Is It Really The Job Of Your Dreams? How To Conduct A Reference Check On A Potential Employer ( vladwel) (vladwel)


Prior to extending a job offer, an employer will usually do due diligence on you – background checks, drug tests, and reference checks, among other things – so that they know who they're hiring.

Likewise, you should do due diligence on a potential employer before accepting any position. And with the substantial volume of information readily accessible both online and through your network, there's really no excuse for accepting a job at a nightmare employer without having done your homework first.

Here's five resources you can use to conduct a reference check on a potential employer.

Resource: Glassdoor
What Is It: It's a job board, but it's also a forum where job applicants and employees can post and rate their interview and work experiences with an employer.
Pros: Transparency. There's a huge number of reviews (and growing), particularly about larger companies. Taken in aggregate, you'll get a general picture of the work environment.
Cons: People who have had bad experiences are more likely to post their reviews than people who have had positive or neutral experiences, so the results may skew negatively. The reviews are anonymous, so they're also unverifiable. Large companies can have different sub-cultures across the organization, so the feedback may not be wholly representative. Smaller companies may have few or no reviews.

Resource: "Best Employer" Lists
What Is It: National publications, such as Forbes, as well as regional or local magazines or websites, publish annual employer rankings based upon a variety of criteria, such as the benefits, work environment, diversity, employee engagement, and several other quality of life factors.
Pros: Companies who make the list care deeply about doing so because it helps their employer brand, which in turn supports recruitment and retention. And it's not easy to get on these lists – the selection process typically includes extensive questionnaires, metrics analyses, employee engagement surveys, and audits.
Cons: Companies self-nominate, meaning the pool of potential "Best Employers" consists of firms who are committed to doing the work to get on them; in fact, several employers have departments dedicated to making these lists. Conversely, there are many great employers who don't apply and will therefore not appear on any such list.

Resource: Staffing Firm Recruiter
What Is It: These individuals, also known as headhunters, are hired by companies to find talent for their difficult-to-fill job openings.
Pros: Experienced recruiters know which are great employers and which are revolving doors for talent. Either they've worked on making placements for them, or they know someone who has. And the candidates they speak with provide the inside skinny about their current employers. Bad companies are the ones that tend to be their most fertile for recruiting talent out.
Cons: A recruiter's perspective is going to be tinted by their relationship with that employer. In other words, if the recruiter is works consistently with a company to place talent there, they may be less forthcoming about the negative aspects of working there since the company is paying their tab.

Resource: The News
What Is It: You can search for news about employers on online aggregators, such as Google News or Bing News, or by checking the websites of newspapers, magazines, and television stations.
Pros: If there's information out there to be had, you'll find it.
Cons: Companies don't usually get news coverage unless there's something newsworthy. You'll also need to evaluate the impact of the information; companies usually make the news for really, really good things or for really, really bad things.

Resource: Current or Former Employee of the Company
What Is It: A person who works or has worked there.
Pros: Nobody knows a company better than an employee. He or she will know the politics, pitfalls, and rewards. Ask around, if you don't know anyone personally, chances are someone can help you make a connection to a person who did.
Cons: You'll need to calibrate your opinion based upon the employee's personal experience. If they were fired, they might have an axe to grind.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at, or via the website,