Peter Weddle’s CareerFitness Newsletter


December 15, 2015


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Career Fitness: The Employer Litmus Test

It’s easy to apply for jobs online, so it makes perfect sense to shotgun out dozens or even hundreds of applications and hope the Law of Averages works in you favor. That seems to be the approach a lot of folks are taking in the job market these days, and in most cases, it’s a miserable failure. It wastes time that could be spent more productively doing other job search tasks and positions the practitioner as a “one-and-done candidate” – the kind of worker who can be hired and fired without much thought.

If you don’t mind being treated as a disposable widget – if you’re willing to work as a throw-away employee – then by all means, apply to any and every organization with openings. On the other hand, if you want to be employed by an organization that respects your talent and sees your employment as a partnership, then you need to vet each organization – you must evaluate its culture and values – before you make a decision about applying to one of its openings.

That’s easy to say when you have a job, but what about when you’re out-of-work and need a paycheck? In that case, knowing what you’re getting into in advance is still important. If you determine an employment opportunity is with a predatory organization, you’re under no illusion it’s a dream job. Instead, you can hold your nose and take the position, but still keep looking for something better while you’re gainfully employed. In effect, you use the employer just like it’s using you.

How can you tell the difference between an employer that’s a bust for your career and one that’s a boon? Use the Employer Litmus Test. It’s not a substitute for in-depth research once you’ve applied to an organization, but it will make your applications more targeted and thus both more efficient and effective.

The Color of Success

While there are a wide range of cultures and value sets among employers, they can generally be grouped into two categories: those that see employees as a line item in the budget called Labor (whether the jobs they fill call for a PhD. or a high school diploma) and those that see employees as an asset and therefore treat employment as an investment in nurturing an individual’s best performance.

The Employer Litmus Test is a simple way to determine a prospective employer’s category. It uses an employer’s advertising as a window on its operational focus and priorities.

When you see an ad that describes a job for which you’re qualified and in which you’re interested, step back and examine the ad’s word choice and content. If the employer uses words like “requirements” and “responsibilities” in its description and if the ad is basically a set of specifications for what the employer wants from you, then in all likelihood it sees the job solely as a mechanism for advancing its own success. The ad details the kind of worker the employer will find acceptable and the tasks it expects that worker to perform to its exclusive benefit.

On the other hand, if the employer uses words like “opportunity” and “growth” in its description and if the ad reads like an invitation to take the next step in your growth as a person of talent, then the employer is taking an entirely different tact. It is providing the information you need to determine if you will flourish in the organization. Typically, it does so by answering five questions:
• What will you get to do?
• What will you get to learn?
• What will you get to accomplish?
• With whom will you get to work?
• How will you be recognized and rewarded?

Now, to be clear, there are good employers that post job ads written for the industrial era and there are even a few undesirable employers that post ads with all the right words. Your goal, however, is to optimize the outcome of your job search – to find the best alternatives for you – and to do so as quickly as possible. The Employer Litmus Test enables you to do that. It is clearly not a scientific cultural assessment instrument. It is, however, a reasonably good way to tell an employer’s true colors and thus to determine which organizations are most likely to offer a culture and values that will promote your success as well as its own.

Thanks for reading,
Peter