[The Job Hunt] What 6 Things Should You Know About a Company’s Reputation?

The year’s started, and the job hunt scramble (see a piece from the NY Times here) looks as if it’s begun. Like high school boys at the singles dance eying prospective eligibles, people have targeted the places to work that are cool and hot, and which places are not unless you’re really desperate for a job – or a dance.

But what should you know before dismissing some places, and falling in love before first sight at others?


Reputations can lag. We all know that reputations can be hype, but it helps to remember that what is know is really yesterday’s truth. Firms that might have been great places to work, may still have that image though the reality and reputation not longer match. Just as a VC firm may be living off and old reputation and is able to more easily secure investors (see Wall Street Journal: How Much Does a Venture Firm’s Reputation Matter?), a company may have a brand and reputation that is far better than the reality inside. When I ran a biotech staffing team that hired people out of Merck in the 1990’s, I was always amazed about the disconnect between the public perception (very favorable) and actual experience (pretty mixed) of people of the firm as a place to work.

While proverbial tone from the top – what are the actions, behaviors, and values of senior executives – is significant, how your own boss operates is far more important for your day-to-day life. So while a site like Glassdoor.com has great data – its recent list of Worst Companies to Work For may have some gems that merit pursuing.

Reputations are fickle. Mindshare and reputations can change as markets change: ten years ago Sun Microsystems, Organic Online, and Oracle were hot, Apple and Gilead Sciences [Disclosure: Gilead is a client] were not. Salesforce.com and Google were just over a year old, with no hype and little press. Now Sun is in the process of being acquired by Oracle, Organic is owned by someone else, and the latter four companies are all arguably “hot.” Go figure.

Who has come, and who has gone? The ability to attract and retain key talent is frequently a hallmark of well-run firms. Revolving doors – lots of talent in, and lots of talent out – is frequently a sign of trouble. So Facebook, a firm that I’d professionally approach cautiously as overhyped because it’s grown fast and is a “hot” company, has added people like Sheryl Sandberg as their COO and Dave Ebersman as their CFO – two people whose reputations at prior places was as strong and effective managers – and would cause me to think more favorably of Facebook.

Use your networks. While information provided by a site like Glassdoor.com gives you some quick information, it can be skewed. As experience with a generally helpful site like Yelp in the commercial sector has demonstrated (see Fast Company: The Perils and Promise of the Reputation Economy aka On the Internet Everyone Knows You’re a Dog), reputations can be gained and lost quickly, and not always for valid reasons. The sort of solid, thoughtful networking laid out in some earlier posts here and basic research here will give you an idea of what a firm is really like.  And thanks to tools like LinkedIn or Flowtown it’s easy to find connections into firms for which you’d like to get more info.

Reputations count. Just make sure the reputation matches reality. And sometimes – as one of artist Richard Stine card’s might suggest, you really don’t know what a place is like to work at until you work there.

And me? I’m watching to see how my personal favorite Jive Software develops.