Sizing Up Employers: Job Security

by Liz Seasholtz

When it comes down to it, most students want the same thing after graduation: a good, steady paycheck. In a new survey by research firm Universum, 57 percent of undergrads ranked job security of utmost importance when accepting a position—up 11.2 percent from last year. Many are even willing to sacrifice other career goals, such as challenging work and a variety of assignments, in favor of stability.

Yet whether you’re a new grad or decades deep into your career, determining whether a potential position and company will offer security can be tricky. It can also be a touchy topic to directly address in an interview.

We checked in with career management consultant Pam Lassiter, author of
The New Job Security, for some tips on evaluating a position’s lifespan.

Do Your Research
Start by figuring out whether a company is doing well financially. Do some basic investigative research: Has the company’s revenue and workforce increased in recent years—or slumped? Do they have a long, prestigious history or are they a fly-by-night operation? and are great resources, and public companies often make their annual reports available online. “You want to look at their track record in the marketplace,” says Lassiter. “Simply put, the arrow line should be going up!”

Have Faith in the Product

Look at the products or services a company is selling and ask yourself if you’re confident in their portfolio. “If it’s a company with one product, it’s a one trick pony and it may not be secure over the long term,” says Lassiter. “For other products, some questions to ask yourself are: Is there depth? Will it appeal to consumers?” For non-consumer goods companies, find out what industry experts and analysts have to say.

Do Your Due Diligence
Perhaps most important, make use of word-of-mouth networking. Talk to customers, venders, current employees, and competitors about your potential employer. This is where the “your network” feature on can be helpful, providing useful opinions beyond the PR fluff touted by recruiters. One of Lassiter’s clients discovered by word-of-mouth that an employer he interviewed with had recently been charged for fraud. Needless to say, he steered clear.

Be Wary of Start-Ups
Jumping on board a start-up can be an exciting and rewarding springboard for your career—or a disappointing and regretful experience. It’s more difficult to research start-ups because they lack a track record. In this case, look to the management team and their past successes or failures. A Google search can also give you some valuable insight about their background, which might be a good indication of the future.

En Vogue Status
Evaluate whether your target company can benefit from emerging trends, which tend to create jobs and jumpstart profitability. For example, after 9/11, the need for added homeland security created jobs for federal air marshals and computer scientists adept at cyber security. The green sector has benefited from consistent media buzz. Green technology, energy, and consumer products are rapidly spurring job growth. If a company is capitalizing well on a trend, it’s more likely they can offer a secure position with room to grow.

Get Close to the Core
What you actually do at a company can determine your staying power. The closer your position is to the core mission of the company, the more secure you are, says Lassiter. “For example, take a large manufacturing company: To create the product you need designers, sales people, manufacturers, and shippers. They are all close to the core mission of manufacturing, and they have a lot more job security than say, human resources people at this company, who aren’t involved with the product. But HR positions in an HR consulting firm would be a lot more secure.” In times of cutback, companies will look to eliminate positions not related to the core, so accept a position in which you are integral to the central mission.

Grill Your Interviewer
If background research has raised doubts, you might want to inquire about job security during an interview. Keep the questions neutral and don’t reveal any negative information you may have gathered. Some questions to consider: Will you be filling a time-tested or recently developed job function? Will you be working with an established product line?  Has turnover for the position been high (which could indicate unrealistic expectations or high stress)? For nonprofits: ask if the position is subject to annual grant proposals or continual funding. Handled tactfully, your questions will demonstrate you’re a calculated decision maker.