Even within the same industry, company culture can vary pretty drastically. One company may encourage creative problem-solving and innovation, while another wants things done in a very particular way, from the top down. One may explicitly encourage work-life balance, while another expects people to be available on phone or email after hours.
If a job looks great on paper but the company culture is one that doesn’t work with your goals or your style, it can impact your work, your job satisfaction, and your stress levels. Just like picking a college or a pet, it’s important to think about whether a company’s culture is a good fit for you personally before you commit.
Let’s talk through some of the ways you can figure this out before you accept a job offer.
Do some deep background research
Before you apply for a job somewhere (or when you prepare for an interview), it’s natural to look up the company online: their website, their social media presence, etc. But if you’re trying to figure out what it’s really like to work for the company, you have to look beyond the nice, neat, corporate face. A company brand is something that can be controlled; what people say is not nearly as controllable, and thus a good source of info for your initial research.
Sites like Glassdoor or even Yelp can provide valuable insight from former employees or customers. However, keep in mind that online reviews should often be taken with a grain of salt. Is this someone with an ax to grind? Or are a number of people saying the same thing?
LinkedIn can also be helpful to see who’s working at a company, and what they present to the world. What kind of tone do you see in their profiles? How do they interact?
Think about what you want
In a job search, your ideal work situation can become secondary to the consideration of “which place will offer me an opportunity?” But it’s essential to think about what you want in the workplace—before you get started. Like with personal relationships, the odds that you’ll get everything you dream of are not high. What motivates you? What makes you happy? What has worked (or not worked) for you in former jobs?
Thinking about your priorities, your values, and your working style gives you a baseline for thinking about whether a particular company would work for you. If you have any personal dealbreakers for an employer, now is the time to start thinking about those before you commit to a place.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
When a recruiter or an interviewer asks you if you have any questions, the answer should never be, “Nah, I’m good.” Asking questions shows you’re thoughtful and engaged in the process. But it might not occur to you to ask questions that go a bit beyond the job description. Use that chance to ask about what life is like at the company.
Here are some examples:
“How do people here relieve stress during difficult times?”
“What do you do to celebrate successes?”
“Would you say that this is a collaborative atmosphere, or is it more of a head-down place where people work on their own?”
“What would you say is the overall management style of this company?”
“What do you like best about working here?”
You can also ask for a tour of the office during your interview. That way, you can see firsthand what the working environment looks like. Is everyone dressed (or acting) very casually? Do things feel more formal? How are people interacting? Seeing the place on an average day can help you judge how you might fit in, and whether you’d feel comfortable.
Trust your instincts
If a place seems a little too good to be true, it probably is. If everything looks shiny and happy during your tour but you saw some less sparkling information online, the truth is probably somewhere in between. The bottom line is this: you know better than anyone what works best for you and your working style. If you have a good feeling about a place after doing your due diligence, go with that. Or if some little voice is shouting “avoid!” in the back of your head, don’t discount it.
A company’s culture can be a huge factor in your work satisfaction and happiness. You want to pick the one that gives you the best chance for a long, productive working relationship. Otherwise, you may find yourself cranky, unhappy, and back on the job market much sooner than you would have liked. It’s much better to put in the time and thought now to find the places that will help you thrive.
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