In December, the team at MakerX conducted a small piece of user research. We wanted to learn what people do when they are thinking of joining a new company. In particular we were interested in the way they researched and what they were looking for in a company.
The methodology is at the end of this post—head down there if you want the context before the results.
What will the work be like
While people are researching a new role or company, what they are really doing is trying to figure out what it will really be like to work there, how they will be contributing to the company, and what their day to day experience will feel like.
Leadership, vision and values
We spoke to people with a wide range of experience in the workforce. For very senior people, it was important to understand the company leadership and vision— that the company has clear vision and that it matches with what they want to work on.
It is essential to me that they have a vision and mission and that they understand the difference between the two.
I really got the sense from the way they talk about their philosophy and vision, it really aligns with what I want to do and the kind of company I want.
Less experienced people do want to know who is in leadership positions and might want to learn about the vision, but are more focused on the team they’ll be working with and what they’ll be doing.
I'll look at who the leaders are on the company website because I'm usually looking for someone I can learn from—I need to know what they've done in the past, what they are doing now, can I learn from them.
Many people told us they also wanted to get an idea of what the company values were—what is important to them and how they interact with the world.
I try to find that (values) really by looking at what they post, what they do, the events they participate in.
Many people discussed that they want to get an idea of how mature the organisation is. For small companies they are usually looking to see how mature the company is as a whole. For large, they wanting to learn how mature their particular discipline is.
Sometimes people are looking for high maturity as they know they will be able to contribute and use their skills. In some cases a lack of maturity is attractive as some people enjoy joining a team that is still developing their practice.
If it is a company I don't know well I want to know their maturity in creating great products.
What is their understanding of (my technology interest) and is it the same as my understanding?
The actual work
Everyone wanted to know what the actual work will be like. Everyone said they want to use their skill specialisations and grow.
The last job I didn't get the kind of work I wanted to be doing. This time I really wanted to make sure I'd get the right kind of work.
The more senior a person was, the less they were interested in tasks and the more interested they were in how they will contribute to the company vision.
I do need to know how I'm going to fit in. I need to know I'm going to fill this part of achieving the company's goal and mission.
No-one was particularly concerned about tools or technologies. Many mentioned that these things change frequently and they expect to adapt to whatever is necessary. In some cases, interview questions about tools give an indication that the role may not be a good fit (or the interviewer is focusing on the wrong thing).
I don’t mind the technology I’m using but I care about being adaptable.
When they ask me questions about tools and things that don't really matter now, I think they may not be a match as they are not so interested in knowing who am I, they are just interested in the tools.
Many people mentioned an attraction to socially responsible projects
I've become more and more discerning about what their domain is. I got a job at a healthcare company and I realised how much I liked working at a place with a strong mission.
The sense of purpose was something that felt attractive to me—the idea that I'm doing something that will help someone
Flexible and remote
Everyone we talked to valued flexibility and expected remote work to be an option. In most cases, these are now key criteria.
Flexibility is so important! That is the very beginning of the funnel. If there is not flexibility I would not be interested. It is something I have gained in my life and don't want to give back.
Even if I was happy to work in an office, if I'd heard a company wasn't open to remote work I would think they weren't going to be interested in giving concessions to people.
Everyone wanted to know who they were likely to be working with. Given we spend a lot of time with our team, this is a very important part of the research process. People are looking to see if they know anyone (or know of them), what the skills are in the team, whether there are people they can learn from, and whether the team is diverse. They are also looking to see who they might be able to talk to about the work, outside of the formal process.
The people who already work there is another piece of information I find can be really key.
I look at not only the diversity of the team but also their background and the work they’ve done and the projects they are doing.
Unsurprisingly, culture is a very big part of what day to day work will feel like and how work will fit in with the rest of your life. During the research, almost everyone mentioned culture (using that terminology) without any prompting.
People want to know whether they are going to get along with their colleagues, whether they are going to be expected to do things they don’t like (such as weekends away or socialising outside of work) and whether they are going to feel like an outsider.
A lot of people noted that this is the hardest part to learn, so they are looking at this in all their research and interactions. The ways they look for clues include:
- How the company presents itself—on their website, LinkedIn, a job ad and in the community.
- How they are treated in the discussion or interview process and how consistent it is across the team.
- How individuals in the team present themselves (such as how they engage on LinkedIn, how they support community activities, how they share information).
- Terminology. ‘Red flag’ terms included things like resource to refer to people; guys; fast-paced work environment and superstar.
- How long people tend to stay at the company.
I don't want to waste my time on an application if it is not going to be a good fit.
For culture, 6 or 7 conversations gives the opportunity to ask the same question of different roles—it’s a detective game of move the question, watch what the answer does, pull the truths out of the mix.
Some friends of mine have joined (a company)—a couple of years ago they sent me this video where they'd all rented a house for a weekend, having a great time, in the hot tub. I don't want to go in a hot tub with my colleagues—if this is what it takes to fit in at this company... I can see that you are having an amazing time, but I don't see myself there.
That (ping pong tables etc) says to me potentially that I might be required to spend some of my personal time with my colleagues in order to move up, so that's a negative for me.
Like culture, most people mentioned team diversity without any prompting.
Everyone commented that it is better to work in a diverse team. Some people talked about their experience with diverse teams being some of their best experiences at work.
Diversity has different meanings to people, and is dependent on their culture and experiences. For some, gender diversity is top of mind. For others, diversity was more about different backgrounds, thinking styles and approaches to work.
For everyone, part of their research process was to try to see how diverse the team was. They looked at the company website to see who was in the leadership team; they looked at the website and LinkedIn to see whether the broader team (or their discipline) was diverse.
The teams that I've worked on that are really diverse, that have a nice combination of gender diversity and people from different backgrounds I've had the most fun on and the work has been the most engaging.
If they say they need to be diverse to reach goals, I don't like that. If they have a clear reason for diversity that I do like.
If I’m joining a small company I go to 'who we are' and want to see diversity. If it’s all male white dominant I wonder if they will accept me the same way I accept everyone.
For me who comes from a culturally different background and a migrant to Australia, diversity matters to me. I feel like in a non diverse team I feel like the only one.
How people research a company
We also talked about the steps that people took when they were researching a company and a potential role.
With the exception of graduates, everyone we talked to used their network to research a company (graduates generally don’t yet have a strong network).
When people knew someone, or had someone in their LinkedIn network who was already in the company (or had left the company), they started there. When they didn’t know someone, they searched their connections to find someone and asked for an introduction.
This role I now landed only came my way because someone referred me.
No more am I going out blindly searching, now it's all about my network.
For the kinds of roles I'm looking for, number 1 is knowing somebody.
I think I won't get in anywhere unless I already know someone on the inside.
People also “stalked the team on LinkedIn”. They used LinkedIn to see who was connected to the company (for large companies they focused just on their discipline). The purpose was to find people to talk with, see who they might be working with, and seeing how team members presented and engaged with the world (to see if they ‘walked their talk’).
People also looked at where team members worked before joining the company and where they went when they left.
Tools like LinkedIn help me a lot as I can search by company and see who is working there.
If I feel like I have a good enough sense of the company I'll stay on LinkedIn and check out their people.
Then I want to know the people so I stalk them on LinkedIn.
I did some LinkedIn stalking as well. I'm a big LinkedIn stalker
(Note: We recruited via LinkedIn so all participants were LinkedIn users—this may not be the case for everyone)
Some people said they looked at a company website. In most cases, they didn’t expect to learn a lot as it is curated and marketing-focused, but they did it as part of general research and due diligence.
On the company website, people are looking for:
- An indication of the company values and culture
- The leadership team and their experience
- Team diversity (particularly the leadership team, but also the team you’d be working with)
- Products and services, particularly before an interview.
I always check LinkedIn and the company website—particularly before an interview. I'll always look at the website and do some background research into the company
Anything on a website would be just due diligence.
Starting a role at a new company is a big decision. The more senior and experienced a person is, the more conversations they wanted to have. Graduates were happy to take a chance, but experienced people really want to make sure they understand the role, their contribution to the company and that they will fit in well.
These conversations aren’t just about finding out about the role. They are also about finding out what the culture is, how well the company treats people and how consistent the treatment and message is.
I had about 6 or 7 interviews or conversations—I caught up for coffee with every single person on the team and discussed the shape of the market, the things they are doing currently, what I'd done previously.
When I’m in a recruitment cycle I'm like “I'm not sure I've had enough chats. Can you put me in touch with someone else?”
One comment towards the end of the process of talking to people, was 'you now know more about what's happening here, more than most team leads know'.
In all of these activities, people are looking for consistency or inconsistency. They want to see that what the company says on the website or their LinkedIn profile is the same as what they say in a job advertisement and is backed up by the way that staff behave during the process.
I care especially a lot about if they are consistent in what they are saying and doing.
One is their LinkedIn page to check how many employees they have on LinkedIn. If I see it is a small company but contradict what is on their website I will smell something suspicious.
You'd hear someone say 'we're a flat organisation' so there would be this integrity check—is there anything here that makes me think your org chart or whatever really gives credence to that?
This project was triggered by a need to extend our company website. I realised I had no idea why anyone would use the website for a small company like ours, and what they’d want to know. ‘Ahah! I thought. I know how to solve this problem—I’ll just ask some folks’.
I recruited via my LinkedIn network. There’s definitely bias from this approach. However, we wanted to learn basic and interesting things, and didn’t need a perfectly-structured study to learn these. I put out a call for involvement and then chose participants that would give us good coverage across role, geography, experience, backgrounds, age and gender (I didn’t ask anyone about these before selecting them—I just loosely selected a range based on what I knew or could tell about people—again, not rigorous, but good enough for the research question).
We had a half-hour video interview, which I recorded. The basic interview question was “When you look for a new role, how do you go about researching a company, and what matters to you”. In most cases, this question carried the interview and no additional questions were needed.
After the interview I took notes, transcribed the key ones into sticky notes in Miro and did a regular old clustering activity to see what themes emerged, what was consistent and what was interesting but not consistent.
You can see the (de-identified) notes in this Miro board. There are two sections. The top has notes from individual interviews so you can see the context. At the bottom is the notes in clusters.