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You’ve just read a job description, and you’re so excited. It is exactly what you want in your next career step. And then you get that magical call and talk with the recruiter and everything seems aligned. You do your research and prepare for the interview. You ask good questions, and you get good answers – you think you got this nailed. It’s as good as it seems, then you start and, a month later, you realize that the job and/or the company isn’t what you thought it was. Anxiety kicks in. You feel trapped.

You don’t want to quit after a few months because you don’t want to be a job hopper. But, you regret your decision and wish you had done things differently. But what? How can you know what it’s really like to work somewhere before you actually get hired? Here are some ideas to help you identify the real company culture before you accept a position.

 

  1. Join the talent network

Being part of a company’s talent network can deliver you some interesting content and insights that will help you frame your decision-making process. Read those emails carefully and look for what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. The company should be sending you content like new projects they are working on, employee stories, career resources and tips, community initiatives they’ve involved in, company events and more.

 

  1. Ask a lot of questions

To really understand a company, ask everyone you talk to scenario-based questions about what really matters to you. You might ask about career paths in specific departments or roles or real-world examples of how the company lives up to its culture claims. Then you need to be sure that the interviewer can back it up. Ask them to tell you stories about top performers at the company and why the company considers them a top performer. You might even ask to talk to these top performers and get perspectives directly from employees, not just hiring managers or recruiters. Ask about what characteristics are rewarded and revered in the company. Just ask!

 

  1. Listen to the answers and probe

Asking is simply the first part of the equation – then you need to listen and trust your gut. Be sure you find ways to ask again to see if you get a different answer from different people, which is how you might start seeing a disconnect between what’s advertised and what’s legit. Does the answer seem genuine? Do they have no real stories to back up their claims? Do they seem like authentic stories? And finally, do you think these answers and stories are aligned with what you want? If the answer is maybe, keep probing. And if you don’t get anywhere after you attempt to probe a bit, and it remains a maybe … then it’s a no. Maybe is a “no” because you cannot afford a maybe in your career!

 

  1. Study current and former employees

Take some time on LinkedIn. Study the company’s profile page and the people who work there. Are the people frequently promoted to new roles? Does the company demonstrate a career path for their people? Do some people quit and come back? This can tell you a lot about the company culture and can also inform the awesome questions you have to ask (see 1 & 2).

 

  1. Meet and connect with current employees 

Use your network to talk with people who already work there. Ask them the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes they may be reticent to talk about the ugly, so ask them about things they’re working to change in the company. What advice would they give senior leaders? What would be the number one thing that could help the company improve? These conversations can help you shape an understanding of the company culture from an insider’s point of view.

 

  1. Meet and connect with former employees

Similar to the idea above, learning from former employees is equally important. These people can tell you why they left and if they would ever consider going back. These conversations are likely to be a little more transparent and honest, as the people don’t have current ties to the company The information you learn from former employees should also inform your questions. Keep in mind, companies do change and the reason this person left may no longer be an issue.

 

  1. Read reviews, but don’t only read reviews

Sites like Glassdoor and Indeed are awesome to get some insights, but these sites can sometimes cloud your point of view. Keep in mind, people who write anonymous reviews are often either horribly disgruntled or shilling. If you want to read reviews, read the ones that are middle of the road. Don’t read 5-stars and 1-star. Read 3-star reviews, read the entire review (not just the headline!) and then either ask your network to validate or take it with a grain of salt. It’s also interesting to note the percentage of people who would recommend the company. If it’s less than half and many of the reviews are less than encouraging, it’s something to follow up on.

 

  1. Follow companies and people on social media to see how they respond

Social media has forced brands to more openly communicate with candidates and customers. Some companies do an amazing job of telling you about the culture on their social media channels, and more importantly, showing it through photos, videos, employee retweets and human language (vs. corporate speak). Others don’t, but that’s not to say the culture isn’t there. For the companies who do share a lot about their culture, study how they treat their candidates and customers. To go one step further, search for CEOs or leaders on social media. What articles do they share? Are they transparent? Do they answer questions? This can help you tell what is important to an organization before you join.

 

Changing jobs is a big decision. Figuring out your fit is so important to ensure you don’t get “buyer’s remorse” and aren’t forced into being a “job hopper.” Carefully considering a company’s culture is critical in your career because getting it wrong is just too costly. No one wants to work for a place where they just don’t feel at home.

Feel free to check out the SmashFly culture, people and opportunities here.

Originally published on VentureFizz.

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