn. It is the first you can take to find possible insights of a company. While the information on the company page are rarely relevant (because marketing stuff 🤷‍♂️), old and current employees are a gold mine of information.

By doing a direct search of a company, you can simply rebuild the current organisational chart of the company. It will help you to prepare for an interview, but the most telling part are the employees that used to work for the company. In this guide, we will use ManyChat as an example.

The turnover rate

First of all: what’s the ratio between current employees and the ones that left? There is no magic number, because every situation is different (company age, pivots, internships or permanent contracts, …), but trends are easy to spot. At ManyChat we can find 28 employees and 2 who left. That’s more than okay for a company that has been live for more than three years. The company is growing and not many are quitting the adventure.

To do a search with this filter, enter the name of the company in the search bar, then click on all filters. You can then filter by previous companies. The method shown in the picture below includes people who are still at ManyChat, but changed their position inside the company, so make sure to verify everyone’s profile.

linkedin-past

Note: LinkedIn is not exhaustive, but it’s very rare for a person to completely update their experience.

General atmosphere

If you’re contacting current employees, they’ll probably be cautious and not very talkative. It thus does not make much sense. Previous employees on the other hand are usually much more honest and cooperative when you ask them your questions, which might be:

  • the reasons they left the company
  • the working conditions
  • more specific questions that relate to their previous position (the decision making in the tech team for example)
  • the actual organisational chart – who really takes decisions
  • if they maintained a good relations with their previous colleagues, mainly the managing team.

It’s up to you to define which questions enlighten your situation the most. The most important thing is to be polite and clear: explain your situation and people will usually be cooperative!

For companies that are relatively mature, you can also check Glassdoor. Even though comments are anonymised, the date and position – crossed with LinkedIn – make it usually simple to find out who was writing. In any case, with salary insights and job interview questions, the information on the site is not completely irrelevant – especially if you plan to continue with the company.

The tendencies that can be observed on the site will help you evaluate the dynamics and atmosphere of the company. If there are tensions, it will most certainly be observable in the comments.

glassdoor-tendances

Researching the managing team

Before throwing yourself into a startup adventure, it’s advisable to make sure your vision fits with the one of the managing team. It would be futile to give your all for a company which has the solely ambition to be bought, so the CEO can spend the rest of his life on an island. During your interview, these people will sell you the idea of building the next Google, while only trying to build up an image that sells. Nevertheless everything is known for the one looking in the right place.

Look for the CEO's previous endeavours and try to find out how they evolved. You can even contact some of his/her previous employees and ask them about his leadership qualities.

And as always, don’t hesitate to dig deeper through social media and googling names. It might seem extremely tedious, but it usually worth it if you want to avoid problematic or conflicting situations.

Once the survey is conducted, next to being able to make an informed decision, you will also be well prepared for the negotiation to obtain the conditions and remuneration worthy of your expertise.

Prepare the next step

All the information you will have gathered during your research will be gunpowder for the interview and negotiations after. Never be afraid to dig deep, it shows interest, organisation and a certain attitude of trying to make the best out of a situation. However, do not put all your cards on the table.

Indeed, all this research allows you to create an asymmetry of information in your favour. You will know much more about your potential employers that they will know about you. This way, you will be in a position of strength to negotiate a better salary or more favorable working conditions.

Before it’s your turn to play, we have one last piece of advice, or rather one principle, which is better not compromised: believe only what is written on the contract. Too often, little extras are used to make you accept offers below your worth.

Most often it’s variable bonuses, which are agreed verbally and never explicit, nor written down. For developers, a classic is also the following promise: “one day, you’ll be CTO/Lead Developer.” Be careful, it might be a trap. The people that make the oral promise are often not stakeholders in the impact of it…

In any case never forget:

When looking for a job, being a stalker is a good thing.

stalker

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