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How To Mine The Internet For Hidden Clues About A Potential Job Offer

Go beyond Glassdoor and Google with these tips from an intelligence professional for figuring out what a job will really be like.

How To Mine The Internet For Hidden Clues About A Potential Job Offer
[Photo: Paul Linse/Getty Images]

A shocking number of people hate their jobs. They range from people who’ve simply lost interest in their work to those who realized soon after they started that they had made a terrible mistake.

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To make sure you know what you are getting into before you start, you could simply log on to Glassdoor and ask around, or you could go full-on sleuth and employ some next-level investigation in your research. Ken Sawka, CEO and president of corporate intelligence firm Fuld + Company, says that gathering and analyzing the right information can potentially save you from a bad job decision.

But what should you be looking for–and where?

What you should look for depends on what’s most important to you: advancement opportunities? Work-life balance? A collaborative culture? Sawka says that you should be clear about the criteria that matters to you, and then approach your research “very clinically and very critically” to determine whether the company meets them or not. The implications of taking such a structured approach “may point you to a decision on a job issue that you didn’t expect because it takes some emotion out of it,” he says.

So you’ve got your list of priorities. Where do you start seeking out the data to analyze? Even obvious places may have indicators that you’re overlooking.

Search For Small Hidden Clues On Social Media

When Kyra Mancine was considering joining building products company Oldcastle, Inc. as a social media specialist, she was determined to make sure the company was a good fit. Here’s her advice:

Step 1. Check out the company’s profiles on all platforms. Look for negative feedback from customers (but take it with a grain of salt because disgruntled people are highly motivated to spread the word, she says).

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Step 2. Look for employees’ posts or photos of company events. Do the people look happy? What are they doing? Is it a company that holds many social events or does great philanthropic work? Mancine saw that Oldcastle did a great deal of work with Habitat for Humanity, which resonated with her commitment to giving back. She knew the company shared the same values she did.

Step 3. Look up key employees on social media. What are they posting? Have they put an ill-advised comment about their employer out for public consumption? Or do they appear to love their job?

“Also, look at the content that they post. Are they posting what they’re doing through their communities and about their projects?” she says. People who are happy about their jobs typically post about them. “If you’re looking for a place where they do a lot of social activities after work, or maybe they volunteer, they should be posting those types of photos,” she says.

Approach Your Network Strategically

Sure, you’ve mined your network for people who know people at the company, but are you asking the right questions, Sawka asks. Once you identify the college friend or colleague’s acquaintance who has agreed to answer some questions, think about what you really want to know, Sawka says.

“Here’s where the analytic part comes in. What we tell our clients to do when we’re using intelligence for strategy and decision making is list out your hypotheses. What do you suspect to be true, or what do you want to try to prove or disprove about the company we’re looking at?” he says. What, specifically, do you want to know about culture, pay, advancement, location, or degree of empowerment? Which contacts will be the best sources for each question? “Then I plan my conversations with members of my network to elicit information from them that will give me evidence or clues or hints about those hypotheses that are important to me,” he says.

Look For LinkedIn Stats

Sawka is skeptical of Glassdoor because he says that it may be skewed by people who have an ax to grind or companies trying to promote good reviews. Instead, he recommends using LinkedIn and its Premium Insights, which is available with some of the premium account subscriptions, to find out facts like where a company is placing hiring emphasis or how a company is structured. You can also get a sense of turnover by examining people who have held a position and left. “If their marketing department, for example, is showing on LinkedIn an average tenure of a year or nine months, that’s possibly a red flag. How come those marketing people aren’t staying that long? Versus a company where the tenure might be a little bit longer,” he says.

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But this is also where it’s important not to make assumptions, he says. “You always want to think about the alternative explanation.”  If the company has short tenures in management because it has excellent training and people often get hired away, that could be a strong indicator of the growth potential of the company, he says. For example, GE is well known as a breeding ground for senior managers. “You might look at GE’s senior manager ranks and see a lot of very senior people who’ve been there for a long time leaving at a certain point in their career,” he says. Use the analytics for clues, then go speak to people to get further explanation.

Take Google One Step Further

Obviously you know you have to Google any company you are considering working for. But, asks Mashaal Ahmed, founder of DC Career Coach, a career coaching firm, have you set up a Google alert for the company or key employees so that you capture what’s being said out in the world? In some cases, company websites can be so clunky that it’s easier to get to the information you want using Google. So search for “ABC Company” and “benefits” or “culture” to find both the company’s marketing messages on the topic, as well as what’s been said elsewhere, she says.

Check Public Filings

If the company is public, you can access its financials. Download 10-K and 10-Q forms to get a sense of the company’s financial health, Sawka says. This information can be more difficult to find when it comes to privately held companies, but Dun and Bradstreet (DNB) might have some information. You can look for rounds of funding that must be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission and pull the business’s credit profile–unlike a personal profile, anyone can access a business credit report from reporting agencies like DNB or Experian for a fee.

“What I might do if the company is private is work into those intelligence-gathering conversations some questions or inquiries that would get to financial health. Do you have a sense, if you’re a supplier to the company, for example, do they pay their bills on time? Have you had any collection issues with them? On the customer side, are they more aggressive in receivables collecting than maybe is the norm for your industry, that sort of thing,” he suggests.

Correction: A previous version of this story identified Ken Sawka as the CEO and founder of Fuld + Company. He is the CEO and president.

About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and web sites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books.

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