I hear this question almost as much as “Should I change the 15th line of my resume, because someone on the street I just met said it was important and would change my life…” or “Should I tell them my salary requirements the first time I meet them just to avoid wasting everyone’s time?” or “If I send out 500 resumes to HR departments, the odds are this will result in interviews, right?”
How many times have we heard “if only I had known!” after a job didn’t work out? Figuring out how to read the culture and your potential fit in it, of course, is critical in the decision-making process.
Here are some recommendations for figuring out some of the critical information. It’s actually possible in many instances to make an intelligent choice about accepting an offer, based on solid, and even gut-level, data.
1) Tapping into your network to see if anyone has worked, or is employed there now, is the obvious way to go. One or two opinions are not quite enough. But it’s a start.
2) Check out some of the websites where employees write about their organizations (I’m thinking of Glassdoor as an example). In the past, similar websites have frequently not been good sources for information and have been more of a venue for unhappy employees to whine. Of course, it’s important to realize that it’s tough to characterize an entire organization by one or two comments, and it would be good to get as much data as possible. But I have seen some possibly useful comments on these websites in the past few years.
3) Basic research about the organization will create some more depth of information, particularly through databases like Factiva, where there is information about how the company is doing and is perceived by several media. This research is imperative, anyway, for preparation for interviews. Wouldn’t it be helpful to find out if there have been downsizings, or shifts in direction, or any other major changes? These facts can be a resource for finding out about recent or upcoming
4) Pay close attention to the recruiting process. A good attitude to adopt is, if the process is unusually slow, erratic, not particularly well organized, or involves some bad behavior (missed meetings), it might be a major clue about the organizational culture. I like to think that if that first foot forward is a negative one, then the candidate shouldn’t want to see the rest of the body. There are a few notable exceptions, though. One technology giant comes to mind. Their recruiting process is awful and chaotic. I’ve had some clients have up to 15 different interviews, and then never hear back again! This is the exception to the bad foot forward idea, because the culture at this company, other than its awful recruiting process, is among the best in the world.
5) The negotiation phase of a hiring process is probably the best time to find out if the organization is the right one. Concerned about the work/life balance issues? Then ask, towards the end of the negotiating list, if the company is an early in the day one or a late in the day one. If the answer is something like “We all work very long hours” or “We work extremely hard, no matter what it takes,” then that’s saying something which might be a part of the decision. Or, if more clarification about reporting relationships is needed, then ask about how that matrix management thing actually works there. Or, what are the mobility options? A clear answer to that may be the factor that completes the decision. These questions are always among the last ones to be asked, after the money/vacation/benefits, etc. have been clarified. Many worry about asking too many questions. My take is…if not now, when?
6) Since it’s always a good idea to arrive at an interview (all interviews!) 10-15 minutes early, why not make a trip to the restroom for five of those minutes? Maybe a conversation can be overheard, and another sense of the organization can be attained that way. While we’re at it, if there’s a waiting room/reception setting, pay attention to the person at the front desk (and anyone who might pass by). Listen in a little! In most cases, even if that reception person or others are levels below the targeted position, an organizational attitude will frequently filter from the top all the way down, and be yet another piece of the process.
There probably isn’t a surefire way of knowing everything about a prospective employer. But it’s certainly worth making the effort to find out how to make the decision a more logical one.