Who are “the best” employers?

If you haven’t already worked for an employer, it’s hard to gauge whether they’re the best one for you. There’s been a boom in “Top 100/300/1000 Employer” books, all trying to “help” you make that decision – so which one should you believe?

Here’s my view on some of the information and strategies available to you:

Publications compiled from student surveys
These publications include books such as Times Top 100 Graduate Employers and Guardian UK 300 (link is to the zmag version) which you can pick up for free from the Careers Service. They are compiled from very large surveys of current students who are asked about the employers they would most like to work for, or which they think offer the best opportunities for graduates. In other words, they don’t actually work for these employers – it’s just what students think employers would be like to work for.

As the surveys are taken from students’ opinions of employers, this certainly gives you an idea of which employers will impress your friends if you get a job with them. It’s also likely that some of that reputation comes from students who “know someone who did a placement with that employer or who worked there after graduation”.

However, it isn’t really an objective survey of which employers are best, once you work for them. What about the smaller employers who few students have heard of but who treat their staff really well? How much are these lists influenced by students being impressed by the professionalism and large promotional budgets of some employers? How many students just answered with the only high street brand names they’d heard of?

Publications compiled from view of employees
These publications are taken from surveys of current employees. They’re generally self-reporting – for example, in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies To Work For, organisations have to pay a fee to get themselves “accredited” to be part of the survey, but on the other hand, once they sign up to take part, they shouldn’t have any influence over which employees are surveyed (you can see the 2012 results here).

Another alternative which has just been launched is a survey from TheJobCrowd (hey, they’re the ones who dropped the spaces, not me …). This is compiled from reviews of employers submitted by “recently graduated employees”. The benefit of this is that you should get a more realistic view of what it’s really like working for different employers. There’s also an interesting sector break down (ie on average, what do graduate employees think about retail, accountancy, energy & science etc?).

I rather like this approach but there are at least two caveats – there don’t seem to be any checks on whether the reviews submitted really are from employees of a company, and some of the numbers included in the surveys are very small. This is inevitable when a highly rated employer employs fewer than 100 people overall, but it might also apply if only a handful of recent graduates submit reviews for a much larger company – check the sample size before you make any decisions about the employer!

Talk to employers
This is the reason we bring employers on campus and encourage you to attend our fairs and other Manchester presentations (see CareersLink for presentations coming up – University of Manchester login required). It’s your chance to figure out if you’d want to work with the kind of people you’re talking to.

Of course they’ll be enthusiastic and complimentary about their employer – they’re not going to bring along any disgruntled employees. That’s one reason why I always suggest talking to the recent recruits which employers often bring with them. New employees can tell you how they were treated when they first joined, what they think of their boss and colleagues, and if you’re lucky and ask them nicely once they’re relaxed, they might just spill the beans about what they were asked at interview.

Use your judgement
As long as you’re aware of the source of the employer information, whether it’s an impartial employee survey or promotional literature, you’re smart enough to make your own decisions. Sometimes, in spite of all the objective analysis, you just get a good (or bad) feeling when you talk to an employer – don’t ignore your own inner judgement.

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