Job Search 101 typically recommends pursuing every available employer and only backing away if/when you have multiple offers. The reasoning is that there are no bad employers, simply less desirable employers.
Is that true? The answer is no. Just as you are not a fit for some employers, some employers are not a fit for you. Getting to the point of making that call can often be difficult, especially if it means passing on an opportunity early in the process. Yet it is a call you can and should make, once you have gathered enough definitive data.
The key is that you should be evaluating the employer as much as they are evaluating you. Interviewing tends to be a one-way street where the employer gets to ask all of the questions and you have to dutifully answer and maybe, just maybe, you might get to ask one (or possibly two) questions at the end of the interview. Yet, even then, the questions tend to be superficial and often are used as a way to further build your case for you to be selected as the chosen one. But what if the employer is not your chosen one?
First of all, you have a distinct advantage over the employer in terms of up-front research. While the employer may be somewhat limited in finding out about you or finding reviews about you online, the opposite is the case for most larger employers. There are usually plenty of reviews, both good and bad, which you can find online at sites such as Glassdoor. Yet take the reviews with a large grain of salt, since disgruntled former employees are far more likely to write a public review than a satisfied current employee. To gain a broader perspective, don’t look at just one employer, look at many. And as you look at many, you will see trends among specific employers.
Then you need to answer whether what you find in your research is a positive or negative. The same review could be viewed as a positive or a negative, depending on who you are. A good example would be standard work week hours. Some candidates are looking to put in the bare minimum number of hours and no overtime. Government and insurance industry employers typically provide this type of work schedule. Other candidates may want to get fully involved in their work and it would drive them crazy working next to clock watchers. Tech and investment banking tend to cover the other end of the extreme. Yet, even with these industry generalizations, there are clear exceptions at the employer level.
Another area to probe is employer values. Look at their vision statement and mission statement. Then read the reviews. Do they align? If not, why not?
Then, if they are a public company, look at stock price performance over the past 5 years. Is this a company in which you would be willing to invest your own money? If not, don’t even think about investing your career there. Your career investment is far larger than any amount of money you might put aside for investing. It is your primary investment asset, so invest it wisely.
You can do all of this research in advance of the interview itself and decide, before you interview, if the employer is even interview worthy. And during the interview, you gain the advantage of already being fully briefed on the company, both internally and externally. When the time does come for asking questions of your own, you can formulate deeper questions which really probe the company and your opportunity for growth as an employee.
One final note: no company is perfect. Nor is the research data about the employer perfect. Every company has its share of flaws, some minor, some major. And even within a company, you will often find both high performance departments along with lackluster ones. So pick and choose wisely. Not only between companies at the employer level but also compare, at the department level, the teams with which you will work.
Remember that you do have a say in this process. Your objective is to be the right fit for the right employer and for the right employer to be the right fit for you.