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Should You Work for a Bad Company?

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Is it better to take any job instead of not working at all? Or is it better to wait for the perfect situation to come along? Unfortunately, this isn’t a black and white situation and you can make a case for either option – especially in an economic climate such as the one we are currently experiencing. Let’s take a look at a recent question I received as a comment on my site, then look at the pros and cons of working for a bad company.

Q What if a company replies to your job inquiry a little over a month after you sent your resume? I received an e-mail today from a company asking if I could come in and meet some of the folks (yes, she used the word ‘folks’). Looked at the date I originally sent the e-mail and it was back in July. It was a job posting on Craigslist.

Since the HR rep was using her work e-mail, I decided to do some research on the company and found some reviews on Glassdoor and Jobvent, and they were NOT positive. Most of the reviews are recent (2009-2010, latest being August 2010). They don’t sound like disgruntled employees starting a smear campaign; they sound like employees who know the real deal and were not happy with the company and management. I smell high turnover rate. Is this a red flag? Should I even bother replying to her e-mail? I’d like a job, but if there are signs that chaos is brewing, I don’t want to even to consider it. I was laid off from a job last December that I dreaded and I don’t want to go through the same thing again.

A Should you even respond? Yes, responding is the courteous thing to do – either let them now you are interested, or let them know you are not interested at this time. But I wouldn’t ignore this opportunity.

Now, to address the larger issue – should you work for a bad company? I can see it from both angles – I’ve worked for a bad company and used that position to get hired to work for a good company. But there is a lot more to this question than meets the eye, and I will give my thoughts on working for a bad company below.

Should You Work for a Bad Company?

Let’s look at some factors the will help you make the decision – how do you know when it is a bad company and the pros and cons of working for bad companies.

How do you know when a company is a “bad company?”

It is hard to know how bad a “bad company” is if you haven’t worked for them and aren’t able to interview any employees who work there before you go to the interview.

Job review sites are like most review sites, people are more likely to leave a negative comment than a positive comment. Why? Because most people expect things to be good, and when they are, they don’t feel inclined to say anything because it meets expectations. A company (or product or service) has to be incredible for most people to leave a positive review.

Negative reviews, however, are different. People are much more likely to share a negative experience than a positive experience. Part of the reason is to vent, or it could be to induce action, or to warn others. But a few bad reviews shouldn’t be enough to scare you away unless you see so major negative trends.

Even bad companies may have bright spots. Not all bad companies are bad across the board. There may be good departments to work in and good employees who can help grow your career and network.

Advantages of working for a bad company

My first civilian job when I left the Air Force was for a company that had a plethora of negative reviews. I spent several hours researching the company including reading employee reviews, researching the company’s financial statements, and doing industry research to determine the company’s reputation. Overall it appeared the company was not a healthy company.

But even with all these strikes against the company, I decided to accept the job offer. The position was was a good fit for me and I needed the experience. It was also the first, and only company that offered me a job – this was after looking for a job for 3 months and my unemployment benefits were about to run out. [Did you know you can receive unemployment benefits when you leave the military?]

In many ways it was a bad company. Their financials were a mess, they weren’t paying their employees well enough to remain competitive, so there was a lot of turnover, and by the time I left a year and a half later, they were borrowing money to pay operating expenses. That is a sure sign of going nowhere fast! Several months after I left, the company declared bankruptcy and was eventually bought out by another consulting firm.

So where is the good in working for a bad company? There are several good things that happened. To start with, I had a decent paying job and was able to work instead of relying on unemployment benefits (never fun!). But I also met a lot of great people and learned a lot about the industry I was trying to break into. One of my good friends left the company about 6 months before I did and recommended me for a job at his new company (a Good Company) which resulted in a 35% pay raise and a better overall situation. I would never have landed that position without the skills and contacts I received from the bad company.

The benefits of working for a bad company can include:

Working for a bad company won’t destroy your career if you don’t let it. Use it as an opportunity to leverage your skills to build a bigger network, grow professionally, and potentially land a job at a better company.

Disadvantages of working for a bad company

But sometimes, it just isn’t worth working for a bad company. If the company is really on the downward slope you may find yourself dreading work or worse, leaving a stain on your resume. How many accountants would want the name Enron or Arthur Andersen on their resume if they worked there from 2001-2002? I know I wouldn’t. That would essentially be professional suicide. Game over, choose another career.

Working for a bad company can also create a stigma on your resume (some companies may have had bad experiences hiring workers from a specific bad company), instill bad habits, or make life less fun. It’s time for a new job when a job affects your personal life.

What should you do?

I think you should respond to the e-mail. At the minimum it should net you a telephone interview, and potentially a live interview. This can be wonderful practice, even if you don’t decide to take the job. Interviewing is a learned skill, and one where any practice is helpful.

Should you take the job if it is offered? I can’t answer that question. I know this isn’t the answer most people are seeking, but each case is truly unique. You need to consider where you are professionally, financially, and emotionally to make the right decision for yourself and your family.

For me, the right decision was taking the job with the bad company because I needed a job, I wanted to break into the industry, and I needed the professional experience. I went into the position with the right attitude and I left for a job with a better company once I build up enough experience on my resume to qualify for the position.

But some situations are best avoided. If the job isn’t in the industry you want to work in and it won’t add to your professional experience or enhance your resume, then it may be best to continue your job search.

What are your thoughts about interviewing with or working for a bad company?


Published or updated January 12, 2012.
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 basicmoneytips

The general rule of thumb is that it is easier to get a new job if you have one than if you do not have one. So if you are not employed, then you should absolutely take the job. Plus, how can you really know it is a bad company if you have never worked there? If you are employed and have bad vibes, then do not take the job.

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2 p

It depends upon the reasons why it is a bad company. I have worked for two employers that were involved in fraud. Leave abruptly as soon as you discover this because as soon as they know you know-you are out anyways. Red flags-poor employee morale, bizarre employee behaviours, stressed out looking employees, high turnover, and dysfunctional bosses.

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3 John Groth

As a general rule never turn down an opportunity to get job interview experience. Further, in many bad companies there are islands of sanity-a good boss, growing product line while the rest of the company is shrinking so you get needed resources, challenges to clean up problems which will look great on your resume, bad management that leaves you alone (micromanaging is another issue) and networking. Use Linkedin to find others to get up to date and unbiased information.

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