“Top Employer” lists are bogus and here’s why

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As the September recruitment season rolls around, you’re bound to see Top Employer badges plastered all over campus on posters and fliers, and at career fair booths. Every year, various media outlets around the world release lists containing what they think are the top employers young people want to work for.

The data that determines which employers make the cut and which don’t is usually collected by online surveys distributed by campus career centres to the thousands of students who make up their mailing lists. And each year, the results are more or less the same with very few surprises.

Typically, there are some Fortune 500 companies which have developed a unique corporate culture or a prestigious training or advancement program, or they’re just desirable companies to work for due to their brands.

Then, of course, there is at least one level of government – typically federal – which makes the list, along with the RCMP. These jobs are known for their stability, especially in tough economic times.

And then there are a handful of new, super-hip employers which outside-the-box students and new grads are dying to work for. These companies have usually been in the media a lot that year for their environmentally friendly ways, tech-based work and/or extremely casual culture.

So, what’s wrong with these lists? I mean, why wouldn’t anyone want to work for these employers: they’re successful, stable and forward-thinking, right?

Well, sure. But the problem with these lists is they give free advertising to the employers which need it the least and ignore employers who, despite having an appealing culture and meaningful jobs for students and recent grads, don’t have huge advertising budgets and haven’t made it on the radar of mainstream media that year.

These Top 10, 40 or 100 employers are top-of-mind for students and new grads because they spend huge sums of money to advertise how awesome they are to work for in a number of ways: traditional media, hosting recruiting events at campus career centres, sponsoring festivals and concerts, showing off their logo on career websites and, of course, a huge number of meaningful job postings consistently every year.

So, while it’s definitely possible every single employer on each of these lists is a great place for students and new grads to work, don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s based on anything other than their advertising budgets.

Seeking out small- and medium-sized organizations as well as the “top” employers is an important job search strategy. Big advertising budgets plus inclusion on top employers lists means that many more people know about the employer’s opportunities. Although you should still apply to those big players if you actually want to work for them, keep in mind your application will only be one of hundreds or even thousands for the same role.

Larger organizations also tend to use online applications and recruiting software which eliminates candidates based on keywords in their resumé. Even if you’re the best of the best, the chances of your application getting lost in the noise is high.

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About the author

Cassandra Jowett is TalentEgg's Content Manager. She joined the team as a student intern in the summer of 2008, and since then her heart has never really left the Egg Carton. Cassandra is a recent graduate of the Ryerson University School of Journalism, where she earned a Bachelor of Journalism with a focus in writing and editing for newspapers. She has also written and edited for The Globe and Mail, The National Post, t.o.night newspaper and other publications.