Forget Facebook, Apple and Google: Jobs at 'Normal' Companies May Be the Best Opportunity Yet

Even if Facebook and Google have skewed expectations for employees and employers alike—for better or worse--everyone needs to find a place to work.

Cool (and successful) companies like Google, Apple and Facebook are the workforce holy grail, but they aren't the only places that talented people can find rewarding employment opportunities (literally and figuratively). Here's some advice for these job seekers, as well as for companies without marquee names--let's call them "normal" companies for the sake of this article--that are looking to attract top talent.

“To compete with Facebook and Google, normal tech companies should focus on areas they excel in, even in comparison to well-known tech giants,” says Stacy Caprio, founder, Accelerated Growth Marketing. “For example, they should emphasize small close-knit community, weekly outings, stock options or anything that makes them stand out. Facebook and Google have their brand names, but that does not make them better than any other company.”

Indeed, even if Facebook and Google have skewed expectations for employees and employers alike—for better or worse--everyone needs to find a place to work.

Find Rewarding Work at Normal Tech Companies

Maybe you’re not interviewing at a company whose name and brand are recognizable the world over, but but you can still find challenging, rewarding and satisfying work at normal tech companies, according to insiders. Companies interview prospective employees to determine whether they are right for the job, job seekers also need to analyze whether the company is right for them.

“To successfully assess the company, you must think beyond salary and benefits,” says Greg Meyers, vice president, technology strategy and information security, at Montage, which provides purpose-built voice and video interviewing solutions. “Be prepared to ask questions during the interview that validate normal tech companies are a fit for you.”

“Prominent tech behemoths may offer ‘cool’ benefits, but you must consider what’s important to you day to day and long term,” Meyers says. “For example, if a long commute introduces unacceptable stress into your life, the commute may outweigh the cool benefits. What is non-negotiable? What are you willing to sway on?”

Some experts say that, while companies like Facebook started small, they are now so big that many employees find themselves simply cogs in the machine.

“We’ve found in talking to some applicants leaving [these big companies] for us that the work isn’t great—it’s just the perks and campus," says Mickey Swortzel, CFO, New Eagle, a designer and builder of electronic controls. "The regular worker needs to look beyond the superficial and assess whether the job is merely a cog in a very large wheel and if that is satisfactory to them.”

Consider SMBs as an Alternative Workplace

While many Gen Xers and Millennials aspire to get a job at Facebook or Google, they might be better served by seeking employment at small and midsize (SMBs), according to industry veterans.

“The SMB space is ripe with opportunities to implement mature and reliable technology and systems for real business benefit,” says Tim Platt, vice president, IT business services, at Virtual Operations, LLC, a managed IT service provider. “The average small company in the U.S. doesn’t need bleeding-edge algorithms, machine learning and advanced analytics until they have basic IT systems.”

For example, working in the SMB space allows tech workers to put field-proven technology solutions in place and see real business benefit immediately, according to Platt. A self-described veteran with 25 years in IT at Fortune 500 companies, Platt says you can do this anywhere—not just in high-cost urban centers.

“The benefits of leveraging mature, tested technology is there is plenty of support and documentation, and the tech is highly reliable,” Platt says. “That means fewer sleepless nights while you implement it and when you support it through the lifecycle. Small-business owners value the contribution to the bottom line, not the technology, and your work is immensely appreciated.”

Normal Tech Companies Find Workers Who Get Stuff Done

If you have been around Silicon Valley for any amount of time, you’ve heard about the moonshot projects that Facebook and Google sponsor—from balloons and drones for internet access to virtual reality VR viewers for gaming to “nightmare-inducing” robots. The problem is that these “businesses” are experiments that have no prospects of profits or even revenue for the “foreseeable future,” according to reports. And that’s fine for Facebook and Google, which have overhead to spare and can staff these projects with big-name university academics not used to producing practical results.

“Big tech firms actually miss out on better employees because they recruit from a small list of schools,” says Mark Wilcox, vice president, business development, at ICSynergy International, an IAM solution integrator, and author of Implementing LDAP. “And, worse, [big tech firms] still tend to look for specific degrees, such as computer science.”

With a master’s degree in library and information sciences from University of North Texas, Wilcox states, the only way he was able to work for a large IT firm was when Oracle acquired his startup. But, once he got there, he got stuff done, including earning two patents. Job seekers can use a normal company’s willingness to think out of the box to highlight non-traditional successes such as completing all the requirements to becomes an Eagle Scout.

Job seekers should also get involved in open source and promote that involvement prominently.

“If a new developer doesn’t show me participation in either an open-source project or StackOverFlow, then you have at best B-level talent,” Wilcox says. “The A+ overachievers with real skills aren’t at Stanford. They’re at some school you’ve never heard of, building robots with JavaScript for fun while setting records for fastest answers on StackOverflow.”

Normal Tech Companies Let Workers Be Themselves

Realistically, no normal tech companies can actually compete with Facebook or Google for the superhero graduates from Stanford, MIT and Caltech. But these high-pressure work cultures demand a lot of their participants and can squeeze the humanity out of the job. But normal tech companies can offer an alternative by letting employees be themselves, according to recruitment experts.

“We like to be mindful of not only what works for us as a company, but also what works for the candidate,” says Brent Thomson, talent acquisition specialist, Envato, an Australian tech company managing a number of marketplaces for digital creatives around the world. “There is not a right or wrong person, or a certain mold we are trying to fit. We want candidates to feel they can bring their whole self to work. People who can highlight how they live our values and support others in a collaborative, diverse and inclusive working environment.”

Normal Tech Companies Provide Sense of Ownership

Prospective employees may or may not literally own a piece of a normal company (via stock options), but they will very likely have a sense of ownership, according to staffing experts.

“We’re not looking for unrealistic superheroes; we want intelligent people who feel a connection to their work, take pride in their contributions and want to make an impact,” says Lisa Nakahara, director of human resources at Treasure Data, a data management solution provider. “We’re a down-to-earth company led by our founders, and we want people with a sense of autonomy who like solving complex problems and want to see their work make a difference.”

As a data integration startup, Treasure Data looks for people who don’t subscribe to the traditional model of labor, which states that employees are only motivated by money. Instead, they want employees driven by meaning, creativity and challenges. IT job seekers need to be realistic about what they want from employers, Treasure Data states—whether that’s work flexibility or the opportunity for growth—just as employers need to be realistic about what they expect from potential hires.

“We offer benefits that help employees achieve work-life balance and find purpose in their roles,” Nakahara says. “Our employees don’t simply get work done, they drive innovation and move the organization forward.”

Normal Tech Companies: A Safe Working Environment

At a big tech firm, the pressure is on. Workers may feel pitted against each other in a zero sum game: Someone has to lose for someone else to win.

“My co-workers are all skilled in their area of expertise, but unlike, Facebook or Google, there it isn’t a vicious competition to see who can produce the most to avoid being fired,” says Robby Emmert, software developer at CQL, a custom software development shop. “Rather, CQL is a stable, safe environment where we focus on the problem and succeed as a team. Being a team player and quick learner are valued above being an untouchable rock star.”

So, while tech pros may have “stars in their eyes” and dreams of creating the next Uber or Facebook, they should concentrate on building relationships with colleagues and customers, according to Emmert. That will serve them better in the long haul and is much more enduring.

“Getting a healthy amount of sleep and maintaining healthy family life go a lot longer toward personal fulfillment than building Snapchat or working 80-hour weeks at Netflix,” Emmert says. “This is more sustainable, too, and a life anyone can achieve.”

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