Photo by Graham
Last week I talked about why company culture matters in choosing an employer. In the comments, class factotum asked how to find out in advance what a company’s culture and quirks are, so that you don’t end up in the wrong job. Here are three techniques I use:
1. Ask. Every single person you meet in the interview process is a source of information, from the receptionist to the phone screener to the big boss. Ask them what they like (and hate) about working there. Ask them what time they go home at night. Ask them what it’s like around crunch time, how much vacation they took last year…whatever it is that’s really important to you in terms of assessing the culture. Some of the people you’ll meet with will be slick and have packaged answers, but you’ll be surprised how many will make candid remarks, because they aren’t expecting the question. Getting information from a variety of people helps you piece together the real picture, without the canned spiel or the filtered answers of the folks who are trained to give you the company line. Not all of it will be accurate or applicable, but you’ll start to see common themes, and that’s what really gives you a sense of what it’s going to be like to work for this company.
2. Google. One nice thing about the internet is that you can more or less find everything everyone’s ever said about a particular company. Sites like Glassdoor specialize in giving insider information on a variety of organizations. Industry message boards can also provide some insight, as well as the message boards on sites like Yahoo! Finance (check the board for a particular stock; there will be a message board associated with that stock, and that’s where employees go to complain). Take these tidbits with a HUGE grain of salt, though. In my experience, it’s mostly disgruntled employees who post stuff on the internet about a company, and you’re hearing only one side of the story (and usually an anonymous one at that). Happy employees rarely spend time on message boards writing about their happiness. Again, you’re really looking for common themes and tidbits that reinforce or contradict what you’re finding elsewhere.
3. Use your network. In my experience, networking is by far the best way to find out what you’re getting into when you consider taking a new job. In fact, I think it’s one of the most compelling reasons to ensure that you have a strong network. After all, not everyone you know will stick their neck out for you to help you get a job; only your closest friends and allies will do that. Most people, though, are delighted to give their opinion. Ask everyone you know about the company you’re considering. Even if they haven’t worked there, they may have friends, family members, neighbors, or other contacts who are in the know. They may also know things about the company’s reputation, good or bad, that you don’t. That’s important insight for you to have going in, and you won’t know if you don’t ask. I live in Milwaukee, which has a population of about 1.4 million in the metro area. That’s not New York City, but it’s not Gopher Prairie either…and I’ve been able to get the scoop on every employer I’ve had in the time I’ve lived here. I haven’t always listened, but I’ve always been told what to expect.
4. Check references. Social networking sites have made it much easier to find complete strangers who work for the company you’re interested in. As long as there’s not a cloud of confidentiality around the opening (like if you’re interviewing to replace someone who hasn’t been fired yet), you can contact them and ask what it’s like to work there. Look for employees on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, and ask (nicely) if they’re willing to tell you a little bit about their experience. Again, most people are flattered to be asked for their opinion, and it’s a great way to connect with people who may be your colleagues soon. In fact, you might click with someone well enough that they can actually help you get the job as well.
Most people spend all of their job hunting energy finding job opportunities, and then getting the company to like them. That’s important too, but it’s just as important to know what sort of job you’re REALLY getting into. Putting in the effort up front to ensure a good fit helps make sure you don’t have to do this job hunting thing again anytime soon. That’s always a good investment.