job application wants to know whether I’d work at my past companies again

A reader writes:

I’m filling out an application that has some unusual questions. One is a blank after the statement “Company size in terms of employees or annual revenues” referring to my employment history. Why would that matter if it isn’t a manager position and how can I find out that information? So far, I left that one blank considering it not applicable and I don’t have the information anyway.

There is also a yes/no spot after the statement “Would you work for this company again.” It was suggested to me that it might be a way of finding out if I left on good terms, but one of my former jobs was abusive. So, even though I left on good terms from their perspective, I’m in no way ever working there again.

Those are weird questions.

I’d take your best guess at estimating company size and write “unsure” where you truly have no idea.

The question about whether you’d work for past employers again is none of their business. Write in “yes” because that makes you look easy to work with, and justify it in your head by the fact that you might consider working there again if they fired all their management and/or paid you several million dollars.

{ 80 comments… read them below }

  1. sunny-dee

    Also, for the number of employees and revenue — you may not be able to reveal that information. It’s in my employee contract that I cannot give statements about either the number of employees, company revenue, or product sales — it’s one of the things covered in my NDA. I work at a large corporation; my brother has something similar and it’s just him and his boss (as permanent staff).

    1. Apollo Warbucks

      The companies I’ve been working for publish enoloyee head count on their website which might be one way of finding the information.

      Not that the OP should bother unless they’re really keen to, they’re odd questions.

      1. jmkenrick

        If you look up a company on LinkedIn, it will often provide a range. Which I guess could be better than nothing.

      2. Chinook

        I don’t see the company size as too odd because being an Admin Asst or HR person in a company with 10 employees vs. 500 employees does affect how those roles work within the company. And not all employers are easily googleable. That being said, they are probably best asked in an interview and not on an application.

        1. Spiky Plant

          I agree. There are tons of positions where the size and scale of the organization *really* matter. Especially in admin and operations… being an “operations manager” at a company of 15 people is a very different job than being one in a company with 1,000 employees. Application might not be the best way to get that info, but its certainly not weird to think they’d want it.

        2. Stranger than fiction

          I agree number of employees seems relatively benign but if they’re a private company their revenue isn’t published publically so I’d maybe put “privately held” even if you might know what their yearly sales are

  2. Bend & Snap

    I’d just write “privately held” for the company size question. Most private companies don’t disclose their revenues and some don’t disclose their head counts.

    1. Another HRPro

      Unless they are public companies. Then this information is available in their annual report.

      1. Bend & Snap

        Of course. But if the company were public, presumably the OP would be able to provide that info.

  3. MegEB

    So bizarre. I wonder if they follow up on the applicant’s answers to those questions if they make it to the interview stage.

  4. AnotherAlison

    If I were answering these questions, I’d give my best honest approximation for the first question and a “yes, under the right circumstances” for the second. Even if you truly think you would never work there again, who cares? Things really can change a lot in 5-10 years. As for the first, I think answering this is important because it gives an idea of your responsibilities and how many hats you wear. There are pros and cons to experience at both large and small companies, so the only reason to not answer it is if you’re assuming ahead of time that your experience is not a fit.

    1. Ann O'Nemity

      Ha, “yes, under the right circumstances” is perfect! Even if those circumstances are “company replaces 100% of current employees, moves to a different location, and changes industries.”

      1. Charlotte Collins

        I just thought of something. What if it’s a company that has ended up in the news, but not in a good way (think: Enron). Would the right answer be “No”? (It would for me.)

        1. AnotherAlison

          Well, of course if it’s a globally known unethical company, then no one would question the “no” or assume it had anything to do with your performance.

          Although, Enron-owned gas pipelines are still operating and owned by other energy companies. So, it could still be a case of a qualified yes. If you’re a pipeline operator out there at a compressor station, you could be doing the exact same job you did under Enron for new management. . .so would you go back to that job, yes. For Enron directly, no. (I guess I feel like being a pain in the ass commenter today.)

          1. The Expendable Redshirt

            If the company is totally closed, I suppose someone could answer “No.”
            I like the idea of “Yes, under the right circumstances.” Why yes, I would return to work at Former Company if it was still in operation.

            1. RVA Cat

              If the company has gone out of business, it’s “N/A” rather than yes or no – you no longer have the option either way if they don’t exist.

  5. Amanda

    Strange. I can’t see a way to win with the “Would you work for this company again” question. Impossible to tell if they’re thinking “yes= candidate is easy to work with” or “yes= candidate might accept Old Company’s counter-offer/decide grass *isn’t* greener with new company.”

    But then the “no” responses would have similar issues. I guess “yes” would be less of a red flag to most potential employers than “no.”

    1. T3k

      It reminds me of a similar question at a friend’s workplace. They change up the questions every year for resident applications, and one year it was something like “If you order food at a restaurant and it wasn’t exactly right, would you send it back?” They were looking for a “no” answer because it meant you worked with what you got and weren’t insanely picky, until a friend pointed out “What if you get meat that isn’t cooked all the way? You could get food poisoning.” They decided to redo that question.

      1. Evan Þ

        Not to mention that basing any decisions on this question would be discriminatory against people with food allergies…

      2. OfficePrincess

        Or food allergies… Sounds more like they were looking for people who would keep their mouth shut and nod along instead of people who think critically or find solutions.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

          Egads…that was my thought as well.

          I’m a fairly open eater, but if my salad with grilled chicken came out with grilled shrimp, not only would I have to send it back, I would have to ask that they completely remake it rather than swap out the protein — either that or someone would have to administer an epi-pen.

      3. FD

        ARGH! Also, in general, if you send the food back, there’s a good chance the coompany can make it right and retain you (if they have sense). If you just eat the food and stew about it, you might not come back. This is why good customer service companies teach you that a complaint is generally an opportunity.

        1. Kyrielle

          Yep. Also, really, the only sane answer to this is “it depends” IMO.

          My steak that I ordered medium-well came out well-done? I’ll probably just eat it, because I like a well-done steak too, I just prefer medium-well a little bit – and I know they can’t fix it, they’d have to make it over. (Plus I have two small children and if they’re with us, I need to eat and be ready to go before they have had enough of Restaurant Manners and start acting up!)

          My salad that I ordered with no dressing and no cheese comes out with cheese and coated in ranch? I will send it back, because if I eat that, I will get sick.

          I don’t mind the occasional “oh, I didn’t expect that, but it works” meal snafu, but the ones that put my health at risk or really damage my pleasure in the meal, I will absolutely bring up.

      4. TootsNYC

        Well, saying “Yes, I’d send it back” is the actions of a person who holds business vendors to their contracts. Or holds their employees to a code of behavior. Someone who will work to get things right, instead of just going with the easiest answer.

        (It sounds like the people who thought up that question haven’t been reading Miss Manners, and so they’re applying Social Etiquette Rules to a business transaction. If you’re paying for something, you want it to meet the terms of the contract; the menu is a contract.)

    2. Not So NewReader

      If they ask that about each of your employers that you list you could do a random pattern such as y, n, n, y OR y, y, n, y. And leave them sitting there scratching their heads.

      I find the question such a turn off, I would probably lose interest in the company.

  6. The Other Dawn

    “Company size in terms of employees or annual revenues”

    My only guess here is that they’re trying to gauge your exposure. In other words, did you work for a huge company and knew only a small slice of a certain task, or did you work for a very small company in which you knew everything in the department because you WERE the whole department? Or if you were a manager, did you manage 100+ people in a big company or just one person in a small company? I can see asking about that in an interview, but not on an application. Very strange.

    1. Ad Astra

      That seems possible, but it’s weird that the company is putting the onus on the applicant. If they want that kind of information, they have just as much access — if not more — to resources necessary to look it up.

      1. AnotherAlison

        True, but if they’re screening applicants and getting hundreds of applications, why not let the applicants do the work for them?

        1. The Other Dawn

          Right. And it seems reasonable to me that most applicants would, at the very least, know approximately how many employees within the company. I definitely think it’s weird to put it on an application, but I would ask about the company size in an interview; it’s relevant in my industry.

          1. TootsNYC

            I wouldn’t! I’ve only known that info at one company that was small-ish. The larger companies I’ve worked for, I have no idea the size of the company. I can tell you the size of my component, but I have no idea about the total.

            It’s not important info to me, so I never internalize it. And the company for which I knew the info was always touting the size as a way to point out how much they were growing, so it was in all the quarterly updates, etc.

    2. Meg Murry

      But even still, company size is all relative. For instance, I worked at a company that had thousands of employees around the world. But our location only had 300, with less than 100 in my division – so it operated like a very small company in 95% of my day-to-day, and the only things that followed through from the giant parent company were a handle pain-in-the-neck bureaucratic parts.

      I’m guessing this is one of those companies that has everyone from the person sweeping the floors to the CEO use the same one-size-fits-none job application, and that spot is on the form because one manager actually reads that spot and cares what goes in that blank and insisted it be on there- and the rest of the company doesn’t even look at the application, or only looks at the part they care about, like your references names and phone numbers.

      1. AnotherAlison

        “. . .and the only things that followed through from the giant parent company were a handle pain-in-the-neck bureaucratic parts.”

        I think that’s actually one of the more important parts of having experience at a big company. I think if I explained anything from our wellness program to our SAP ERP to someone who had only been at companies that really were <100 people, they would think what in the absolute eff is this nonsense? If you’ve been at a corporation forever, you think, yup, sounds familiar.

  7. LQ

    The size thing might be relevant if you were doing some kinds of work. Though there would be better ways to get at it… If you were doing payroll for a company that was 3 employees that’s different from 30,000. Or if you were doing project management and your budgets were in the 10-25K range that’s different than if they were in the 10-25 million range.

    But again, better ways to get at that?
    They might also be fishing to see if people have worked at companies their size. If they are very very small and have had issues with people coming from large places not fitting in culturally (or vice versa) they might ask it.
    Or they might be trying to get this information from a certain population but feel like they have to ask the question of everyone to be “fair”?

    Not saying any of these are GOOD reasons.

  8. Jill of All Trades

    For the company revenues and employee count, if they are publicly traded companies often disclose this information as part of their annual report; websites often distill the highlights (which is what you need) for investors. Try bloomberg dot com.

    In the case of privately held companies, sometimes this information is also available through an internet search – it’s part of their marketing plan.

    I agree it’s weird though not nearly as weird as some of the things we’ve seen employers require from candidates.

  9. Bee Eye LL

    I’ve always followed the general rule that you don’t bash previous employers in an interview, so answering “no” to the question would seem negative unless it was some place that got shut down by the feds or something along those lines – something kind of high profile. As for the revenue question, that’s an easy one to avoid unless you worked in their accounting office. I have no idea what kind of money my previous employer was making. I was there to fix computers.

    1. LeahS

      I agree that checking no makes the applicant look negative. That’s why I can’t figure out why they would even ask this. Is it just to gauge the applicant’s attitude + awareness of workplace norms?

  10. Stephanie

    LOL at the last line. Because those are exactly the circumstances I’d return to former employers.

    1. OfficePrincess

      If you amend the last line to also include totally different job duties and unlimited coffee & chocolate, we may have a deal.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian

      I’d consider going back to my old boss if he and his wife got a divorce and I never had to interact with her professionally ever again as long as I live. And if he added the possibility of accruing more vacation time with longer job tenure, instead of having everyone start with two weeks per year and stay at two weeks per year regardless of time served.

    3. ThursdaysGeek

      I’d go back to one job if they’d re-hire my boss, and also re-hire her retired boss (so my boss would be willing to go back). For another job, I’d want them to re-hire not only someone who is now retired, but also someone who is now dead. Without both of them, I wouldn’t be interested. And, since they’re already doing the impossible, they could pay me more too.

  11. Jen S. 2.0

    I never, never, never support fibbing on a job application, but this is one of those times where you need to give the answer they’re looking for, even if it’s not 110% true, because the stakes are high, and the risk is low. Take your best guess for the size question, say yes to the return-to-the-company question, and get on with your life. Agree with others that you need to just phrase it in your head however you need to in order to make it true enough to put on the application. If the answer is “Yes […if they paid me $1,000,000, after taxes, to come back for one day and sit around doing nothing],” then so be it.

  12. James M.

    I’m wondering what information this employer hopes to gain by asking “Would you work for this company again?” without allowing for a flexible answer. Are they looking to filter out “negativity” or do they only want compliant/submissive employees, or something else?

    1. Kyrielle

      Also, is this in a small industry where employees circulate around? So they work for Chocolate Teapots Ltd for a couple years, then migrate to Mike’s Cocoa Pots for a year, then wander on down the street to White Chocolate Teapots Ltd (a new startup doing R&D), and then six months later that folds so they go back to Chocolate Teapots Ltd (with a higher title because of all their experience), and now a few years later they’re interviewing with Joe’s Dark Chocolate Teapots and Joe wants to know they’re not likely to be gone in a year or two to one of their previous jobs?

      (In which case ‘yes’ is a dangerous answer, only as regards direct competitors, and yet ‘no’ is still dangerous too. I’d be tempted to say ‘Not if I get a job at Joe’s!’)

  13. Shell

    “Would you work for this company again” sounds like such a loaded question. If you answer “no”, you seem hard to work with and like you’re bashing your ex-employers, which is a big no by professional norms. If you answer “yes”, they might think you’re not loyal to this company and would jump ship and run back to your ex-employers at the first chance.

    But Alison, I love your advice of mental justification. You’re so practical and no-nonsense, it’s amazing.

    1. Adam

      Yeah. You can infer something not great either way if you jump through enough mental hoops. It’s pretty straightforward when the prospective employer is calling a former employer for reference. “Would you hire this person again?” is pretty straightforward then assuming everything’s on the up and up. For an employee it can go any number ways.

      And definitely loved Alison’s last line.

  14. Allison

    From a hiring/recruitment perspective, I sort of get a hiring manager wanting someone with experience working at a company with a similar size to the one I work at now. If you’re hiring for a large company, sometimes it is relevant whether an applicant has worked for other large companies or if most of their experience has been at smaller places. That said, not everyone knows the size of their past companies in terms of revenue or number of employees, so I’d say it’s really on:

    – whoever writes the job description, to specify if they want someone with experience working at other large companies, or small companies, or whatever
    – the applicant, to see that requirement and say, somewhere on their resume, that they worked at a company of that specified size
    – the resume screener, whomever they are, to either look for that specification, or to really look at (and in some cases look up) the companies the applicant worked at, if it’s really that important.

    And it is weird to ask whether someone would work at their previous companies again. There are some places I would consider returning to with the right offer, and there are some places I’d re-apply to if I was desperate, and there’s at least one company I’d never work at again in a million years! It all depends on why I left, or was let go, and what’s changed since then. A simple “yes” or “no” can’t possibly tell the whole story.

  15. Anonathon

    Oh dear, that last paragraph made me laugh way too much. (“Sure, I’d work there again! … If it were a totally different company.”)

  16. bkanon

    Two of my former employers no longer exist! Sure, I’d work for them again. Got a time machine?

  17. Rex

    I don’t find the size question particularly shocking — I think, for example, running a department in a small organization of 15 people is a wildly different level of responsibility than running a department in any organization of 1,000. And if you’ve only worked in large orgs, maybe they’d have some concerns that you wouldn’t understand how a smaller one operates? I would just give my best estimate. A lot of this information is publicly available anyway.

    “Would you work there again?” might be an awkward way of asking if you were fired. I dunno.

    1. JB (not in Houston)

      Sure, but you don’t know how big a department the applicant was responsible for from their answer to a question asking about company size. If I work for a company that has 5,000 employees, but I managed a department of 5, I’m not sure how knowing the company size helps the potential employer find out anything relevant.

      1. AnotherAlison

        Hmm. I’d still argue managing 5 people in a corporation of thousands is completely different than managing 5 people in a small business. Those corporate policy and procedure headaches are a totally different brand of headache than in a small business. I worked in my division when it was 150 people and now that it’s 1,000 people and more integrated with corporate. It’s always been part of a large corporation since I’ve been here, but when I started, it ran like a separate small business.

        1. JB (not in Houston)

          Possibly, but it’s one of those things you can’t know from -just- asking about the size of the company. It totally depends on the company and the job (see, for example, OfficePrincess’s response).

          This isn’t exactly the same, but I’ve worked for a company with 1,000s of employees, one with under 50 employees, and one somewhere in the middle. And in none of those jobs did my job involve working with more than a small group of people, and in none of those jobs did the policies and procedures issue you pointed out have any effect on my job that would be relevant to a future employer. I can think of some jobs where that might make a difference, but knowing nothing more than the size of a company is usually not going to tell you enough to know whether it mattered for that particular applicant, unless they only ask that question for jobs where it would matter (like, say, a job that involves selecting a health insurance plan for employees).

          1. AnotherAlison

            I will concede that it’s not critical for every job and that division sizes, locations, etc. make a difference. It also doesn’t provide every piece of information needed in a hiring decision (i.e. my title & employer could lead you to believe I manage much larger projects than I actually manage). : )

          2. Another HRPro

            I’ve worked for small and big companies and I can tell you, they are very different. The culture, work style, breadth of roles, etc. One isn’t better than the other, but they are different. I personally found the transition from one to another challenging. It all worked out and none of it was too problematic, but I can understand asking the question. I wouldn’t do it on an application. To me, this is more of an interview question (if you don’t already know).

            1. AnotherAlison

              Even if you do already know, it should definitely be an interview question! Specific scenarios provided by the employee would be where the gold is.

      2. OfficePrincess

        This is what I’m thinking too. There are probably somewhere from 10-15k in my company, but it’s very spread out across the country into fairly independent units. There are 50 in my site plus another 10 I interact with regularly and I manage 8. My department is technically a couple hundred, but I’ve never met most of them.

  18. TheExchequer

    I almost choked on my lunch when I read the last paragraph. It pretty much sums up the way I feel about my last boss. Sure, I’d go back. If it were 100% work from home, different management, different work, had full benefits, and paid me four times what I’m making now (before taxes). I guess we all have our price.

  19. Workfromhome

    Just another example of how bad companies really are at hiring people. What I mean is that if someone is out of work and needs a job they might agonize of these questions and provide an answer even though a wrong answerr to a silly question like that might screen them out but a passive job seeker who is maybe the best candidate might just say “Naw too much trouble” and not apply at all.

    Not saying I’d do it but I’d be sorely tempted to write

    Company Size and Revenue: “Why don’t you Google it yourself rather than getting me to do it?”

  20. Merry and Bright

    I’ve been asked questions about staff turnover, profit margins and other company stuff, mostly in the sunny world of online applications. Yes, it is very weird and out of line. Ask me questions about myself, not employer stuff. I am not in the business of divulging my employer’s affairs and wouldn’t do it if I worked for your organization either.

  21. TootsNYC

    Every time I’ve filled out an application form (as opposed to writing my resumé), I’ve been in an office, on the spot. I wouldn’t be able to answer that question then and there.

    I’ve never been in the position of filling out an online application; in that case I could google the company and see if there’s info available.

    I guess I can see that there might be companies that aren’t that well-known, and they wonder what sort of experience you’ve had (the “exposure” point above), but I wouldn’t care about that, as a hiring manager.

  22. Tim Esho

    Asking for company size or revenue may seem odd however it is likely being used to assess the types of companies in your employment history especially when the companies are not national brands or well known. Check Linkedin, company website and other publication for the information. As Allison suggested, if you don’t have it, just leave it blank or put in your best guess in terms of number of employees.

    Asking if you would work for the company again is a brilliant question during an interview. When companies do reference checks they often ask former managers if they would rehire an employee. This is simply the reverse and is a fair question to ask a candidate. As a hiring manager I would want to know the truth as it provides insight into your history.

    If the question is simply asking for a yes and no answer on an application form, then it’s hard to imagine how that would be useful to anyone. Again great for an interview but not on an application form.

  23. Original Poster

    This was an online application. Neither question are required to be answered, but I like to fill in as many questions as I can.
    On page one, they asked for emergency contact info and SSN. I didn’t like that at all, but my dad had worked there and suggested to fill it out anyway because that company is a good company, referring to their ethics. Besides, he’s my emergency contact. I’ve had other people say it’s a good company to work for. I think that it’s a regional company I’m applying for, but the local component could have a “small” mentality.
    Excellent advice. Thank you all.

  24. Stranger than fiction

    I’m wonderimg if you’ve had , say four jobs, and you said one No and three Yes, would that disqualify you? Because one, it sounds more sincere and two, four Yesses makes me wonder well then why did you leave any of them?

  25. soooo Anon

    Another reason this is a terrible question- one company I worked for had about 50 employees when I started, around 500 several years later when I left, and now, 10 years later has several times that, and has merged with another company… Which number do they want?

    1. K

      Or if the company has multiple branches. LastJob’s primary location where I worked has 30,000 employees but across the US they total ~50,000.

  26. Original Poster

    I just remembered that one of the reasons for leaving is “not a good fit.” I tried for 4 months, but couldn’t make it work. This was the abusive place. Does that effect the “yes to all of them” answer?

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