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Don’t Take That Job Until You Understand the Culture


September 3, 2019

Yes, you’re thrilled you were given the ‘final rose’ (the job offer); but is it a good culture fit?

Imagine starting at a new job, full of excitement for your future. However, when you arrive, you can’t seem to find your boss, so you have a seat in the waiting area. Five minutes go by and employees hurriedly funnel into work without giving you so much as a glance. After 10 minutes of waiting and not being acknowledged, you finally stop someone to ask where new employees should report. The person says, “Oh you must be the new girl. That’s your desk.” You look over at a barren desk that doesn’t have so much as a pen on it, and think to yourself, “Did I make the right decision by coming here?”

This may seem like a far-out example, but many people have found themselves second-guessing their choice to accept a job offer at a new company or in a new department. So it’s important to know what you’d be walking into before you accept.

What is Culture?

Organizational culture is not tangible: it cannot be directly seen, heard or felt, but it permeates daily life within a company (Flamholtz & Randle, 2011). It consists of shared values, beliefs and behavior patterns within the organization. In other words, it’s how people within the organization act–and are allowed to act…basically, the who, what, when, where, why and how of every day life at the workplace.

Why am I emphasizing the importance of understanding a company’s culture before saying yes to the job? Because I’ve made the leap after ignoring the warning signs–a few times–and was miserable. I want you to be aware of the signs I purposely overlooked because I was so desperate for a new opportunity.

Potential Red Flags

You know that gut instinct; that intuition? Trust it. When you interview, check out the common areas: are people smiling? Friendly with one another? Or, is everyone rushing around, barely making eye contact? Take note, and during your interview, ask employees what their favorite part about working at the company is. If they take longer than usual to answer, answer without much (or negative) emotion or they don’t have a strong answer, it could be a red flag.

The question from an interviewer that is really concerning is, “How do you deal with difficult people?” I got this one once from a woman whom I would later work with in the department. And, no surprise, within the first three hours on the job, I knew EXACTLY who she was loosely referring to with that question.

Another flag? You don’t get an opportunity to meet the team you will be working with. This can sometimes happen when companies use a recruiting firm to fill a position. The firm gets paid to place candidates and if there is dysfunction or unrest within a department, candidates might only meet with the “big wigs.” This might flatter you, making you feel like an important candidate, but be sure to ask to meet your future co-workers if you aren’t given the opportunity. If your request is denied, there’s something going on behind the scenes.

Be sure to ask about employee engagement and development. Although things like ping pong tables and Keurig machines may seem like the company treats its employees well, find out how the company supports employees’ continued learning and inclusion in company decisions. If you are told there isn’t a budget for professional development, or that employees aren’t regularly asked for feedback and suggestions, the fancy stuff might just be that: stuff, not substance.

Finally, were you told during the hiring process that the position was being put on hold, only to get a call a week or two later that it was reopened and they’d like you to come in again? Pretty much a sign that either the hiring team couldn’t come to a consensus or the position was offered to someone else who declined it. Or, the big boss got the candidates confused so you have to go back in…apparently, you weren’t memorable (this happened to me once). If there’s someone on the hiring and/or executive team who doesn’t want you there, that person (or people) could create barriers to your success once you come on board. And if the boss can’t remember you during the important interview phase, imagine what’s going to happen once you are one of hundreds (or dozens) of employees, particularly if you have to report to him or her.

Sometimes, you have no choice but to accept a job regardless of the company culture. I get it. But, if you have options, be sure to add at least a couple of the questions below to your “must ask” question list before accepting.

Questions That Will Help You Sniff Out the Culture

  1. What is your favorite part about working here?
  2. What do you foresee as challenges for the person in this position?
  3. How would you describe the culture here? (might as well come right out and ask!)
  4. Are there opportunities for professional development within the company?
  5. Are there employee committees I would have the chance to serve on?

Do you have any others you’d like to add to the list? If so, comment below.

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