The job market is often painted as a battle between hiring managers and job seekers, in which the former holds all the cards over the latter. That is, one side -- hiring managers and employers -- has all the negotiating leverage, while the other -- job seekers -- must do all that they can to get noticed, get on the company’s good side and, eventually and after a lot of heartache, get hired. This popular perception, and the dark shadow it has cast over the job search, is unfair. And the smartest job seekers would be wise to avoid such an assumption.
As the unemployment rate continues to plummet -- and the tech unemployment rate continues to clock in well below the national average -- candidates can once again be as picky with their choice of potential employers as employers are of potential hires. Especially in the technology sector, which is currently booming everywhere from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, Utah, to Charlotte, North Carolina, top-quality technology workers are in growing demand across the country. No longer is it necessary for job seekers to jump at the first opportunity that comes along; if you’re talented, experienced and personable enough, there will be plenty more where that came from.
But for candidates, simply realizing they have a certain amount of agency and leverage in the job hunt is only the first step. After all, having a measure of power is one thing, but making a power play is another. If in the course of your search you land on a job that, on the surface, appears to suit your interests, it’s important to ask some difficult questions of the position, the company, and yourself before saying yes.
No. 1: What’s more important to me -- salary or flexibility?
While as recently as a few years ago the salary vs. flexibility debate may have seemed ludicrous, that is no longer the case. Increasingly, in-demand candidates are taking less lucrative take-home pay in exchange for better hours, the chance to work remotely, more vacation time, or access to social media in the workplace. In 2011, staffing firm Mom Corps found that two in five workers would give up a chunk of their pay for increased flexibility.
Despite “flexibility” becoming an ever-greater concern for job seekers, many employers' hiring schemes are slow to catch up. A recent study from the UK illustrated the trend: The Timewise index found that despite the 14.1 million Britons who desire flexible working hours, only 6% of job postings include any reference to the perk. Thus, while there may be some leeway in terms of employers offering flexibility, in most cases you will be required to ask in order to receive. And while there are some unicorn tech job postings out there that offer both high salaries and ample flexibility -- particularly in the startup space -- you should be prepared to sacrifice a little of one in order to nail the other.
No. 2: Does size really matter?
Once you’ve got your culture fix, it’s time to get down to company size. Does it matter? The age-old question rears its ugly head once again, this time in the job search. In the technology sector alone, the range of company populations can be striking. If you’re on the lookout for a massive, global firm, Google (47,000 employees), eBay (32,000) and Facebook (10,000) sit on the high end, while there are thousands of smaller start-up firms can have as few as five to 10 employees. In between the two poles is a universe of stable, mid-size technology companies, places like SAS (6,000), Netflix (2,500 employees), and Twitter (3,600).
There is very little difference in overall employee satisfaction between different-sized companies, as witnessed by the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For 2015, which is a healthy mix of large and small. So, it really comes down to what kind of office lifestyle you prefer. Painted with broad strokes, there are pros and cons to each tier of employment. A larger company translates to employee security, benefits, and a robust -- but occasionally rigid -- hierarchy, while a smaller one means a riskier but potentially more lucrative move, where you’ll have more responsibility and freedom. Therefore, it’s really about what you prefer. If you welcome the anonymity of a large company and enjoy doing your small part of a wide-reaching effort, then a large company may be right for you. If you’d feel confined as part of a larger team, a smaller company where you can flex your workplace muscle appears to be a better fit. It’s important to be honest with yourself about what you want.
No. 3: Will my boss be a kindred spirit or a soul-crushing scold?
A company’s management style -- particularly, your direct supervisor’s style -- will go a long way to your ultimate job satisfaction. If you and your boss see eye to eye in terms of expectations, reviews, management style, promotions and summer Fridays, you could be looking at a long and happy marriage to your office. If not, well, we don’t have to tell you how difficult it is to deal with people you don’t like even in passing, much less on a daily basis for an extended period of time. It’s no secret micromanagers are one of the top causes of employee dissatisfaction.
We all know what a good boss should be -- empowering, understanding, articulate about expectations, defensive of their staff, and so on -- but everyone has a different personal ideal for what makes a good boss. Ask yourself what you’re looking for in a leader. Do you prefer a relaxed jokester, a no-nonsense taskmaster, an arm-around-the-shoulder comrade, or maybe just a regular old screaming lunatic? If you can, try to feel out what makes your supervisor tick, both through research and during the job interview. With Switch, our in-app chat platform allows you to speak with internal employees at the company, so if your future boss is also hiring for the positions, you can start getting a sense during your initial conversations!
No. 4: Does the company’s culture pop, or will it be a culture shock?
It’s no secret that company culture has an effect on employee productivity, profit margins and a company’s overall success. A Columbia University study from 2014 found that companies with solid cultures had a very low employee turnover -- just 13.9% -- while companies on the opposite end of the culture spectrum see nearly half of their employees escape to greener pastures. Happy employees, according to University of Warwick research, are 12% more productive than their disillusioned peers, and Harvard found that workplace pleasure translates into better problem solvers. Most important for the employer, companies who put employees first lap the competition in terms of profitability.
To discover how deep your prospective company’s culture runs, you may need to go beyond FAQ sheets and CEO manifestos found online. If you can, find an employee or two that works or previously worked at the company you’re considering and get their perspective on the company. This way, you can determine whether the culture will mesh with your own office expectations. Maybe you’re looking for a company that encourages communication, has an open floor plan, offers company outings or one that boasts a beach volleyball court instead of a conference room. Whatever it is, odds are there is a company out there that can match it.
No. 5: Do I care about the product or service this company’s selling?
Perhaps the most important component to ultimate workplace satisfaction, aligning your values with the corporate mission of your future employers is often the hardest to accomplish. That is, it’s difficult to determine a company’s values -- aside from whatever trumped-up mission statement you may find on their website -- until you are working for said company. In addition, until you are in that corporate ecosystem, it’s difficult to pinpoint where your own values lie.
A quick internet search reveals those companies on either end of the values spectrum. Forbes has a list of the Top 25 Companies for Culture and Values (led by Twitter) while The Atlantic has an ignominious list of the Top 10 Most-Hated Companies in America. Much more difficult to find, however, are those that fall somewhere in the middle, most exuding a mix of positive social impact and civic indifference.
When asking yourself this question, it’s important to think of eventualities. Your prospective employer may appear to deliver a fine product that you agree with, but consider whether you will still believe in the mission 12 or 24 months down the road. Particularly for fast-growing technology firms, long hours are likely and the more you agree with your company’s ethos, the more energized, productive and fulfilled you’ll find yourself at day’s end. Much like the four other major considerations above, aligning your values with that of a company’s can feel like a guessing game. Trust your instincts. Answer honestly. And once you have, go forth into the land of the happily employed!