Careers advice: How to find an employer you can believe in

28 September 2021

All of the current economic indicators suggest that global job markets are continuing to recover strongly from the pandemic. For many of those considering searching for a new role in the near future, the pandemic has affected the way they think about their career and what they want from it.

It’s recognised that we are in an age of ‘conscious consumerism’ and that the most forward thinking and sustainable businesses recognise they have a ’triple bottom line’ – people, planet and profit. As ‘people’ now spend around a third of their adult lives at work (source: World Health Organisation), many of us want to be able to find greater meaning in our work, and work for a company that we feel good about and that’s aligned with our  core values.

In their quest for meaningful employment, some will look to work in the not-for-profit sector. However, meaningful work doesn’t have to mean charity work, nor does it have to involve a career change. Sometimes it’s simply about working for a company that we genuinely feel good about, that works hard to be both profitable and do its part for the environment and the wider community.

So, what can you do to make sure your work is meaningful to you?

Here are six questions to ask when you’re looking for an employer to believe in...

1. What’s reported in the news about the company?

Simply doing an internet news search and going back over a few years’ headlines will give you a good sense of what your potential employer’s ethics are like and how the business is perceived in the wider world. Are there stories about R&D, philanthropic initiatives and exciting sponsorship deals? Or is the picture more one of tax avoidance, ruthless efficiencies and employee dissatisfaction? Some targeted googling will soon reveal the ethical ‘grain’ of any organisation.

2. What is the company’s leader like?

The leader of a business is the embodiment of its vision. If you can’t believe in the leader, you’ll struggle to believe in the organisation over which they preside. What’s their track record on the issues that matter to you, such as the environment, or diversity, or the gender pay gap? If it’s a large company, a great way to do this is to check their CEO rating on Glassdoor to see what employees really think of them.

3. Is there real proof of ethical practice?

Many companies will flaunt their ethical values across their websites and promotional materials: indeed, it’s a requirement to demonstrate policies in certain areas such as diversity, recycling and anti-slavery. However, it’s important to scratch the surface and ask if the company really delivers on its promises, or whether it’s just ‘greenwashing’?

Dig a little deeper and see if proof of CSR in action can be found in the news, on the internet or on the company’s social media channels. Is there evidence of real projects happening and employees getting involved in things like volunteering and fundraising?

4. How eco-friendly is the organisation?

Every business and every individual must play their part in protecting the environment and if this is something you’re passionate about, you’ll want to look hard at how your potential employer is contributing to a greener planet.

The challenges businesses face depend on the industry. The carbon footprint of an airline, for example, is likely to be inherently more challenging than that of a digital media agency. What matters is the way in which the organisation responds to the challenges it faces and how it measures up to its peers.

In this instance too, ‘actions speak louder than words’. Don’t let yourself be fooled by clever marketing – look for tangible evidence of companies making real commitments and meeting or even exceeding them in measurable ways. Take a look at the company’s sustainability report or annual report to see if they’ve achieved any independent ratings such as FTSE4Good or if they’re working with reputable organisations or charities to support their goals.

5. Has the company addressed any criticisms that have been made against it or its sector?

In the race to make a profit, companies can be guilty of cutting corners and making mistakes. However, beyond the negative reviews, regulatory infringements or critical press coverage, the important question to ask yourself is what did they do next?

A key test of a company with integrity is the way in which it responds to criticism or censure. Does it look honestly to address its faults and put measures in place to stop them happening again? Or does it lurch from one PR or customer service crisis to the next?

6. What does the company’s social media presence tell you about the culture?

You can tell a lot about a company by looking at their social media channels. Are they distant and corporate-sounding, or do they come across as engaged and in touch with the issues their people care about? Social channels allow a company to showcase life behind the scenes giving you an insight into the culture. Do you get a sense of a team pulling together? Do people look like they enjoy socialising together? Do they get together behind good causes? Does it look like a culture that celebrates achievements and truly supports development for all?

Employer review sites like Glassdoor are another good source of insights into employer culture, although it’s important to remember that every individual assessment is subjective. It’s still crucial to network and talk to people at the company to which you’re considering applying, so you can really scrape beneath the surface of the organisation and find out whether the culture is a good fit for you.

If you are a member of the WBS alumni community and you need support with your career or professional development, please contact alumnicareers@wbs.ac.uk.

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