Success Builders Inc. Article of The Month
April, 2002
Becoming a Cultured Job Seeker

By Barbara Poole, M.S., MCC

What kind of work environment would you prefer to work in? Option A is a hostile, unfriendly pressure-cooker of a business with long hours, lousy benefits, cut-throat managers and a cold, sterile office setting. Option B is an open, warm and inviting organization where growth and creativity are encouraged, the atmosphere is supportive, and there's an emphasis placed on openness, trust, and honest dialogue. Oh, and did I mention that there's an on-site child care center, a dry cleaning pick up service and a fitness room?

This is a no-brainer, right? Only a masochist with a strange sense of humor would go for Option A. And yet, notice that nothing in the descriptions identifies the nature of the positions involved, the associated salaries, or the other details of specific job opportunities. For all we know, Option A could be offering a top leadership role that pays a million dollars a year in salary and bonuses, while Option B could be a staff position that maxes out at an annual income of $35,000.

The point is, it doesn't matter. For most of us, our preference is based upon the broader issues of what it would be like to work in one of these two environments, regardless of the specifics of the jobs involved. We respond more favorably to Option B because it sounds like the kind of culture we'd like to work in.

Broadly speaking, an organization's culture is the answer to the question, "What's it like around here?" In many ways, it describes the company's unique personality and character. Embedded in this notion of culture are such elements as core values, beliefs, norms for behavior and ethical guidelines. And yet, despite these philosophical underpinnings, a company's culture is often manifested in some very mundane and observable ways. We can see it in how people dress, how they personalize their workspaces, how (and if) they celebrate birthdays and special occasions, even what cartoons are posted in the break room. Culture hangs in the atmosphere of a business, and it frames virtually everything that goes on there.

Despite its elusive nature, corporate culture is one of the strongest factors in job satisfaction for most people. In most cases, it's far more important than things like salary and benefits in determining whether we will love our job or hate it. And yet, many job seekers neglect to evaluate company culture when they are interviewing for or have been offered a position.

So how would a job candidate go about assessing an organization's culture to determine whether it's a good fit? There are at least three opportunities during the interviewing process:

While waiting for the interview:
This is the time to be as observant as possible of what you see and hear while you are waiting to meet with the person who will interview you. Notice things like:

  • How the receptionist greets callers and visitors
  • How employees dress, greet one another and interact
  • The general level of courtesy and professionalism
  • The activity and noise levels – is it hushed and staid, or vibrant and alive?

In the interview itself:
Ask questions that will help you get a glimpse into how the business operates, where it is headed, and what is valued. You might ask things like:

  • How are decisions made?
  • How is information shared?
  • How much risk-taking is encouraged?
  • Does the business emphasize teamwork or individual contribution?
  • What are the company's priorities over the next several years?
If you get a chance to meet with other employees or have a team-based interview:
Now is your chance to get the real skinny on what it's like to work in this environment by interacting with those who do. Consider questions like:
  • How would you describe this company?
  • What's it really like to work around here?
  • What skills and characteristics are valued in this organization?
  • How do people in different areas of the business interact with each other?
  • What are the growth opportunities here like?
  • How effectively does the company communicate with its employees?
  • What should someone who is considering coming to work here know?

Make it your business to be a cultured job seeker by investigating what the company's corporate culture is like before you sign on the dotted line. It just could make the difference in whether you wind up with Option A or Option B.

©Barbara Poole, Success Builders, Inc., 2002

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