At first, the stories trickled in. Frankly, they were hard to believe – like a recruiting urban legend. You know, [Company ABC] fills a big chunk of their talent pipeline just from the Best Places to Work Award they won last year. I was intrigued, but far from convinced.
But then I dug in deeper. I went straight to the sources themselves: talent acquisition pros. And what I discovered was, along with a strong referral program, one of the closest things to a “silver bullet” in recruiting that I could find. Which meant something, given that almost every conversation about recruiting inevitably leads to “there’s no silver bullet when it comes to recruiting.”
I heard stories of these Best Places to Work awards providing permanent lifts to recruiting efforts, and not just in volume – but, crucially – in quality of candidate. I heard stories of how a major, highly respected technology company in the Boston area fills almost all of its positions as a result of its referral program and Best Places to Work awards. I heard stories of how a talent acquisition professional kept strict tabs on every award application deadline – and made sure to apply to every single one possible…because that’s how much the first award they won had helped their efforts. I even heard from talent about how they like the mere idea of working for a recognized company – that it makes it all that much harder to consider other employers when they’re having a rough patch at work (which helps with the other critical “R” word: retention).
Admittedly, I haven’t done an extensive, empirical study on this. I also recognize that there’s a bit of a virtuous cycle effect here – sure, winning an award helps with recruiting and retention and morale and all that good stuff…but to win an award, you’re probably doing at least ok on all those things to begin with.
If you believe that an employer brand is in large part what talent thinks of your company as a potential workplace, then it’s not hard to see how being mentioned in a very public and exclusive Best Places to Work list can influence what talent thinks of you as a workplace. And the benefits of a strong employer brand are compelling: according to a LinkedIn study, a company with a strong employer brand enjoys 50% lower cost of hire and 28% lower turnover compared to a company with a weak employer brand.
The Top “Best Places to Work” Awards
If Best Places to Work awards matter in general, then which ones matter the most? In an attempt to distill the vast array of awards out there into a manageable list that you can use as a tracker of sorts, we went ahead and did the research for you.
In order to make our list, a Best Places to Work award had to meet the following criteria:
- No pay to play. Mixing participation fees with a seemingly objective award makes for weird conflicts of interest.
- Responses are private and aggregated. All sorts of crazy stuff starts to happen when you openly crowdsource reviews or opinions. A slighted former employee, rejected interviewee, or encouraged-by-boss current employee all go a long way toward clouding the picture of a workplace.
- Recognition. An award wouldn’t be much if it didn’t get on peoples’ radars – so it has to be national in nature or, if regionally focused, affiliated with a major regional publication.
Without further ado, and in no particular order:
“Best Places to Work” by The Business Journals
Deadline: Varies by city/region
Breakdown: The Business Journals’ city-specific competition is, for most cities, one of the premier Best Places to Work type of awards. While talent is as flexible as ever in terms of moving for a great company and job, there will always be a swath of the workforce that is perfectly happy staying local in its search. The “Best Places to Work” series is a great way to connect with that talent.
“Top Workplaces” by WorkplaceDynamics & Various Regional Newspapers
Deadline: Varies by city/region
Breakdown: While similar to The Business Journals given its regional approach, “Top Workplaces” strength is its partnerships with respected local publications – such as the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Post – that focus on more than business. As a result, the award helps you cast a wider (though not necessarily better) net.
“Top Company Cultures” by Entrepreneur & CultureIQ
Breakdown: The first national award on this list, “Top Company Cultures” is unique in that it’s explicitly focused on…yep, culture. Their methodology includes a focus on the 10 cultural characteristics that are predictive of high performance, and results are broken down by company size (small = 25-49 employees; medium = 50-99; large = 100+) that highlights a lot of smaller, up-and-coming companies.
“Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality” by Human Rights Campaign
Breakdown: The HRC’s “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality” is a who’s who of the largest, most successful companies in the US. With stringent criteria and an invite-only policy (though “any private-sector, for-profit employer with 500 or more full-time U.S. employees can request to participate”), this list only awards companies with a perfect score…and even highlights the Fortune 500 companies that haven’t responded to repeated invitations to the survey. Welcome to the big leagues.
“Top 50 Companies for Diversity” by DiversityInc
Breakdown: Another list with some of the biggest companies in the world (e.g. Accenture, Johnson & Johnson, Target), “Top 50 Companies for Diversity” (along with the “LGBT Equality” list) is helping push forward a business world where progress is far, far from over. Over 1,600 companies participated in the 2015 edition of the award. Only 50 made the final cut.
“Best Places to Work in IT” by Computerworld
Breakdown: While narrow in industry, “Best Places to Work in IT” just so happens to focus on the in-demand technology industry, which counts for a lot. They also kicked things off in 1994, so there’s serious street cred built into this one.
“The 50 Best Companies to Work for in America” by Business Insider & PayScale
Deadline: N/A (automatic survey of Fortune 500)
Breakdown: While not exactly a list to which you can proactively apply, “The 50 Best Companies to Work for in America” differs from the lists above in that it heavily emphasizes salary in the final calculation. They also consider other important factors, such as job satisfaction, job stress, and ability to telecommute.
We’ve left a couple of major awards off our list – namely, Glassdoor’s and Fortune’s lists didn’t make the cut. Here’s why:
- Glassdoor: Their “Best Places to Work” list is the most widely read and commented-on Best Places to Work list of the year. But they violate one of our key criteria – that responses be private and aggregated. Which means Glassdoor is oftentimes the Wild West of employer information, where it’s impossible to tell fact from fiction. If you’ve spent even a day working in a Talent Acquisition capacity, you’re nodding your head right now.
- Fortune: To be considered for their “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, you have to work with their partner, Great Place to Work, and pay to get “certified.” Which violates our “no pay to play” rule.
Ultimately, whether to chase down 3rd party awards (let alone which to aim for) is a matter of preference. But here’s what we’d say – while you may not win an award in your first, second, or even fifth try, the mere act of applying (and then analyzing and reflecting on the results where available) can be a meaningful endeavor in and of itself. It might even – surprise surprise – help you become a great(er) place to work.