Business Forum: Looking for a job in photonics? Metrics help evaluate potential employers

Metrics can help one evaluate a company and provide ideas on how photonics companies can improve to stay competitive.

Mchang 2013

MILTON CHANG

Each year, Fortune magazine publishes a list of the 100 best companies to work for, which is based on employee survey results against a list of metrics. The companies on the list in the March 2018 issue are different from the ones in past years, implying that there has been a shift in what the workforce views as important. Looking at those metrics can help one evaluate a company, and also provide ideas on how photonics companies can improve to stay competitive in hiring and energize their workforce for greater productivity.

You can find out a lot about a company’s business if you spend time digging. Every bit of information can add to your impression and gut feelings. There is a ton of information out there on public photonics companies. Yahoo Finance is a good starting point, where you can find recent trends in revenue, profitability, and analysts’ estimates on earnings, which is an indication of what to expect in the near term.

Most photonics companies are private. Even there, it isn’t difficult to pick up the buzz if you are active in professional societies. Also trust your own judgement on the strength of a company’s core technology and competitive positioning in the marketplace.

Salaries and benefits can be compared. The most critical consideration for the long term is opportunity for career growth. As a practical matter, the business must be growing to provide growth opportunities. Conversely, there will be few or no opportunities, and management tends to cut corners when the business is not going well.

What ultimately determines growth is management philosophy and attitude. For growth, a company needs to encourage innovation, new thinking, willingness to change, and hiring from within by providing learning opportunities to employees and enabling them to assume increasingly greater responsibilities. Many companies allow employees time off to take classes, and provide tuition reimbursement. Doing so is likely to stimulate new ideas for growth.

The Fortune article cites Adobe as a company that uses bonuses as an incentive for all employees to make product suggestions. The result was surprising—960 employees filed patents last year, of which only 130 were from the research team! The lesson here is to break down silos and think differently. The article also points out the subtle link between productivity and diversity, which optimizes the use of human resources and energizes the workforce. I believe establishing close relationships between engineering and business development could also significantly impact innovation because of the direct interaction between individuals with needs and those who have the technological knowledge to come up with solutions.

The article lists six metrics in its selection of the 100 best companies: values, innovation, financial growth, leadership effectiveness, maximizing human potential, and trust. Then, there is a list of the best practices and benefits offered by these companies: pleasant work environment, emphasis on communication and transparency, in-person channels and an open-door policy, flat organization, access to the CEO, supportive feeling of community and family by eliminating politics, respect for everyone, meaningful recognition, taking everyone’s ideas seriously, trusting everyone to participate in decision-making, and encouraging healthy discourse and debate so the organization can withstand conflict. Monetary benefits include retirement plans, 401(k) contributions, and medical coverage. Many companies also emphasize being socially responsible and encourage employees to participate in community activities.

Realistically, it is difficult for a job seeker to ascertain how a company stacks up in this long list of qualities. Fall back on understanding the core values, which are the principles that guide its behavior. Sometimes the core values are stated in the mission statement and are likely to be in the recruiting material.

Do your best putting together the pieces during the interview process and by checking around. If you are well prepared, it is fine to ask interviewers questions that are relevant to what you might expect on the job.

Mchang 2013

MILTON CHANG of Incubic Management was the president of Newport and New Focus, and is on the boards of several companies. He is a fellow of the IEEE, OSA, and LIA. Direct your management, business, and career questions to miltonchang@incubic.com.

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