On paper, the job looks great: a generous salary, good benefits, and the chance to do something you love. But what seems like a dream career move can quickly turn into a nightmare if you don’t bother to check out a company’s culture before you accept an offer.
Ending up in a job where you don’t fit won’t just make you miserable. It can damage your career as well. Employees who don’t mesh with their company’s culture tend not be happy at work, don’t perform as well in their jobs, and are more likely to quit, studies have shown. As an obviously unhappy employee, you might lose out on opportunities for promotions and raises, while lackluster performance in your current role could make it difficult to find a new and better position.
Unfortunately, evaluating a company’s culture isn’t as easy as assessing its benefits package or a salary offer. To really get a sense of whether a prospective employer is a good fit for you, you’ll need to employ these five strategies.
1. Assess the hiring process
Start evaluating a company’s culture from the moment you read a job posting or submit your résumé. Is the ad written in casual, approachable language or is it more formal? Do you submit your résumé to an actual person or must you deal with a clunky online system? Is the interview process efficient and friendly or drawn-out and disorganized? Your experiences with a company at this stage will often mirror what life will be like as an employee.
“Too often in a hiring process, candidates ignore important cues about how an employer functions and then are surprised when they see those same traits play out once they’re working there,” HR expert Alison Green wrote in an article for U.S. News & World Report.
2. Ask the right interview questions
An interview isn’t just a chance for your prospective new boss to grill you about your experience. It’s also a chance for you to get a feel for the company. Answers to questions about how the company coaches and mentors employees, what it takes for employees to be successful, and what type of people thrive in the environment reveal a lot about the office culture. Asking the interviewer what they like – and don’t like – about working for the company can also be illuminating. Genuine excitement is a good sign, but lukewarm corporate-speak could be a red flag.
“The catch is to really listen and try to figure out whether your interviewer gives you a rehearsed, company-spiel kind of response,” Matthew Reischer, C.E.O. and hiring partner at LegalAdvice.com, told LearnVest.
3. Read between the lines
Sometimes, what’s not said during the hiring process can tell you as much about the company culture as the specific questions you ask your interviewer. If he or she is late to your appointment, distracted, hostile, or aggressive, something may be amiss behind the scenes. Vague answers to questions about the job, performance expectations, or the work environment could indicate the interviewer is trying to gloss over unpleasant realities.
“Negative environments tend to try to hide,” Robert A. Giacalone, now the Daniels Chair in Business Ethics at the University of Denver, told U.S. News & World Report.
4. Take a look around
When visiting the office for an in-person interview, pay attention to what’s happening around you. A dead-quiet office with sullen-looking employees won’t be a great place to work if you’re an extrovert who loves to chat and bounce ideas off of colleagues. If you only wear a suit when absolutely necessary and every employee is stiff and buttoned up, the job may not be the best fit. Even little things like the art on the walls and the choice of furniture (say, comfy couches and standing desks vs. a sea of gray cubicles) can tell you about what day-to-day office life is like.
“Just take 30 seconds to look around and see how formal the setting is,” Katharine Brooks, author of You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career, told Forbes. “Do people have personal items on their desks? Is there informal and casual conversation in the hallways? Is the feeling relaxed or tense? Does everyone seem like they are on an urgent mission?”
5. Do some digging
Of course you’ve checked out the company website and read what they have to say about their culture, but don’t take what a prospective employer says about themselves at face value. Talking to current employees can give you a better sense of what working there will be like, while searching for newspaper or magazine articles about the business or CEO may provide a more objective look at how the company functions. Checking out the reviews on GlassDoor can also be helpful. A handful of negative comments from disgruntled ex-employees may not be of much concern, but a pattern of reviews all griping about the same things is a warning sign. For today’s job seeker, it’s just common sense to engage in this kind of “reverse reference checking.”
“Employees today are no longer looking at only what the company ‘advertises’ the job or company environment to be,” Jim Hemmer, CEO at employee recognition software company WorkStride, told Fast Company. “Sites such as GlassDoor, LinkedIn, and Facebook are popular ones that can provide a more ‘authentic’ view of true company culture.”