Sunday 18 October 2015

How To Work Out If A Company Is Right For You

The idea of working for one company from youth to retirement has become almost quaint, especially in the tech industry.  For many people the only way to get a decent pay rise, or work on new things, or to move up the career ladder, is to move to a different job. And with globalisation following the low costs areas around the world as various currencies and tax regimes and legal situations fluctuate and evolve, even if you don't leave voluntarily there's a good chance at some point you'll leave involuntarily. To all intents and purposes, it is a certainty that if you've got more than 10 - 15 years before you can retire, you're going to move jobs.  And moving jobs is a scary prospect, because change is often difficult and interviewing is scary and moving to a new company can be daunting. 

I know, what a joyful opening, eh?  But it's not all doom and gloom, because changing jobs is also refreshing, eye-opening and challenging, and you can get that pay rise or chance to work on new things or promotion that you want.  So let's focus on the positives and assume that you've decided to take the plunge and look for a new job to make your life more satisfying.  You can take or leave the job you're interviewing for.  How can you find out whether the company you're interviewing with is right for you?

Let's get one thing clear: If what you want is money, and you're interviewing for a company that will pay double what any other company pays for equivalent roles, this article isn't for you.  Take the job and spend the crap out of your new salary! (Also, do your brethren a solid and tell us who the company is and if they're hiring.)  That's not to say that you shouldn't just check to make sure that the company isn't run by lizard people who are plotting to exterminate the human race - that'd probably stain the ol' resume when you move on - but generally speaking, if you want a honking great salary and can deal with the working conditions, just say yes, sign on the line and crack on. 

Unfortunately, that kind of high-paying gig doesn't crop up often and anyway, people have needs that go above and beyond money.  Sure, you need to pay your bills each month, but once you're earning a salary that enables you to do that then you've got to look at the other factors that make you happy.  What are these factors?  Let's hit the go-to diagram for amateur psychologists everywhere to find out:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid Diagram
This is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the much quoted, copied and discussed framework for understanding human motivation.  We're not looking at the most basic motivations - the Physiological and Safety levels at the bottom of the pyramid - because if you need to change jobs to find food, shelter or safety then just take whatever you can.  Rather, we're focusing on the top 3 levels: Love/Belonging, Esteem and Self-actualisation.  To help us understand what they mean, here's an expanded version of the diagram:

Maslow's Expanded Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid Diagram
For the purposes of finding a place that you actively want to work in, you need to understand what it is that you need and enjoy the most.  That way you can ask the right kind of questions at interview to find out what the company attitude is in areas that are most important to you.  Let's breakdown the 3 levels to see how they apply to your working environment.

Love/Belonging - This is about belonging to a tribe, being part of a group.  For some people this is particularly important, for others it's not.  If you're the kind of person who needs a sense of togetherness and community in your work place to be happy, then this is important to you. If you wonder how anyone could want to work somewhere without this, remember that it's not a binary choice.  You can work for a company where you get on with your colleagues without wanting or needing close relationships; this doesn't mean you dislike the people you work with, it just means it's not that important to you whether you build close bonds or not.

Esteem - This is about doing a good job, being recognised for it, and recognising it in others.  It's often the difference between doing a job that is seen as a necessary evil and doing a job that is seen as a positive benefit.  Nobody wants to do a job for which their co-workers have disdain or contempt. The only thing worse than this is doing a job and feeling contempt for yourself for doing it.  It's ok to want an occasional comment of appreciation, and it's ok to want other people to think that you do a good job of something that benefits the company.  It doesn't matter if you're a cleaner (a job which is very under-appreciated - imagine how grim the bathrooms and kitchens in your office would be if no-one cleaned them for even a week) or a captain of industry, everyone likes to feel appreciated at least a bit. 

Self-actualisation - This is about the fulfilment of potential and the need to achieve great (to you) things.  It's common for this to be expressed in terms of wishing one could write a novel, or climb Everest, or go to the moon, but the intrinsic desire is more generic: to achieve something that is both rare and difficult, to have mastery of oneself and one's environment, to experience things which expand the boundaries of your world in a fundamental way.  In the context of work this might be becoming a well-known guru in a particularly complex field, or building up your own successful company that disrupts the established order, or it could be something as simple as being the best you can be at what you do.

Don't think of these as stages through which you should progress, with each one representing more "success" than the previous stage.  It's entirely possible for Person A to feel self-actualised by achieving things and living in a way which wouldn't satisfy Person B.  Likewise Person A might think that Person B's desire to climb Everest seems unpleasant at best and their idea of hell at worst.  It's all personal and all relative, especially as you can want or need any and all combinations of things from all 3 stages to be happy.  Think of the stages as compartments on a serving tray, where you can pick what you want from any compartment.

With that in mind, here are some example questions which you can use to start finding out about your potential employer's attitude to what's important to you:


  • Does the company see people skills as more or less important than technical skills?
  • Do you encourage cross-disciplinary working?
  • Do the writers sit and work with the rest of the development staff?
  • Are there flourishing clubs or activities, like a cycling club or poker school, where staff can spend time bonding?


  • Does the company see documentation more as a necessary cost, or more as a value multiplier?
  • Does the company operate a peer-review process for their documentation?
  • Where do writers fit into your strategic plans for growth and success?


  • What is the yearly training budget, and how much time is allocated for training?
  • Are there opportunities to move to different projects based on my interests and prior learning?
  • Are your staff given autonomy and support or are they closely managed and monitored?
  • Do you have a mentoring and/or coaching program for staff?

Of course there are many such questions, and these are only examples.  They're also weighted towards documentation roles, so if that's not your area the Esteem questions in particular won't be much use to you.  But in general terms, if you can work out what it is that you like and dislike about your current role, you'll be much better prepared to find out what your new company can offer to make your working life happier and more fulfilled.

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