I recently worked with a client who had accepted a cool job in a prestigious firm and was back in my office two months later, having been a part of a large layoff at that company. “What a relief,” was the first thing out of his mouth. The company had not been a good fit for his direct, social, get-things-done approach. He had realized early on that there was a lack of transparency and that communication was structured and hierarchical, which wasn’t his preferred way of getting things done. To get the job, he had networked in the company and focused on marketing himself for the job requirements, but had neglected to find out anything about company culture. By asking the right questions during your networking, you are able to find out a lot about company culture in advance.
As you are creating your list of target companies, be sure to take a little time and reflect on what’s important to you in a workplace environment. Taking time to identify your work values and preferred working environment could make all the difference in the world once you have landed your new position. What is important and what are the deal breakers for you in a work environment? Company culture is made up of many things, and everyone will have their own work values. For example, is it important to know:
How things are communicated?
How decisions are made?
How receptive is the employer to new ways of doing things?
How accommodating is management with ensuring work-life balance?
How structured or flexible is the work environment?
How are people rewarded?
For instance, if open communication is really important to you, an example of a question to uncover this might be “How are changes in company processes communicated to employees, stakeholders, and constituents? Who communicates that?”
Or, maybe you’re good at seeing better ways to do things, you’ve been told that your ideas are helpful and you like to share that skill. A question related to this work value might be “Is management interested in hearing from employees about process improvement or does that come from a certain department or team?”
You can get help identifying your work values and developing relevant “culture questions” from your job counselor, friends, family, former co-workers, instructors, or someone you’ve networked with.
Identify a couple of key values and develop and practice accompanying “culture questions”, and then put them to work during your networking!
For those who need a refresher or a push to beef up their networking: When you’re networking, you are basically telling people you know what you’re looking for and how they can help. During these conversations, your connections might suggest you contact someone they know that is a widget maker (that’s similar to what you’re looking for), or works at XYZ company (that you’re interested in finding out more about), and they give you that person’s contact information. Yikes, how do you talk to someone you don’t know?
Networking doesn’t have to start with calling someone up, telling them about yourself and asking for job leads. In fact, networking works best if you are able to call up a referred contact and give them your short pitch (also called an elevator pitch) and ask for a few minutes of their time to find out more about their company. Be sure to first ask them what they do, how they got their job, what they like and dislike about their job and about their career path/trajectory. By asking them questions, you have the opportunity to listen and learn from them. And, they will feel important and connected to you because you listened to them.
After you have asked them about their job/career, ask them a couple of your “culture questions” and start taking notes. What they say could help you to identify if this is potentially a company or workplace that might work for you (or not!). Either way, the information is helpful as you are working on narrowing your list of target companies.
If their responses to your “culture questions” sound like they are in alignment with your identified “would love to have” work values, you might want to ask if there’s someone in a department closer to where you would fit and they might refer you to someone they know. Or they might want to know more about you and ask you for your resume. This referral will feel less awkward for them because of the time you invested in listening to what they had to say, and hopefully will have made it easier for you to ask your “culture questions”.