“Why do you want to work for this company?”
It’s an interview question we’ve all faced, as a prospective employer tries to gauge how committed we might be to their organization. But it’s a question that requires some serious thought, beyond giving the interviewer the answer they would like to hear.
What exactly sets a particular firm apart as a place we would like to build a career?
This year, Google topped Fortune’s list of the 100 best companies to work for in the USA for the seventh time in a decade. Not every firm has the celebrity profile or resources of a Google or a Facebook, but there are some valuable lessons to learn about what they do well. Equally, with high job turnover in the UAE, it’s important to look at what firms might be getting wrong. So let’s examine six key areas to watch when it comes to choosing the right company:
1. Staff turnover: what can it tell you? It’s no secret that employee turnover is high in the UAE– global recruiters Robert Half found that 80% of businesses they surveyed are concerned about losing their top performers in the next year. But what’s behind the trend for so-called “job-hopping”? It’s easy to blame the employee and if you’ve moved around a lot, you’re probably familiar with arguments about “ambition” and “opportunism.” But it’s worth looking at why people are actually switching jobs.
Bayt.com carried out a report with YouGov in April 2015, which found that of 5,774 respondents, 43% expected to leave their jobs within two years. The number one reason was indeed salary, but right behind it was a lack of career growth opportunities. That suggests people are switching because something more fundamental and long term is missing. Chances are that job turnover in your firm is already high, so if you’re looking for somewhere to settle, a shrewd approach may be to look at what the firm is doing about it.
Robert Half found that companies are starting to switch on to keeping their best performers: “Many [CFOs] are taking steps to address their retention concerns about top financial professionals looking to move, recognizing that professionals are hesitant to move to new roles if they are not in line with career aspirations.”
2. How is the company performing? Before we get into this one, it’s worth taking a moment to think about what that question really means. At first glance, it’s about the company’s financial fortunes– a healthy balance sheet bodes well for your own future with the firm. There are plenty of ways to keep on top of a company’s market performance, whether it’s following them on LinkedIn or just targeting news stories about them.
But again, there’s a deeper consideration here. It’s not just about market share and client retention– top performing companies tend to be those at the forefront of everything, including how to treat their employees. US salary comparison firm Payscale’s Compensation Best Practices Report looks into “top performing companies,” defined as “those leading their industry.” It shows 86% agree with “our people are our greatest asset” compared to 78% of companies not regarded as top performers.
Payscale also found that employee retention was the number one priority of these top performers. As Bayt puts it, “satisfied employees are the most important assets a company can have. They are more productive, motivated and loyal, which improves an organization’s chances of success.”
If a company is out in front, think about whether there are fundamental reasons that go beyond just financial performance.
3. Work-life balance – what do they expect from you? That brings us to what the company in question really wants. Are they interested in promoting a long-term relationship, helping you to meet your potential, and develop your career progression? Or are they resigned to the established high job turnover patterns for UAE employees and content to throw a big salary at you but little more?
It’s important to find out everything possible in terms of how the company and in particular your new manager approaches their relationship with employees. For this, remember the power of social networking– research whether any of your connections work for the firm, or perhaps more tellingly, have worked there in the past. Find out about the role, the team and the manager.
For example, if work-life balance is important to you, find out how the firm views it. Salary benchmarking firm Emolument recently found that 56% of UAE respondents said their work-life balance was “awful.” That doesn’t mean your prospective employer won’t value it, but it’s definitely worth finding out.
4. Do you fit in? A quote often attributed to Confucius runs: “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” But finding the right role for you is as much about the company and its culture, vision and values as it is about the job on paper.
These days many companies have succinct, catchy values statements, but it’s important to find out how far they live up to them. Robert Half gives some advice to employers looking to hire someone who not only fulfills the technical requirements, but has the qualities to fit into the company culture. It’s about asking questions on work style, what good results look like, how they solve problems, and how they go about building relationships.
This advice works just as well in reverse though, and these are exactly the kinds of things for you to ascertain. “Do I have to work long hours?” won’t endear you to an interviewer, but asking about ethics, values, team dynamics, management style, atmosphere and communication, as well as simply what they’re looking for in a candidate, are all good pointers.
Just remember that while it’s important to do well, if the answers you’re getting don’t fit with what you are seeking, it’s best not to keep up a façade. In his book, Delivering High Performance, Douglas Long argues that most departures in the first 12 months of employment, whether instigated by employer or employee, come down to a bad cultural fit. Authenticity is important on both sides and faking it for an interview won’t help with the day-to-day reality of the job.
5. Can you learn something? Richard Branson famously said: “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes– then learn how to do it later.” That may seem a little gung-ho, but if you’re looking to put in the years with a firm, the importance of continuous learning shouldn’t be overlooked. In 2016, Hays found that of 2,400 employees asked, 37% of those who began a new job did so because of career progression.
Career progression doesn’t have to mean a new job title, a bigger desk and more responsibility. It’s important to look at it from the point of view of developing your skillset, amassing valuable experience and progressing as a professional in your field.
6. Is there a sense of purpose? As an employee, you’ll know what’s expected of you, but that doesn’t mean a sense of purpose isn’t important. In 1974, Studs Terkel said, “[Work] is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread.” Increasingly, a sense of purpose is becoming an important aspect, not only for choosing a job, but for remaining in it.
In their findings from the 2016 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For Report, Greatplacetowork.com highlighted that among the companies on the list, an employee’s intention to stay was closely correlated to the beliefs that “[My] work has special meaning,” “I make a difference here,” and “When I look at what we accomplish, I feel a sense of pride.” As they point out, there’s a powerful incentive to keep coming into work every day when you can clearly see that your presence is worthwhile.
Back to that interview
Another question we’ve all heard, usually once we’re already exhausted and talked out, is ‘Do you have any questions?’ If there’s a lesson to be learned here it’s that you should be peppering your interview with questions from start to finish. The clue, after all, is in the name, “interview.” “Inter” is a Latin prefix meaning “between,” “mutually,” or “reciprocally.” You’re both there to learn –interviewer and interviewee– so it’s essential to ask the questions that will really come to matter in the long term.
Can you function? Can you learn? Can you work here? Learn why a position is open and understand how the employer will work to develop the successful candidate. In general, firms don’t want to lose employees– it takes time and it’s expensive. But picking the wrong job can be costly for you too. Putting together a few well-chosen questions and doing your homework now could pay dividends in the long run.