Ask the Headhunter: 5 tips for avoiding terrible employers

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Team of two female architects, sitting at desk in office. The women talk reviewing a building plan. Medium shot

Team of two female architects, sitting at desk in office. The women talk reviewing a building plan. Medium shot. Photo by Adobe Stock

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Last week I asked you for suggestions about how to find out whether a company would be a good place to work. Across the comments section of that article, on LinkedIn, on Facebook and on Twitter, you delivered some great advice! Check out those links to see what other readers have suggested.

Seth wrote in and suggested asking about the turnover rate.

I always ask in the interview, “What’s your rate of turnover and why is this job open?” If I get answers like, “Well, people just don’t wanna work! (code for this job is bs and underpays) ” or “A lot of people just don’t understand what the job entails and how to do it (code for ‘I suck as a boss and/or the employees are miserable’)”… Yeah, that’s when I run.

And on Facebook, Melanie wrote:

I find it’s pretty easy to tell IF (and this is a big if) the person doing the interviewing is going to be my supervisor. It’s fairly easy to tell if you click with someone on a professional level. It helps that I’ve been job hunting at hotels, which tend to have small front desk staffs. When the HR person is doing the interviews, maybe ask to meet the person you’ll actually report to?

Here are some of my tips about how to glean information to help you pick a good employer.

  1. Track down past and present employees of the company. Ask them what turned them on and what burns them up about the place. There’s nothing like hearing it from insiders.
  1. Talk to the company’s customers and vendors. You’ll have to do a bit of work to examine a company’s reputation in its own professional community. Read up on the company to find out who buys their products and services — then call the purchasing managers at those places and check references. You’ll find skeletons in the closet, and you’ll find some rave reviews, too.
  1. Does the company pass the profit test? Ask the manager you’d be working for how your job (if they hired you) contributes to the company’s profitability. A smart manager should be able to explain this, even if not with specific numbers. Listen to whether the answer make sense. And ask yourself, if you were hired, could you do what’s necessary to boost profits in that job? Do you understand the real purpose of the job?
  1. Find out if the job is broken. A broken job is one where the manager cannot describe exactly what deliverables are expected from you. “Better customer service” is not a clear deliverable. “Improve solution times by 20 percent” is, on the other hand, something specific you can talk about. Then ask about metrics — how will your work be measured exactly? If the deliverables aren’t defined, and they have no clear ways to measure your work, the job is broken. Run.
  1. Meet other managers. This is key. If you will be working in marketing, ask to meet the head of sales and the head of product design. Those managers run teams whose work will affect your success at your job. If you work in engineering, ask to meet the heads of manufacturing and quality assurance. Their work will determine whether what you design will make it successfully to market.

I hope this gets you thinking about how to understand any employer to help ensure your next job will be a successful one — and that your next employer doesn’t turn out to be a Mickey Mouse operation!

(These tips are excepted from “Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Manager’s Full Attention,” pp. 10-15)

Dear Readers: Come on, let’s hear more tips about how to check out those employers before you take a job!


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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