Susan Strayer, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

Susan Strayer, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

From career coaching to recruiting strategy to social media, Susan has experience with in-house corporate HR and recruiting leadership roles, as a Fortune 500 consultant, and as a career and brand coach. She’s held positions with companies such as Marriott, The Ritz-Carlton, Arthur Andersen and The Home Depot and has consulted for hundreds of Fortune 500 organizations. Her perspective is unique having worked in all aspects of the organizational life-cycle in start-up ventures, high-growth organizations and mature billion-dollar companies. Full Bio &#187

Lists: Naughty or Nice?

by Susan Strayer

People love a good list.  In HR, we’re obsessed with them. I prefer the kind of list I can check off. But everyone wants to be on top of a good list. There are lists of influencers, top tweeters and best [insert accolade here] under 30.  Forbes’ had a recent list of the Top 147 Companies That Control Everything. TLNT’s blog responded with 12 Companies That Control HR. HRExaminer, has several of them too (full disclosure—I’m on one).

But how do we actually use them? This isn’t a scathing review of the methodology behind them (though like most, I have my own opinions).  I’m more interested in what people actually learn from them.

When I see top people lists, I usually see if there’s anyone I don’t know or don’t follow on Twitter. I’ll make a point to introduce myself at a conference, or go to that person’s blog to read and learn more. But what about company lists?

Take the HR list holy grail: every conceivable form of the “best place to work in the world/U.S./government/technology/Tampa Bay/advertising.” Pretty much every segment of employment has a list.

Let’s say I’m a college student (or helicopter parent) and I stumble on Unviersum’s list of America’s Ideal Employersfor 2011.  I can choose “business” and

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see a top list of ideal employers for students studying business. Great, I now have the list of places I must go. Except, that I don’t. At all.

The companies on this list are (with few exceptions) either (a) major consumer brands or (b) one of a handful of the most well-known brands in their industry (i.e., accounting). Take the top ten:

  1. Google
  2. Apple
  3. Walt Disney Company
  4. Ernst & Young
  5. PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP
  6. Deloitte
  7. J.P. Morgan
  8. Nike
  10. Goldman Sachs

Each one fits the bill as I have described. And then the worst thing happens.  Students and parents all flock to these employers.  They feel the need and desire to work there based on the list and the media. And what results?

First, students assume careers have to start in big companies. Yet, the most important factor in employment satisfaction is fit. And big brands and big companies are not for everyone. Many of the companies on this list are mature, global conglomerates with thousands of employees and that dictates a certain type of work environment, stakeholder demands and structure. Your new graduate with the best grades, experience and talent could fail at a big Wall Street Bank or a famous global tech company but thrive in a smaller organization that wants to be small or has the promise to grow. It’s all about the kind of work you want to do and the culture you want to do it in.

Second, small and medium-size companies lose much of the talent from start. Stellar students are pushed towards large companies and big brands, so smaller companies lose out and end up with a pool of mediocre students to fill entry level or post-graduate jobs. Then you have so many great students competing for the same jobs that even great students lose out, along with their confidence and understanding in the process. They may go to a smaller company only to feel like they’re settling.

Third, the value of early career experience in a start-up or high-growth company is diminished. And that’s a shame.  We rank employers based on volume, size and popularity not based on what that experience is like. We focus on major benefits and employee perks instead of what kind of work the employee gets to do. Isn’t that really what makes the core of a great place to work? So there’s free lunch. Awesome. But if it’s wedged in between meetings where I’m miserable and a to-do list I can’t bear to attack, where’s the value?

I’m not saying abandon the lists. But stop with the popularity contests. It’s time for a rehaul, a rethink—a better way to educate job seekers on how to find the right employers and what really makes both a “best employer” and a “best employer for you.”

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