Company culture: Finding the right fit for you

Job interviews should go both ways. The candidate is trying on the workplace for size and comfort, so doing one’s homework and asking lots of questions will help make that crucial decision.

A friend recently told me about some serious reservations that she’s been having at her new workplace.

After she likened the competitive nature of her colleagues to “The Hunger Games,” I can’t blame her for reconsidering her decision to accept the position.

My friend’s recent revelation got me thinking about the job search process and how we young professionals often become so focused on how we’re the right fit for the employer that we forget to consider whether the company culture is right for us.

Though most of us have heard the term “company culture,” I’d argue that it’s still one of those ambiguous catchall phrases that can be difficult to describe. In a 2013 New York Times article, Josh Patrick of Stage 2 Planning Partners defined office culture as “what you value, what is important for you and your company.”

When considering what we value most in a job, among the first things likely to come to mind are salary and benefits. Though salary’s undoubtedly important, in researching for this post and talking with a few friends, I found that money isn’t everything and that our generation has come to equally value the workplace itself. We sometimes even accept a lower salary for a more suitable culture.

We young professionals work hard (before playing hard, of course) and, according to Geoffrey James of Inc., seek to be rewarded accordingly when it comes to perks and promotions. We don’t want to be seen as kids, instead valuing our voices’ being heard, opportunities for professional growth, and fair treatment by senior-level employees and older colleagues.

Although we thrive in a team setting, we expect others to pull their weight (or else) and to be able to work independently rather than being micromanaged.

Perhaps most important, we desire a personal life. Though long hours are often to be expected, we appreciate having realistic goals set for us, as well as ample time to complete our work so we can hit the gym at the end of the workday before getting home to watch “The Bachelor” or “Monday Night Football.”

When such expectations are met, we quickly come to feel welcome and comfortable in the workplace and are thus happier and more productive in the office.

Setting priorities

How do we help ensure that we’ll arrive at this comfort level? Finding the right fit begins by determining what you value in the workplace and then asking the necessary questions during the job search and interview processes.

Job seekers are encouraged to conduct informational interviews with individuals at a prospective employer in order to not only learn about potential openings, but to get a better feel for its company culture as well. Use personal connections to be put in touch with these individuals.

Be proactive and know there’s nothing wrong with cold-contacting folks whose information you find on company websites. Don’t underestimate the power of social media networks such as LinkedIn, where you can apply such tools as the Advanced search option to make connections and get introduced to the right people.

Doing this kind of research ahead of time is a must during the job search. In addition to networking and combing through a company’s website, seeking outside information offers another important perspective.

With so much now available online, a simple Google search can uncover plenty of news and reviews about the company, awards it’s won, and how it stacks up in industry rankings. What’s more, if you’ve done your research, you can use what you’ve learned to tailor your resume, customize your cover letter, and demonstrate your knowledge during the interview process.

Questions, questions…

When you find yourself in the interview itself, have a number of questions prepared to ask different people at various levels of the company. Make an effort to talk with both veteran employees and new hires.

In terms of the questions themselves, ask your potential colleagues about their favorite aspects of the company culture, any complaints they might have, the regularity of office outings, the nature of staff meetings, and unique benefits like Summer Fridays—in which employees are either given off or are allowed to leave early during the summer months.

Also take note of the setup of the office (e.g., open floor plan) and employee interactions. As another friend mentioned in a recent conversation, “I don’t want anyone to have to face my work reality of closed office doors and no one greeting each other in the morning.”

Listening attentively during interview conversations and making mental notes during office tours should not only help you avoid such a dismal reality, but it will help spark more questions on your end, too. Nevertheless, before you arrive for the interview, it’s smart to prepare several inquiries, such as those posed by Scott Ginsberg of TheLadders.com and Michael Neece of Monster.

Moreover, keep in mind that unlike skills, the right fit cannot be learned. So, what criteria are most important to you, and how does your company culture match up?

Zach Burrus is a public relations professional in Richmond, Va., with experience in both political and sports communication. Burrus is an active member of PRSA National, PRSA Richmond, and the PRSA New Professionals Section. He can be reached at zachburrus@gmail.com.

A version of this article first appeared on PRNewPros.

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