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Company Reputation

Choosing a new role and working at a specific company has implications now, and later. There are certain companies that inspire trust, others that are recognized for their innovation, social impact, or growth, and some that are known for developing exceptional leaders across a number of disciplines. On the other hand, some companies rise and fall, are known for toxic leaders and internal strife, terrible customer experiences, or failed products, and are the subject of editorials and exposés. Some companies that have amassed billions in funding or revenue can be the same companies with bad reputations in other arenas.

The surprising reality is that companies on either end of the spectrum can offer valuable learning, growth, and opportunities, so it’s up to you to decide how the company’s reputation on different fronts will impact your decision. As you reflect, consider:

  • Do you need this role/company to be a launchpad for future opportunities?

  • What aspects of a company’s reputation matter to you?

  • How have previous experiences shaped your ability to respond to issues or take part in change and transformation?

In order to determine if this stop on your career journey will be worthwhile, think about the “dirt” you might discover and how significant it will be to you and your success.

If you’re wondering, “dirt” is what everyone on the outside loves to talk about and what those on the inside hope to hide, especially during the interview process. It’s the information you find when you go looking—employee reviews, rankings on top employer lists, podcasts, press releases, and product placements. Sometimes it’s as simple as broken tools, outdated technology, or cumbersome processes; other times it’s more complicated—toxic personalities, manipulation, lack of strategy, too much or too little on the roadmap, a vision without substance, systemic racism, harassment, or unclear and unachievable goals. The “what” may be unique to each company, but there is dirt, somewhere, everywhere, under… there. It’s important to know what that dirt is before you make a decision. Because the existence of dirt is universal when it comes to companies, it’s mostly about awareness and a conscious decision to choose the dirt in one place over the dirt in another. The dirt you know vs. the dirt you’ll come to find hiding in places you hadn’t had access to or anticipated during the hiring process.

You will need to get under the surface. The canned answers that someone shares as part of the standard interview process might be far from the truth. As an experienced interviewer and hiring manager, I had polished, positive answers reframing anything “tough” ready to go, including answers to the questions about my own failures and choices. Every now and then, someone would ask me a question that would make me pause, look up, and then back at them and say what actually came to my mind, abandoning the words I’d carefully prepared in case that line of questioning came up.

If you begin to ask tough questions and get to the end of an interview process without insight into the dirt, it’s a chance to reflect. No dirt? Nothing wrong? Not possible! Try to ask another question or come at it from a different angle. On the other hand, if someone offers flags or if there is an issue or concern that emerges out of every conversation, a hint of something that just isn’t right, listen, push, and probe. Don’t worry, this can be tough, which is why I’ve prepared a list of questions in the Ask Me This Instead section to help you get the information you need. The proactive slips, misses, and gaffes are very telling. Sometimes it’s sabotage, other times it’s evidence that, even in a context where people are supposed to be polite, diplomatic, and restrained salespeople, there is enough of something going wrong that they just can’t hide it.

Once you know the dirt, weigh the magnitude of the flags and flaws you discovered. Chances are, they will seem worse and more complicated than they are to those inside. Are they the problems you might enjoy solving? Are you OK with conflict, complexity, or chaos? There are good problems for every type of person. The problems I love to solve would make someone else run away! It’s about finding and balancing the problems and potential that are best for you.

Employee Reviews

Before interviews, one of your primary sources for learning about employees’ experiences working at a particular company is the internet. There are endless websites with content and information including The Muse and city-focused Built In sites as well as sources for employee reviews and rankings such as Glassdoor, which can provide interesting tidbits and candid feedback. As you read through the information, try to balance it with your own real-life experience as you go through interviews as many of the inputs are anonymous and thus hard to qualify. What didn’t work for someone else, could work well for you—no two employees will have the same experience even given similar circumstances or timing at a company.

Beyond the sites we might seek out when we’re doing research, we’re inundated by messages about work everywhere we go. While scrolling through your LinkedIn feed you see updates from your network about the exciting jobs someone’s just started or the company milestones that they’re “so lucky” to be around for. Sometimes, you’ll see an intriguing headline about great perks or high salaries and click into it. It’s hard to escape. Those messages, particularly the constant flow of them, can be helpful or disruptive at different periods during our career. Those messages can also be very persuasive. When targeted by messages with positive “filters,” we’re likely to fall prey. Especially on those hard days, the days when we’re down or disappointed. The days when our boss or co-workers frustrate and exasperate us. The days when someone else gives notice, and excitedly talks about their new opportunity and we wonder, “What do they know that I don’t?” Spoiler alert—they don’t necessarily know anything more than you do.

important It’s important to read reviews and social posts with a thoughtful and objective perspective. Think about when people write reviews or share content to their social feeds. Actually, no, don’t think about people, think about yourself. When have you been moved to share your thoughts or opinions with people who you don’t know and likely won’t meet? My experience has led me to think of three primary situations when people post work-related content:

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