You already know the job market is an ever-changing thing, just ask anyone who looked for a job 5, or even 2, years ago and finds themselves back in the market today if you don’t believe it. The current global market is heavily candidate-focused due to a shortage of high-quality candidates for the available positions.
And that means the HR world has had to pivot and adapt in order to get those seats filled, not just with any old person, but with the RIGHT person. We’re seeing everything from an explosion of recruitment marketing (the practice of cultivating a talent pool of ready potential candidates) practices, to massive growth in automated ATS (applicant tracking systems), all the way to the recent development of gamified recruitment solutions.
All of this begs the question—how do you, as the candidate, separate the signal from the noise and pick your employer of choice from all of the available options?
It’s Never Too Early to Start Researching
The simplest answer is: research. Yet, that is also a complicated answer as it opens up reams of possibilities. Here are our picks for getting to the heart of a company and helping select the one you truly want to work for. Even if you’re currently mostly content at your current role, it can’t hurt to do some cursory digging, for your mental database if nothing else.
Start with your current job title, or even department, something to give you a launching point. Look at job listings for your role from a cross-sample of the companies in your sector. Read the job descriptions on a variety of boards and company career portals alike, looking for and noting things like the brand voice they use, the overall tone of the listing, and how their use of buzzwords feels. From our experience, too many buzzwords stuffed into a single paragraph is a red flag.
Look for mention of what’s called EVP, or Employee Value Proposition. This is the combination of benefits, office culture, and how a company treats their workforce. In this market, it’s the culture created by a company that should be a top priority when choosing where to send in that application. Remember, they need you, so the offerings should present a place you actively want to be.
And finally, after exhausting other sources, turn to the review sites. This should be left for last because you’ll want to approach these sites with skepticism and foreknowledge of which companies you’re focusing on. Be wary of 100% glowing reviews that gush about...nothing specific. At the same time, be on the lookout for the 100% negative ones that seem to mostly be complaining about the bad coffee in the breakroom. Both extremes tell you more about the person writing the review than the company.
Detail Time: What to Look for in Job Descriptions
First, don’t only read the ones for your role. That was your starting point, but after you get a taste for those positions, branch out and read some descriptions for completely unrelated roles. The idea is to collect information on the kind of people they’re looking to hire, not just what roles they need filled.
See if the tone is consistent across descriptions. If not, they may not have an HR style guide, or their recruiters may not be using it. This is a potential red flag as it can indicate strife within HR or between them and hiring managers. Of course, it can also mean that the hiring managers themselves are writing the postings, which is actually awesome since who knows what they’re looking for better than the hiring manager themselves?
Expand Your Focus: Read Up on the Competition
Once you have a short list of preferred employers, it’s time to read up on the competition. This serves to give you a counterpoint and multiple perspectives can only strengthen your position when it comes time to apply. Start by comparing job descriptions for similar roles to get a sense of their tone and where they put the focus (hard skills? Soft skills? EVP?).
Maybe you’ll find that the company you were focusing on at first is actually in disarray compared to others. Now you can pivot your research. Are the lists of skills similar? How about the benefits on offer? Does the tone sound like something you’re on board with? Then, just like in the first round of research, expand out to listings for different roles.
The idea with this step is to either solidify your decision or point out flaws in your chosen target company. Either way, gathering as much information as you can at this point will only help when it comes time to apply. You’ll know what tone to use in your cover letter, and what skills to highlight on your CV.
Call on Your Network
An often overlooked, yet extremely useful resource is your friend network. After all, talented widget-makers likely know other highly talented widget-makers, right? Do they like their employer? Why or why not? This can broaden your knowledge base and help you narrow down your target.
Also, many employers are bolstering their employee referral programs in this market (on the above mentioned assumption that like knows like), so there may be additional EVP information on offer. Many companies also fast-track applications that come in via an employee referral, so you can often find yourself bypassing the computerized CV scanning stages altogether.
Trust Your Gut. To an Extent.
That “feeling” you got during your last round of interviews for your current role, did you listen to it? How are things working out now?
Humans are intuitive creatures, but we all develop our intuition at different speeds and to differing degrees. If you know your gut feelings can be trusted, do so. If you’re not quite as certain, then combine that gut feeling with the results of your research for a logical decision-making process.
Remember, emotional intelligence (EI) works both ways. If you use yours in the research phase of your job search, you’re more likely to land on the right company where people are also using their EI to create a work environment where you can thrive.