Taking up a New Job? Assess the company culture before you join!

I have changed just three jobs in 26-year long career.  The only competence that makes me write and share is my mistakes in not assessing or ignoring certain aspects of finding out the culture of organizations that I joined.

I have validated my mistakes with my friends and colleagues so that I can guide you correctly and better.

The call from a hiring consultant about a new opening will always sell you the role & company. They are the salesperson hired by the organization.  It will always talk about the positive – the dream, the future (in the form of challenges, high growth, and the progressive nature of the organization).  Along with it will be one or two caveats which will pale in comparison to the dream sold.

These caveats are only to present you a realistic picture which has its negatives but are solvable.  The selling spiel would persuade you to have a meeting or interaction with company officials.  After being convinced, when you will probe more about the role, organizational culture, and a standard line will come in response –  “ you know how these roles are.  I don’t have a standard JD (Job Description) with me nor can I make one in a jiffy. Maybe I could note five points, but that won’t be of any use given how wide this role is.”  If you ignore this and agree for a meeting, you have made your first mistake in assessment.

If you are lucky to come across an organization which has well drafted JDs that are more average than special, ignoring that would be your second mistake still appear average than special, ignoring it would be your second mistake.  Let us say you did not realize this mistake and went ahead.  Now your next step becomes to find out from social networking sites if anyone has worked at the company or knows someone who does currently.

organizational culture and pace of your growth

Assessing a Company Culture can be done by:

  • Networking with current employees: Invite them to join your network and ask for their first-hand experience.  At first, all will be hunky dory as he doesn’t know you well and neither will he like to get caught on the wrong foot by the company.  You will have to ask questions and cross questions to get the truth and specifics about everything including organizational / company culture.
  • Connecting with ex-employees: They might be a better segment to ask questions depending on their regency, but do remember to ask how the organization treated them when they resigned and the organizational culture.  A lot about corporate culture is revealed from the way they treat their employees as and when they resign, from relieving troubles to settling the claims.  This segment will be freer to speak out but their feedback will depend on their tenure in the organization, how well they understood it, and the terms of their separation.
  • Exploring the Website: Check the website to read about employee testimonials and also the average duration of senior management with the company.  This is a very good indicator of how easily and soon you will be accepted within the organization, company culture and pace of your growth too.

If you do not do your homework on the above points then you are on your path to your third mistake.  If you go for an interview without gathering enough information about the company’s culture, suffice to say that you have not prepared well. It’s become a trend these days for the firms to have corporate coaching on/about company culture.

When in the organization for an interview or “interaction” as it is called these days, one should notice the sequence of interactions arranged.  In case your interaction during the interview process does not include your supervisor or he comes last, after his seniors/peers have interacted with you, do not ignore this critical fact.  It could and generally would mean that your would-be supervisor is not likely to determine your agenda and action but his seniors will. He is either weak/ineffective or is being accommodated.  Hence in this situation, your position will always be weak in the organization.

Pay attention to the interview environment also, what you see from the moment you enter the gate to meeting receptionist and walking in the corridors or halls to reach the interview room.  Gauge if the environment is seriously meant for the interview or there are frequent disturbances.  Pay attention to the discussions happening during the disturbances, it may give you some idea of the corporate culture and the attitude of employees in the organization, perhaps importance given to you and your prospective position. Consider things like:

  • First impression: What is the office space like, and can you see yourself working in it? Is the aesthetics per your likings?  Will you enjoy or feel comfortable spending 8 – 10 hrs every day?
  • Dress code: Are current employees dressed professionally or business casual, or do they look like they just rolled out of bed? General getup of employees has to be smart and energetic irrespective of the dress code.
  • Energy level: Do you feel a positive energy in the office? Or is it low on energy or perhaps aloof from what is happening outside?
  • Personal Effects: Do people have pictures, toys, and other forms of self-expression in their work area? Are the desks full of cosmetics, snacks, unorganized?
  • Work Machines: Do staffers have the laptops, 80s desktops, or something in between? Are people carrying gadgets given by the company?
  • Cafeteria: How are the facilities in the canteen- beverage vending machines, food, drinks, water? How are the sitting arrangements? Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the culture, and the things you are seeing and hearing.
  • Interact: Ask each person you meet with how long they have been here and to describe the company culture and notice if you get consistent responses. If you feel you haven’t met enough people, ask if there are other members of the organization you can speak to about their experience.
  • Ask: Try to ask as many questions around your role. If the role was already existing, ask why did the previous incumbent had left.

Recruitment, obviously, is a huge cost to the organization. A wrong hire adds on to the expenditure.  But a wrong on-boarding is a cost to the individual’s career and life. One should always be very thoughtful of leaving and joining a new job.  Reasons should be very clear and knowing and understanding the organizational / company culture is the unsaid but most critical element.

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