How do you determine the best company to work for? Let us count the ways.
While a large company may offer more room for advancement and a small company might promise an exciting team environment, choosing the best companies for yourself can be a gargantuan task since definitions of "best" differ radically.
Here are some examples:
Each year, Fortune magazine chooses 100 "best companies" to be members of the "Top Employers of America" list. To be on Fortune's list, however, the companies have to meet certain criteria:
- Only companies that apply are eligible for consideration.
- They must have been in business at least seven years.
- They have to have at least 500 employees (the minimum is 1000 for the 2002 list).
- Companies which have merged and added more than 25 percent to their workforce are not eligible until after a "sitting out" period.
For the 2001 list, nearly 300 companies asked to be considered. From those 300, Fortune randomly selected employees to take the "Great Place to Work Trust Index," a survey measuring the quality of workplace culture. Nearly 50,000 employees filled out the survey, which was administered by a separate consulting firm.
Three of the largest high-tech companies in Silicon Valley made Fortune's Top Employers list in 2001: Cisco Systems, Intel and Sun Microsystems. Also on the list were Genentech, a San Francisco-based biotech firm, and Vision Service Plan (VSP), a Sacramento-based health plan for eye care.
Fortune publishes other lists each year - identifying its top 50 companies for minorities and the top 26 for women. For these lists, Fortune works with the nonprofit Center for Responsibility in Business to survey companies and employees of Fortune's original list plus 200 of the largest privately held firms in the US.
Criteria for the rankings include:
- Number of minorities hired.
- Number of minorities in leadership roles.
- Amount of purchasing from minority-owned businesses.
- Charitable contributions primarily given to minority nonprofits.
- The company's minority turnover rate compared to its turnover rate for Anglos.
As you might imagine, few companies make both lists.
Of the companies that participated, Cisco Systems was deemed a good workplace for minorities because of the high - and apparently satisfied - number of Asian-Americans at the company.
Silicon Graphics, a computer workstation manufacturer in Mountain View, also made the list of 50. While 10 percent of the workforce lost their jobs at the company, Silicon Graphics' executives kept a close watch not only on the bottom line, but also on the color line to make sure the overall ethnic, gender, and age makeup of their employees met their commitment to diversity.
In fact, Fortune found that monitoring layoffs by diversity criteria helped minority employees during the dot-com bust and recent economic splat. Unlike the recession of the early 1990s, corporations across the country did not use the "last hired, first fired" mantra to weed out minorities from the workforce this time round. Although black unemployment still is higher than white, it has not risen significantly since the downturn.
Levi Strauss & Co., a San Francisco clothing manufacturer, also ranked high on the minority scale for a number of reasons: the number of Asian-Americans who worked for them, the pay scale of those minorities compared to the 50 highest-paid employees in the company, and the percentage of minorities in management.
When it came to women, Fortune simply measured the companies on their list that had the highest percentage of women. Vision Service Plan in Sacramento - with 72 percent of employees being women - made the Top 26 list.
Working Mother magazine has its own ratings for women-friendly firms, using completely different criteria than Fortune.
In the past, Working Mother has rated companies on such factors as:
- Opportunities for advancement.
- Availability of benefits, flextime, child care, and parenting assistance.
- Qualify of life issues such as on-site banking, auto services, takeout meals license renewals, dry-cleaning, and ordering wedding invitations.
Other perks that caught their attention included free dental exams, flu shots and workouts, as well as $2500 certificates of deposit upon the birth of a child and forgivable loans for home mortgage down-payments and closing costs.
As if that weren't enough, Working Mother also rated the companies on their willingness to listen to - and act on - employee feedback about length of vacations, tuition reimbursements and increased leave for fathers and adoptive parents.
Working Mother's 2000 and 2001 lists included a number of Bay Area companies, including: Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, Genentech, Patagonia (an outdoor clothing store with an outlet in Albany), Morrison & Foerster (a San Francisco law firm), and Visa USA in Foster City (listed as a company to watch).
A Smaller Point of View
A good source of guidance when it comes to small companies is the Forbes 200 list (at forbes.com/companies). Some of the Northern California firms making the list in 2001 were Mercury Interactive, a Sunnyvale software firm; Catapult Communications, a Mountain View maker of telecom test equipment; Macrovision, a Sunnyvale provider of licensing and copy protection; Barra, a Berkeley maker of software to measure financial risk; Elantec Semiconductor, a Milpitas circuit designer; and American Xtal Technology, a Fremont maker of substrates for the microchip industry.
Forbes also publishes lists of the top foreign, national, public and private companies.
Depending on what you want, your best choice may not show up on anyone's list. What to do? Conduct your own research starting with the contacts below. Ask people you trust. And take those big-name lists with a large grain of salt.
To research potential employers, try these websites:
- Asaenet.org - American Society of Association Executives. Directory of associations in various fields (with online addresses) can lead to latest information about a particular profession. Yahoo provides similar service at yahoo.com/ economy/organizations/professional.
- BizJournals.com - Home page for business journals. Choose a city from the pull-down list of "Other Business Journals."
- Directemployers.com - A business cooperative that links job openings to companies' home websites.
- dnb.com - Dun & Bradstreet offers information on 11 million companies. Detailed reports can cost $35 and up.
- Forbes.com/companies - Forbes' lists include 200 Best Small Companies, America's 500 Leading Companies, and more.
- Fortune.com - Link to the financial magazine, along with its directory of top businesses.
- Hoovers.com - Provides snapshots of 12,000 businesses. Jobseekers can get a free trial subscription.
- InfoUSA.com - Listings for 14 million businesses, organized by categories common to typical yellow pages.
- Infomarket.com - Good tool for finding smaller companies.
- Superpages.com - Verizon phone directory of millions of businesses in the US.
- Superperformance.com - Articles on self-improvement and job search, along with links to company directories.
- Wetfeet.com - Career site provides an insider's view of over a thousand companies.
- WorkingWoman.com/oct_2001/100_best.shtml - Working Mother magazine's 100 Best Companies For Working Mothers.
- Yahoo.com/business_and_economy/directories/companies - Well-organized, exhaustive business index.
- Another resource - Check the annual lists compiled by your region's weekly business journal. These lists are typically not online, but your local library will have a copy.