Why Researching Your Future Employer is Crucial

by Tom Washington


Thirty-five years ago I learned the hard way why employer research is so important.

It’s why I push my clients to learn everything possible about an organization before the first interview and especially before accepting a job.

As an insurance claims adjuster I walked into a Chicago body shop one Friday to write an estimate on a damaged car, and walked out with an unsolicited job offer.

On Monday my research included talking to people who worked in the service, sales, and autobody departments. The major factor that impressed me was the longevity of the people who worked for the dealership. It was filled with people who had worked there 20 years or longer, whereas my company had huge turnover. Later that day I accepted the position that would give me the management experience I was seeking.

I believed I had found a good home. During my last week as an adjuster I wrote an estimate in the body shop of a dealer close to my new employer. I told the manager I would not see him again because I was becoming the assistant body shop manager at KLM. His response was, “So you’re working for Freddy, huh?” When I said “Yes,” his response was, “Well, be careful.” I asked what he meant and he said, “Just be careful.”

I chalked it up to competitive envy. Big mistake. After working there one week, I was fired. First, he had realized I would not be dishonest. Also as I discovered, my replacement was the person he had tried to hire a few weeks before he hired me. This guy had 15 years of managing body shops and shared Freddy’s “business philosophy.” He had just become available a couple days earlier. Freddy had called me at home Thursday night to tell me the owner of the dealership wanted him to hire this guy. I told him that the next day, Friday, was my last day as an adjuster. Freddy, said, “That’s OK, you’re the one I wanted anyway.”

The day I was fired, it just happened there was an opening in the service department so I took it. There my life was made miserable every day for a year and a half. As the dealer’s first time-keeper, I was instructed to make sure the mechanics accurately kept track of their time on each car. They had to start punching in and punching out for each job. They often interchanged between the two cars at their bays while waiting for parts. At the dealership many mechanics had claimed to be working on warranty issues such as an electrical problem, for which the manufacturer would pay them, while actually they were working on a brake job or tune-up for which the car owner would pay. In other words, they were often being paid for two jobs simultaneously. This arrangement had obviously been going on for years, but the car manufacturer finally got fed up with overpaying for warranty work.

Management at the dealership had known what was going on but had ignored it. The manufacturer demanded a tough cop and I was the hired enforcer. Every day for a year and a half I received verbal abuse. The highest producer once told me that I had cut his income by 20 per cent. When I left to go to graduate school to obtain a master’s degree in counseling, no one was sorry to see me leave. I was simply relieved. I never saw any of them again. I have no idea who replaced me, or how long he stayed.

Lessons Learned:Talk To The Right People. I talked with people who worked for the organization, which you should always try to do, but one should first determine whether they might be motivated to praise or criticize the person who would become your future manager. Is the person you talk to reliant in some way on the person in question? The guy in the body shop, the service foreman, and the two sales people were not disinterested parties. I learned later that none of them trusted Freddy, but he made money for the dealership.

Don’t Become Blinded. There was one person I failed to consult, my coworker at the insurance company – Lou P.

He had been raised in a family that owned a body shop and for 15 years had been a claims adjuster. I just needed to ask him to check it out for me, especially since I had been warned. He knew key people all over the city. The insurance company was so dysfunctional, with 80 per cent annual turnover among adjusters, that I just wanted out. I did get out but I paid a heavy price. I never want any of my clients,or yours, to pay the price I did.

Learn Everything You Can. I had been through a course with John Crystal, and had read Haldane, Bolles, Jackson, and many others. I knew I had to research the organization and thought I had done a pretty good job.

Research needs to be conducted, but it needs to be done right. Through our research we should learn the positives and the negatives of the organization, our future boss, and the job itself. While there are no guarantees that research will uncover all of the eventual problems, we owe it to ourselves to discover all we can.

Mine is a cautionary tale. I lived it, so when I share it with clients, they listen. But I tell many stories, and less than half come from my own experience. Feel free to share this story -