7 Apr 2013

What to ask Employer - Part 2 - Company Size

(This is among an n-Part series detailing the pitfalls when selecting an employer, and provides very basic information that you should inquire when joining a company. Click here, to read from the beginning.)

Company Size as a question should invariably figure in all interviews. To different scenarios, the term 'Company Size' could mean any (or all) of the following:

Company Strength

Company strength is the number of people working in the company. You may want to enquire the employee count separately for the local branch as well as the worldwide count. This gives a fairly good idea of how big the company is. 

In most cases, a company with a large head-count, generally has a few basics already in-place:
  •  HR policies
    • Although most companies wouldn't share it for keeps, but you could still ask for the Employee Manual. The existence of an Employee manual generally ensures some basic maturity in the HR policies.
      • Basic work-environment in place
        • Professional dress code
        • Professional conduct (anti-sexual harassment policies etc)
        • Fire / Safety policies enforced
      • Well-defined policies towards
        • Appraisal cycles
        • Joining / Relieving mechanism
        • Leave 
      • Possibly an Insurance setup
        • Health Insurance ?
        • Free Medical checkups?

Company Age

Company age is the years since the company came into existence. This gives a fairly good idea of how long this company existed. There is a general tendency that older companies are considered better purely by way of attrition. Among other advantages of a veteran company, the best point I believe is that if it survived this long, it probably has been through a few bad times and if need be, should be able to weather some more in the future.

On the other hand, new companies often are an enthusiastic lot of people who at-times work towards taking an idea off the ground. At times, owing to any of the hundreds of reasons why businesses fail, it may eventually be unable to have profitable outcomes. This in-turn could cause large-scale layoffs, for no fault of the individual.

Company Expanse

Company Expanse is how far and wide this company has been operating. Small firms or firms with only a very local presence score low here and generally tend to be subject to local influences (otherwise irrespective of the business or technology or domain that the business is in, per say). Since locality is a pain point, unwantingly it is business interest to bow down to local pressures and therefore over-time unable to maintain its own standards.

Company Domains

Company Domain is the area in which the company operates. Owing to different eras, different companies respond to external / internal scenarios by focussing on either a unifocal domain or at times expanding their domain expertise across different verticals. Despite this, it is generally better if a given company has independent profit making verticals. Weathering sudden changes (not in control of the company) is far easier in such scenarios.

Company Maturity

Company Maturity is a rather lose term for ideas that you should be on the lookout for, when joining a company. A mature company (or in case this is a local branch) would have some basic processes in place for key departments for e.g. Accounts, HR, Administration etc. You would be surprised how many companies fail at this basic test that they may not really have an Employee Manual, or, they may not have a Leave Policy, or an appraisal cycle (yes it happens quite often!). In fact, here in India, although working for an MNC is a big deal, I've worked at a place, where an HR executive personally said that ‘there is no Employee Manual, it’s all a word of mouth’!

Anyway, once these are found to be in place, you should look for basic amenities that the company offers. These vary widely across different countries / regions and so a good comparison is probably not just your previous company, but also a well-regarded company in that region. These could include Provident Fund, Periodic fun-events, Joining Kits, Planned Induction process etc. Although these are not a requirement, in most cases, I see their presence as a clear indicator that the company policies have progressed from ‘just grappling with the situation’ to ‘thinking about employee retention’.


These are checks that you should sound off in your mind, once you've evaluate a given company for the above characteristics:

Company Age vs Company Strength: If one sees a given company has been in existence for a decade but has only 20 people working on its rolls, some obvious questions arise:
  • Are there peers (of this company) in the industry that have similar characteristics (age / composition / clientele / profit margins) but are an order of magnitude larger? If so, why didn't this company grow as much?
  • If its difficult to find peers in the company's domain area, one needs to justify purely in terms of age. In this case, in ten long years why didn't the company grow larger? Is it a specific aim of the company to have bright highly-paid individuals doing smart work? If not, why is it not larger?
  • Is the company at its helm run by a team with sound professional experience? Did they just happen to be there because of luck, a specific (otherwise rare) skill, family fortunes? What are their backgrounds?

Company Age vs Company Maturity: Similarly, at times, a given company in existence for a while, doesn't have company policies fructified yet. The turmoil many a times is independent of a given work-profile, but it does pay to take into account what happened to cause a delay in getting these basics in place till now. A perfect example is to check whether a decade old company have proper HR policies, employee manual (or best practices that are documented?)

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