1. Check the job boards for odd activity. Does the company you're applying to constantly seem to have openings, particularly for the job you hope to obtain? If so, this could be a sign of a high turnover rate. Do you really want to be their next "former" employee?
2. Check with the local Better Business Bureau. This organization keeps tabs on customer and employee complaints and can be a great source of learning about whom you are dealing with. Don't rule out a company just because a few people have reacted negatively toward them. It's almost impossible to please 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time. Be discerning here. Are you seeing a few minor missteps by a well-meaning corporation, or a consistent failure that reflects a culture of unscrupulous company dealings? If it is the latter, you may want to forgo the interview.
3. Talk to former and present employees. When using this avenue for information, you'll have to use caution and consider the source if you're going to base your decision on what you discover. With some former employees, it may just be sour grapes, and some current employees may be concerned that you are their replacement. Be sure to filter the information you receive properly, or you could find yourself walking away from an otherwise great opportunity.
4. Look for warning signs during the interview. Does the interviewer seem overly anxious about having you start right away? Run for your life. Is the office sparsely furnished indicating the need to relocate operations quickly and easily? Get out. Is every question you ask answered with an emphatic "Yes," even the one about free ice cream Thursdays? Leave.
Have a prepared list of interview questions with you and take notes. Questions like: "Why is this position open?" or "Is this a new position, or are you replacing someone?" If they're replacing someone, ask why this person left. If this is a new position, ask what has changed in the company that prompted creating it. Do not ignore your sixth sense during the interview. If at any time things just don't feel right, excuse yourself immediately. You are under no obligation to accept the position, and you just may be saving yourself a lot of future grief.
5. Seek the advice of your parents or another trusted mentor. They may not give you the answer you want, but they will most likely have your best interests at heart. The chances are, you're going down a road they've already traveled and their insight and wisdom may prove invaluable in keeping you from making a huge career mistake.
6. Check out companies on Glassdoor. Read the Company Reviews section at Glassdoor.com to glean an employee's perspective on working at your target employer. The rich authenticity of these reviews is bolstered by the anonymous format, empowering you with an insider's look at more than 210,000 companies. Compare the site's Pros and Cons to your lists of must-haves and deal-breakers.
7. Wield Google's search tools. Conduct a variety of searches using the name of the company, as well as the company name, plus various other terms in your search string; e.g., "ABC Widget," or "ABC Widgets + Scam," or "ABC Widgets + Lawsuit," or "ABC Widgets + Workplace," or "ABC Widgets + Awards." See what articles, blog posts, reports, and other insights—both positive and negative—result.
8. Socialize your research. Visit the company's Facebook page; follow its stream on Twitter; add them to your Google Circle; even follow their Pinterest board. Keep a weather eye on the social media streams of key executives or even your potential future boss if you can locate them there. Get a feel for the tone, style, and content of their posts. Is this someone you would want to work for?
9. Perform a public company search. You can search a variety of online sites for publicly viewable and free information about a variety of companies and industries, including revenue and financial figures year over year (to see whether they're growing or shrinking,) their ranking in the market (Fortune 500 / 100 or S&P 500, for example), their key competitors and more. Visit finance.yahoo.com or money.cnn.com and do a search for public companies by name or symbol.
10. Read The Business Journals. Visit bizjournals.com to see if you can scope out the latest news about the company through either a broad, global search, or by searching at one of the localized, city editions of the news publication.
Finding a new job is a daunting task under the best of circumstances. Time spent researching a potential employer is rarely time is wasted. Your due diligence before accepting any position will pay off in spades later on. So, don't sell yourself short when putting your skills on the auction block. You may naturally feel somewhat vulnerable during this process, and unscrupulous companies will go out of their way to exploit that vulnerability. Keep your guard up and your eyes open.
Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter is a Glassdoor career and workplace expert, chief career writer and partner with CareerTrend, and is one of only 28 Master Resume Writers (MRW) globally. Jacqui and her husband, "Sailor Rob," host a lively careers-focused blog at http://careertrend.net/blog. Jacqui is a power Twitter user (@ValueIntoWords), listed on several "Best People to Follow" lists for job seekers.