Consider these five tips when separating the "wheat from the chaff," so to speak:
1. How often do they seem to hire? A company adding additional staff because of an increased workload is hardly ever considered bad news. However, one that is always running an ad for the same position may need a bit more scrutiny. This often is a sign of high turnover rates and you don't want to be the next in a growing line of disgruntled ex-employees. The time spent trying to make things work at a company like this is time you could have spent securing employment with a reputable company.
2. Check its Better Business Bureau rating. Long seen as the go-to authority for customer service ratings, the BBB is still a great place to learn what people are saying about a company you may be interested in. Companies that care about their customers also tend to care about their employees. A company with a low rating may not only be hard to work for, but may also impede future success on the basis of your association with them. Be careful not to judge them based on one or two bad reviews. After all, some people simply cannot be pleased regardless of how well they're cared for. If, on the other hand, finding anyone to say anything at all positive is like the proverbial needle in a haystack, mark them off your list and move on. Plus, don't forget to check other sites, too, that offer what employees have to say. You can do so by Googling the company or checking a career site like Glassdoor and read the company's reviews and ratings.
3. Speak to current employees. Use caution here. Are you speaking to someone who has a vested interest in whether or not you choose to accept a position? A manager looking to replace a current staff member may paint a rosier picture in an attempt to have you apply. Whereas a current employee who may feel vulnerable about their position could see you as a potential replacement and choose to describe the company in less-than-flattering terms. If you're discerning and open-minded, you should have little trouble getting the information you need to make the best decision for you and your career's future.
4. Ask probing interview questions. Many potential employees believe they are the only ones being scrutinized during the interview process. Savvy applicants, however, use this time to do some scrutinizing of their own. Ask questions that help you understand why the position is open; i.e.; are they replacing someone, or is this a new position? If it's the former, inquire as to the circumstances that caused the vacancy. Ask the interviewer what current employees like about the company and what they would change. If the interviewer appears uncomfortable answering these questions, it may be a red flag telling you this is not a good place to land.
5. Visit as a customer. If you've ever had the displeasure of shopping a retail store full of obviously exacerbated clerks, you most likely formed a quick opinion of what working there must be like. Every company on the planet is open to sell something. You may have to be creative with certain types of businesses to achieve posing as a potential client, but the value of the information will be worth whatever pains may be necessary.
There are plenty of great companies looking for someone to round out their staff. Keep your eyes and ears open and get prepared to join the team when the right call comes in. Exercising prudence and listening to your gut when things just don't feel right will keep you from saying yes to the wrong position.
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.