How to evaluate your prospective employer

Vikki Maclean, Kerridge and Partners.

Vikki Maclean, Kerridge and Partners.

OPINION: 

Time for reflection over the summer holidays leads to people thinking about their future, with many returning to work determined to change jobs or careers or to take the next step up the corporate ladder.

It's widely accepted that employers will check references and undertake other investigations about a candidate's suitability – known as due diligence – prior to making an offer. The scope of these investigations is increasing to include social media activity, medical history and in some cases social and personal habits.

In the case of due diligence, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. It's just as important for candidates to research prospective employers, especially in the case of senior roles with lots of responsibility.

What follows are tips on how to research a prospective employer to ensure it's the perfect fit for you.

Access

Due diligence should form a part of every candidate's transition to a new role. Those seeking executive positions ought to pay particular attention to the level of access the role allows. Access refers to lines of communication with boards and executives; as well as input on high level strategy and the availability of resources. Access is crucial in roles whose function has direct shareholder implications, is customer-facing or shapes the direction of the organisation because it lends certainty toward being right the first time. It provides a sounding board for ideas and gives a level of oversight to strategy.

It should be easy to evaluate the level of access offered by a role. Recruiters will have a firm understanding of where the position fits in the wider leadership structure and whether the relationships with senior leaders are reporting or informal in nature. Speak with them to gauge how close the relationships with top management will be and understand this before proceeding with the appointment.

Alignment of values

It is crucial that a candidate's values are aligned with their prospective employer. This is especially   relevant for executive positions due to their high profile and influence over other staff they lead. Conflict of values is always disruptive and impedes decision-making that is in the best interests of the organisation.

Executive search firms should present an objective description of the values held by clients. The candidate should research these and decide whether the organisation "walks the talk". Failure to establish a "values fit" while not directly damaging to a candidate's employability - will surface eventually and could jeopardise job effectiveness.

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Candidates can be hesitant to conduct due diligence on value alignment for fear of learning that the company is not a moral fit. Though this is a possible outcome, search agencies do target candidates based on a likely fit with their client. And remember, any disappointment - at this early stage - will be outstripped by the stresses of working with people that don't share your values.

Risk Assessment

Before joining an organisation, candidates must be sure that they understand the risks facing the business. Where does it sit in the local market, and how susceptible it is to global forces? Take the recent drop in oil prices as an example: if applying to an energy company, a piece of due diligence would be to analyse how volatile commodity prices affect the operation of the business and whether the effects transcend the position sought.

Different businesses are impacted by events in different ways. It is necessary to know the potential obligations facing the role in times of crisis – big and small – so that the candidate fully grasps the breadth of responsibility in the role and becomes comfortable accepting it. Ultimately, all risks are relative and some roles might not warrant risk management responsibility at all.

Check the Numbers

Due diligence has its origins in the securities markets. It should come as no surprise then that researching the financial health and legitimacy of a future employer is critically important. If the organisation is a listed company, speak with research analysts and read annual reports to get a grounding in the revenue drivers and key financial risks facing the organisation. If not, engage directors on their governance and internal audit practises.

Ask to see historic profit and cash flow summaries so that a personal assessment of the company's viability can be made. Often, financial discrepancies hint on wider misrepresentations that senior staff can eventually find themselves entangled in. It is crucial to have confidence in the financial position, reporting and compliance practises of the organisation before commencing in the role.

As a more qualitative audit, there is no better due diligence than acting as a customer of the organisation in question. Buy the product, meet the staff and ask questions. Be inquisitive. The more a candidate can experience an organisation the greater their knowledge will be of its core operations and the challenges it faces.

Taking the time to research a prospective employer is one of the most important investments of time a candidate can make. Make sure that you know all you can before you sign on the dotted line.

Vikki Maclean is a partner of leadership consultancy, Kerridge & Partners. 

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