How to Find Your Ideal Employer

Co-workers working in start up office
••• Gary Burchell / Getty Images

When you’re job searching, it’s easy to fall into the mode of looking for a job, any job. After all, you need to make a living, and you can’t exactly conjure your dream employer out of thin air, right?

While it’s true that you’re somewhat confined by the job market and the opportunities it presents, it’s also true that your preferences are important. Ideally, you’ll find a job that you’ll want to keep for several years, and that will put you on the path to bigger and better things after you leave. That means understanding what you want and need in a job and an employer, before you start scheduling interviews and practicing your elevator speech.

It’s also important to remember that you can’t recognize a good thing if you don’t know what that looks like for you. When it comes to finding your ideal employer, you’re trying to figure out what makes you most productive, comfortable and happy. Do you thrive on the challenge and excitement of a startup, or do you need the security and steadiness of a more established employer? Do you like small shops or multinational corporations? Is working from home the perfect situation for you, or do you prefer to talk to your coworkers face-to-face?

10 Questions to Ask to Discover If an Employer Is Right for You

To figure out what works for you, ask yourself these questions:

1. What Type of Corporate Culture Is Best for You?

Some people like having friends at work, while others prefer to keep things professional. The same goes for corporate identity: some workers love feeling like they’re part of a team, while others would sooner wear a hair shirt than a corporate logo. (Never mind participating in a three-legged race at the company picnic.) It's important to choose an organization that has a company culture that fits your personality.

2. Open-Plan Offices: Collaboration Dream or Productivity Nightmare?

Unless you’re an executive in a traditional industry like finance, chances are slim that you’ll have an office with a door. But there are varying degrees of openness in today’s open-plan work environments. Do you need at least a cubicle wall or two, or would you be OK working at one long table with your whole team? A lot depends on your tolerance for noise and need for personal space.

3. How Much Autonomy Do You Prefer?

No one likes working for a micromanager, but short of that, there’s a wide spectrum of acceptable manager involvement. It’s all about knowing what’s right for you. Some people prefer a lot of direction, while others would rather work things out on their own.

4. Do You Like Working on a Team or By Yourself?

Today’s workplaces are largely collaborative environments, but companies have different expectations when it comes to working together or independently. A lot depends on your role, too: an engineer might spend a fair amount of time heads-down on a project, while a project manager will obviously need to touch base frequently to align priorities.

5. Do You Like Change or Stability?

If you voted for the latter, don’t work for a startup—or any company that’s in flux. A company that’s growing quickly or experiencing financial or PR difficulties will not be a stable environment in the short-term.

6. How Closely Do You Want Duties to Adhere to Original Job Description?

Obviously, you don’t want to start a job only to find that it’s completely different than the one you agree to take, but jobs evolve. It’s a good idea to think seriously about what aspects of the job (as it’s described) fit best with your priorities and which don’t. That way, you’ll be able to be alert for signs that the job might grow in a direction you won’t enjoy.

7. How Long Do You Like to Work for One Employer Before Changing Jobs?

Amazon has a median employee tenure of two years, according to PayScale data, as does SpaceX, Google, and a host of other top tech employers. Other companies seem staffed with lifers who arrive after graduation and stay for years. Neither situation is inherently better, but one might be a better fit for you.

8. What Benefits Are Important to You?

Health insurance, retirement benefits and paid time off are just the beginning of what might be available to you. You might also get (or negotiate for) additional stock options, tuition reimbursement, a flexible schedule and perks like free gym memberships and museum passes.

9. How Important Is Salary?

You need to get paid fairly for the work you do, but past a certain point, more money might not be as important as other considerations like more room for advancement, a chance to pick up new skills or more time off.

10. What Kind of Work-Life Balance Do You Want?

“Working hours” mean different things at different companies. Some workers don’t mind getting emails from the boss late at night and on the weekends; others need work to have a stopping point, so that life stuff keeps its separate sphere. Look for clues during the interview about the kind of work-life balance you can expect from the prospective employer—and then be honest with yourself about what you really need. 

Finding a Job at Your Dream Company

Once you know what you want in your ideal employer, there are strategies you can use to get noticed by your dream company, and to help you get hired by a company that's a good match. If you're ready to get started, here's how to find your dream job in 30 days or even less.