How To Evaluate a Company Before You Join Them
I used to do this the stupid way that I'm almost embarrassed to share this. But I'm all for helping people make better decisions, so here goes.
In the past, when I was applying for jobs or when a recruiter / hiring manager reached out, I'd be impressed by such dumb things.
OMG. Their website is amazing.
OMG. They have so much funding.
OMG. They have so much press coverage!
I suppose it's okay to be impressed by these things. The error I was making is that I idiotically thought that these meant that they were a good company to work for and joining them would be good for my career, which is a double whammy of the Halo effect and WYSIATI.
When I chat with people earlier in their career, I've noticed that they fall for being wowed by superficial factors as well. I don't know. It's not anyone's fault. Unless you're lucky enough to get a mentor at the right time, nobody teaches you this stuff.
So here's a better way to do it:
Split your company evaluation into 2 parts: internal and external.
Internal analysis: how much impact will you have?
I really like this framework by Bangaly Kaba:
Impact = Environment x Skills
Broadly speaking, you should optimize your career for maximum impact. It's the engine that will drive your career over the long term and give you the most lasting satisfaction.
Brand and company recognizability is important, but you have to be careful since they can trap you. There are plenty of unsatisfied, miserable but rich employees at FAANG companies. In general, people tend to overweight the value of brand.
Therefore, one of your tasks as a hiring candidate is to evaluate whether the company's Environment is one that will allow your Skills to flourish. No sense in being a smart, ambitious, capable person in an environment that won't let you shine. Conversely, you could be in a company with a great culture, but your current skill set is inappropriate. Also bad.
Here's a few questions you need to get answers to during the interview process. You also need to cold-DM alumni on LinkedIn to get their take.
- What is the leadership team's "mental model" of marketing?
- What is the "A team" in the company and how healthy is the marketing relationship with that team?
- Does the person who leads the marketing team have a good relationship with company leadership?
Bangaly has a much, much more in-depth breakdown of his formula here.
External analysis: is this a strong boat in a rising tide?
Forget about how good the website is, how much funding they've raised and how much press they've gotten. They are weak signals at best, and misleading at worst.
Anyone can design a nice website. The vast majority of funded companies fail. And if you're reading this, that probably means you're in marketing, so you should know how much spin goes into PR.
Your task here as a candidate is to judge whether the business is healthy, and will continue to be healthy for the foreseeable future.
Two things you should absolutely be looking at:
Transcripts of earnings reports. If they're public, this is a great way to understand how the company leadership thinks about their place in their industry. Look at the questions asked by analysts, they're paid to be skeptical so you can see what the headwinds are.
Investor decks. If they're private, just ask. You'd be surprised how easy these are to get. Even redacted ones are useful; you just want to see whether the narrative makes sense.
And as a marketer, you can use a few familiar tools:
Google trends. Look at the search volume for the company, or for the industry they're in. You're looking for a positive slope. Run away if it's cratering.
LinkedIn. Look at headcount growth. Again, ideally a positive slope, usually indicating growth and optimism. A flat headcount is also fine: but you need to ask leadership why this is the case and you need to feel good about the answer.
Ghostery. Or any other "tech stack analysis" tool. This tells you what software they're paying for. Some tools can even tell you when they bought certain software. Again, shows optimism and investment, especially if they're signing up for marketing, advertising & sales software.
App store analysis tools. If they're on a marketplace, then there's likely a tool that can show you install/download growth over time, and user ratings trends.
You're an investor, you have to think like one
Imagine if you could only invest in one stock at a time, and the range of stocks that you can buy in the future is dependent on your current stock pick.
You would research the hell out of that company, since you would recognize what's at stake. You wouldn't just look at the website and a few press releases.
I would say that job searching is like investing, but in my opinion it's way more important than that. With investing, you usually have a diversified portfolio so one loss doesn't hurt that much. And you can find ways to get your money back. But with your career, you're investing something way more valuable than money: your irreplaceable time.
Choose wisely, my friends.