Opinion: How to Vet Your Next Company

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Pictured: Illustration of two people choosing different directions at a crossroads/iStock, z_wei

Recently, I wrote for BioSpace about how to evaluate whether it’s time to change jobs. For those who are—voluntarily or not—already on the job market, what’s the best way to assess whether one is likely to be happy at a given workplace? As candidates consider multiple opportunities in making their next career move, it can often seem daunting and confusing to try to vet different companies.

Over the past 20 years of counseling candidates, our team at BroadReach has been asked for tips on how to perform this vetting. Our approach is to consider each company using three criteria: its match with the candidate’s “why,” its financial health and its employee reviews. I’ll explain each area in more detail.

My Why

Simon Sinek coined the phrase and wrote the book “Start with Why,” which presents a way of thinking, acting and communicating that gives some companies the ability to inspire. As a starting point, it’s important to pick a company that is operating in a market area that is growing and aligned with things that get you excited. You’ll be much more motivated if your why aligns with the company’s why as a common mission that has growth potential.

I once spoke with a candidate who was extremely interested in developing innovative cures for cancer. She had realized that her current role with a medical device company did not inspire her and she was having trouble getting out of the bed each morning to go to work.  She transitioned to an innovative company providing a test for early cancer detection and became thoroughly energized in her new role. Aligning your passion with that of a company can make a job feel less like work.

Financial Health

Second, you’ll want to consider the financial health of the prospective company. This will differ slightly if the company is public versus private or pre-IPO. For public companies, there are many available measures (financial statements, profits, % growth, market share, stock price, etc.) that make assessing its situation straightforward. For private or pre-IPO companies, you’ll have to dig a little deeper. Some questions to consider are:

  • How far along are they on developing their product? Where is it in the clinical trials or FDA approval process?
  • How much venture money have they received, and how much longer can they continue before their next round or getting to cash-flow positive?

For both types of companies, you’ll also want to determine whether they have a compelling, defendable competitive advantage (perhaps patents or something unique). If so, this bolsters the financial health picture.

Employee Reviews

The third area to consider is employee reviews and the window they provide into the company culture. Websites such as GlassDoor and Comparably.com provide a rich source of information and another way to compare companies. Some questions you might consider are:

  • Does the company celebrate diversity? Is there a DE&I program?
  • Does the company invest in its employees? Any training benefits?
  • Is there a healthy work/life balance?

Another valuable source of information can be using one’s network to find someone who works or has worked at the company. This is a great time to tap into college alumni connections or friends of friends to get unfiltered insight into the company’s culture. It is quite easy to do this with LinkedIn using its filter capabilities. While this may seem a bit awkward or uncomfortable, there is tremendous value in having this type of information as one makes the important life decision of where to work. Be aware, however, that when an employee has been recently laid off or downsized, this can color their perspective on their previous experience at the company.

But what happens if I use this framework and it is still too close to call? So glad you asked! This is when my colleagues and I recommend the baseball cap approach. That is, we suggest you take a day to pretend to yourself that you have accepted a job for one of the companies you’re considering and see how it feels. If you feel comfortable and have a sense of pride, excitement and gratification, that is a great sign. If instead you are anxious and have an upset stomach through the day, it’s probably a good sign to “try on the other cap” (the alternative company choice) and see what happens. While rather unscientific, we’ve found that when two choices are too close to call, the baseball cap approach tends to be a pretty accurate predictor of where a candidate will be happiest.

Evaluating prospective companies in these three areas can provide a helpful framework to address what can seem like an overwhelming task. I hope this framework will prove a helpful tool and lend additional confidence as you vet prospective companies to navigate your next career move.

Bob Broady is the president of BroadReach Search Partners, which specializes in recruiting for the biotechnology industry. He can be reached at bbroady@broadreachsp.com or on LinkedIn.

 

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