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"How to Smell a Bad Company"

An old article I found, I did not write it and the site it was from is long gone from the internet.  This remains good advice for anyone looking to hire or be hired.


How to Smell a Bad Company
Written by John Qubicle Public


Before signing on with a new company, see if you can get a sense of the "corporate culture". Every company has its own set of priorities. These priorities make up what amounts to the company's "personality". It may be difficult or even impossible to determine what things are REALLY like, but it should be possible to at least get a general idea. Some things you can learn before you take the job, but others won't be apparent until it's too late.

The company's marketing material, web site and such can provide clues, but keep in mind that certain "liberties" are often taken by the marketing folks. If you get a chance to speak candidly with someone who works for the company, see if you can dig beneath the surface a bit and find out what the mood is like. Do people enjoy working there or are most of them sending out resumes?

Is the company focused on real goals or have the bureaucrats taken over? Sometimes bureaucracy is confused with organization. A complete lack of communication is a serious (and common) problem, but excessive documentation is a poor substitute for actual productivity. Dealing with bureaucracy is like trying to run in sand with your feet chained together. There are of course entire organizations where the ONLY product is bureaucracy, but we'll leave the discussion of government agencies for another time.

An extremely annoying and potentially fatal problem that seems to run rampant among many companies is "information constipation". You, the poor schmuck who will actually be doing the work, hear about an upcoming project. This great new project is of course very important and "we're really gonna do things right this time." You ask questions and probe for details, but get only vague hints of what is to come. "We're waiting to hear from..." is a familiar reply. Days, weeks or even months go by. Now and then you get another little tidbit of information. Then, all of a sudden, you get about 80% of the information you need to start the project and are told that they need it finished TOMORROW! Sound familiar?

Is this the kind of company where you ask for those nice smooth rolling pens you like so much, but get the bulk pack cheapos instead, then hear about the boss's new car? Does management think they can save money by choosing consumer equipment over more expensive professional products? A professional painter may spend $20 or more for a single brush. Is he a fool for not buying the six piece assortment at the local discount store for $5? No, he simply understands that quality comes at a price, but that it's worth paying for in the long run.

"It's unwise to pay too much, but it's unwise to pay too little too. When you pay too much, you lose a little money.....that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The Common Law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a can't be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better."

John Ruskin (1819-1900)

If you hear "we can't afford to advertise", RUN! The truth is most likely that the company can't afford NOT to advertise. When your company starts to see things like advertising, software, computers, tools and such as "expenses" instead of as "investments", watch out, the paradigm has shifted into the sewer. "A penny saved is a penny earned" is a cute expression for helping children save their allowance, but pinching pennies is not the same as making money. It can have the opposite effect.

How often do you hear "Can we get by without it?" This little gem is a sure sign that your company (or at least the person asking the question) is looking only at the short term. This could be how long the company will exist. Perhaps you can get by without it, but if whatever it is you're asking for helps the company grow, isn't that better than "getting by"? It can take a lot of money to run a company and if there just isn't enough money, compromises will surely have to be made. It has been said that the number one reason that new companies fail is "under-capitalization." Sometimes though, there IS enough money, but the prevailing attitude is to "cut corners" anyway. Unfortunately though, when too many corners are cut, the company may fall apart.



I've used this advice to good effect, avoided at least two jobs with companies that either went bankrupt or restructured and downsized the IT department.

Trust your instincts. Although you may not always be able to put your finger on just what's wrong, you can usually tell when a potential employer "just doesn't have it together." As much as you'd like to believe that this is the perfect company to work for, be honest. You may end up wishing you had kept searching just a little longer. On the other hand, you just might "connect" right away with a company and know right then and there that you and this company have a future together. It happens, now and then.

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