Truth Detective

Tips for investigating prospective employers, avoiding duds

by Rosemarie Christopher and Paul Dionne

When you’re searching for a job, you don’t want to end up working for an organization that’s a dud. The U.S. unemployment situation has improved, and the tables are turning back in favor of employees. Even people who’ve experienced long-term unemployment are re-engaging in their job hunts.

Employers must consider their reputations as part of employee recruitment and retention. Here are four potential problems you should investigate at any organization that’s offering you a second-round interview:

High turnover—This can be the result of multiple issues. A strong HR leader might be able to fix a turnover problem but only with sustained support of the CEO.

Poor ethics—The ethics of an organization’s leadership will trickle down. If you see poor ethical decisions being made, they’re likely happening throughout the organization. Lower-level employees practicing unethical behaviors would be fired if their leaders truly valued integrity. CEO intervention will be required to improve ethical decision making, and don’t delude yourself by believing you would be immune.

Cheap—There’s not much value in taking a job if you’re not going to receive the resources you need to accomplish anything meaningful. Research the organization’s finances and look for signs of poor pay or a lack of funds. A CFO or CEO might be able to reverse the situation, but few others can.

Bad culture—Symptoms of a bad culture appear in many forms. It’s possible that people are too busy creating fiefdoms that inhibit change, or everyone’s input is required, creating meeting after meeting and preventing anything from being accomplished. Poor ethics and finances may contribute to a bad culture, too. It can cause employees to blame others for their problems rather than rolling up their sleeves and collaborating to reverse the bad situation. Unless you’re the CEO, you’re not going to fix a bad culture.

Uncovering the issues

Use LinkedIn to see how long people stay there. When recruiters look at résumés and see a string of short employment stints, they assume the person is a job hopper. LinkedIn gives us the power to turn the tables and understand an organization’s turnover rate.

Use LinkedIn’s advanced search feature and select the "past company" category to find people who previously worked at the organization. View each profile to get a sense of how long they stayed there. For large employers, use the location, title or other criteria to narrow your search to a particular department. Good signs include long stays, promotions and people who left but came back. It’s a bad sign when you see a high number of people who worked there less than a year.

Interview past employees. You can send messages to previous employees via LinkedIn’s InMail feature, and ask about their experience at the organization. There’s a pretty low chance of getting a response. Few people want to badmouth a previous employer, and you can assume a lack of response means the organization is below average. On the other hand, if you hear back from someone, you may receive make-or-break information you couldn’t get elsewhere.

Check out the organization on Google Finance or Yahoo Finance. If you don’t know how to read corporate financials, ask someone who does—having an outsider’s perspective can help. Every organization experiences financial highs and lows. If it doesn’t look good, work to understand why they’re in that situation and what it would take to change it.

Read employee review sites such as Glassdoor and Indeed. Again, most people will avoid badmouthing a previous employer. When someone does, you should take note, but read the reviews carefully. They may have been faked or embellished. Some HR departments have been known to post favorable reviews of their organizations. Although they work there, too, it’s a bit disingenuous. Conflicting reviews also may reflect that some employees had good bosses and others didn’t.

Read customer review sites such as Yelp, Google and the Better Business Bureau (BBB). On these sites, customers air their complaints and report issues with an organization’s products or services. Picture yourself working at that organization, and distinguish between complaints you would be in a position to address versus ones that would be out of your control. When the BBB receives complaints, it contacts the chief executives at each organization. On the BBB site, if you see a slew of issues that weren’t resolved to the customer’s satisfaction, there’s a problem at the top of the organization.

Search industry regulators’ websites. Every industry has its own set of regulators—such as the Federal Aviation Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Our organization provides staffing for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-regulated businesses. We check prospective partners for warning letters and recalls on the FDA’s website (or U.S. Department of Agriculture for food recalls).

Some organizations will view a recall or warning letter as a call for improvement, which is good. Others will see it as "government overreach" that they must comply with, which is bad. We do not recommend directly raising an issue in an interview. Instead, ask questions that will uncover whether the organization is handling its current situation, and how it’s going about it.

If you’re a CEO, CFO or board member, investigate your organization. As the game of talent acquisition heats up, you don’t want to be left on the sidelines.


  1. "Employment Situation Summary," Bureau of Labor Statistics economic news release, http://tinyurl.com/t68g.

Rosemarie Christopher is an organizational communications consultant and the president and CEO of MEIRxRS, a family of science, technology, engineering and math recruitment and staffing organizations in Glendale, CA. She has a master’s degree in communication management from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Christopher is an ASQ member and past chair of the ASQ Food, Drug and Cosmetic Division.

Paul Dionne is a business developer for MEIRxRS in Glendale, CA. He holds an MBA from Boston University in Massachusetts.

Excellent article; concise and spot on.
--Laura Otto Phillips, 09-26-2015

Muy interesante, efectivamente es necesario investigar si la compañía es lo suficientemente estable para lograr hacer carrera en ella.
--Omar Cano, 09-22-2015

This is good advice, and its worth NOT learning these same principles the "hard way".
--Richard Kingston, 09-16-2015

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