Beyond the Employer Marketing Campaign

There is a "War for Talent" going on at the moment, and many employers are doing whatever it takes to win. Employers are marketing a product--employment with them--to you, the consumer. And they want you to "buy" what they are selling. Competing for limited supplies of talent, including life scientists, companies have become more aggressive. Today they are using marketing techniques previously limited to selling products to recruit employees. Marketing demands the company present itself, its management practices, and organizational culture positively. This article examines ways job seekers can look beyond employment marketing campaigns to become informed employment consumers.

Start by gathering facts and data about a company. Getting financial data about a publicly traded company is relatively easy. But learning how a company manages its human resources is more difficult. Business magazines often have articles that can help: Look for titles like "best company to work for," "best managed company," or the "best company for minorities" (or women). Be aware, though, that companies are often the source of the data used in these articles--they want to publicize the values they make evident through their community involvement and philanthropic initiatives. One company, in its annual report, told readers how their employees were active in participating in community service. To a prospective employee this may sound good. But, when I spoke with employees of this organization I learned that managers told them they were expected to be involved in community service and it was to be on their own time. Things are not always what they appear--you need to be an informed employment consumer.

There are three other kinds of sources for facts and data that should help you to become an educated employment consumer: former and current employees, decisions management has made, and third-party assessments about a company?s human resources management practices.

Information From Employees

Current and former employees from all levels of an organization, from secretary to executive, are critical sources of information about a company. They can help you validate the information presented in an employment marketing campaign.

Insider's Tip #1: The Internet

Several Web sites offer current and former employees a forum in which to comment about a company. These include's, and's insider guides. Yahoo Finance has a section for people to submit messages that often provide insights about specific companies.

Insider's Tip #2: Employee Satisfaction/Attitude Surveys

Many companies ask their employees to complete surveys that judge satisfaction with the company, colleagues, jobs, and management practices. Ask the human resources staff or a manager if the company administers a satisfaction/attitude survey to their employees. If they do, ask what are the top 2 or 3 issues and what are the top 2 or 3 positive items. Then ask the same question of some current employees. This will provide you insights into employee issues and the strengths of the company from their employee?s perspective.

Information From Management Decisions

By reviewing management decisions on policies, practices, and employee benefits you can learn about a company's culture and values. Companies that offer on-site child care are telling you something about management views of family and work-life balance. When evaluating these you must look at each item separately but also in conjunction with other decisions management has made. For example, a company may market that it provides several benefits that help balance family and work-life, such as offering day care, laundry services, and auto service all on site. It may, however, also be that the company provides these services only so that employees remain at the work site longer.

Here are some components that you can use to evaluate a company and its culture.

Insider's Tip #3: Assess management values through employee benefits

  • Medical Benefits. Do program options put emphasis on employee needs or controlling costs? Do medical benefits allow employees to go to any physician (generally more costly to the company), restrict initial contact to a primary care physician, or provide employees both options?

  • Tuition Reimbursement. Does the company value continuous training and professional development? Or does it go outside for new skills?

  • Child Care. Does the company offer on-site or subsidized off-site care? How do they handle care of a sick child?

  • Subsidized or Free Meals. This can be a double-edged sword. It can be an indication of a perk for employees, or it can be a way to ensure they have a short meal by staying at work to eat or have meals at their desk.

  • Flexible Work Arrangements. Companies that value their employees find a way to balance flexible work arrangements (job sharing, flexible work hours, part-time work, and alternative work schedules) with business needs. Ask how many or what percent of the workforce has flexible work arrangements.

  • Company-Sponsored Activities. This too can be a double-edged sword. It is a way for companies to show that they value their employees. Nevertheless, companies also realize that effective interpersonal relationships improve the workplace. By providing activities such as sports leagues, company outings, and events, companies provide an informal time for co-workers to interact. You need to ask if employees only talk shop at these activities.

You can also gather facts about management practices that will give you insights about company culture.

Insider's Tip #4: Cultural Questions

During an interview, ask questions about cultural aspects of the workplace such as bureaucracy, management control, and timelines. For example, how many signatures are required to authorize the purchase of a piece of lab equipment? What is the highest level of management required to authorize such a purchase? Or, how long does it take to process the equipment orders?

Information From Third Parties

I've reviewed some ways to become an educated employment consumer by gathering information from current or former employees or by evaluating management decisions. You will also find valuable information about a company from third parties. These include professional organizations, search firms, magazines, and newspaper articles. Remember to review the information from the perspective of what it tells you about how a company manages their employees and be critical of the source of the information provided. Articles often tell you the source of information, particularly if it is a company's public relations department, a company Web site, or a manager. You can expect to hear a positive spin on the company from such sources.

Insider's Tip #5: The Competition

Seek out employees at the companies? competitors and ask about their assessment of the company's culture, management practices, and values. It?s just like buying a car: Each dealer knows about their competition's product.

Informed Employment Consumer

The time to become an informed employment consumer is before you start working at the company. Accepting a job is one of the most important "purchases" you'll make. Don't blindly accept what the employer tells you about working there; do your homework to validate the company's employment marketing information. Gathering information from employees, management decisions, and third parties and viewing it in terms of a company's culture and values will help you look beyond the employment marketing campaign. If you use the tips and tools in this article, you can become an informed employment consumer and that will give you the Insider's Edge on selecting the best company for you.

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