When accepting your next job, you should probably spend a little time checking you’ll actually enjoy working for the company. Otherwise you might end up working months (or even years) in a job you despise.
Even during PayPal’s earliest days, co-founder Peter Thiel knew that he wanted his team to be “tightly-knit instead of transactional”. In his book Zero to One, he explained that anyone he hired “had to be talented, but even more than that, they had to be excited about working specifically with us”.
It was the company culture that Thiel built that managed to attract formidable talent such as Elon Musk (Tesla and SpaceX), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), and Jawed Karin (YouTube).
Thiel actively looked to recruit people who were asking themselves, “Are these the kind of people I want to work with?” He understood that while assessing interviewees, the interviewees should also be assessing the company, asking “why [this] company is a unique match for [them] personally. And if [they] can’t do that, [it’s] probably not the right match.”
This approach not only makes it less likely you’ll hate your job. It also makes it far more likely you will find fulfilment in your role. It also allows you to build stronger relationships that will “make [you] not just happier and better at work but also more successful in [your] career”.
But how do you do this? How can you assess whether an employer is a suitable match for you?
Have Some Values
Before committing time to tailoring your resume, you’d best spend some time figuring out what it is that you’re looking for in an employer. What would make you eager to spend so many hours dedicated to this company?
Perks should be taken with a pinch of salt. Healthcare insurance may be something you won’t budge on, but free lunches?
Think about the kind of projects you’d like to work on. How much autonomy you want. Whether you’d rather work solo or in a team. Whether you want a relaxed workplace, or one ruled by deadlines. Whether you need flexible work-hours so you can go to the gym in the morning. Whether innovation and entrepreneurialism is valued over systems and processes.
How Does the Company Sell Itself?
In many cases, what a company is selling to prospective employees is not what it’s actually delivering. But you should still check out what they’re selling.
The first place to visit is the “About Us” page on their site. Check to see if they also have a page dedicated to explaining their company culture, or a company blog. From this, you’ll at least get a vague idea of how the company wants to portray its culture.
To dig a little deeper, take a look at what the company is sharing on their social media pages. This is where you’ve got a good chance of seeing the projects the company has been working on, and their approach to communication.
A quick stalk of Buffer’s site, blog, and social feeds, for instance, shows clearly that this is a company dedicated to openness and transparency.
Track Down the Leaders
Employees rarely leave jobs. Instead, they leave managers. It’s a wise idea then to find out what you can about your potential superiors. Especially those you may end up accountable to directly.
Go straight to LinkedIn, and search for the company you’re considering. Check out the profiles of a few superior members of staff. By doing this, you’ll be able to get a good idea of whether you might like working with each person.
If it turns out they’re ex-military, expect some discipline. If they’re following the same influencers as you, your values could well align. If they’ve started several of their own companies, they may value a more entrepreneurial mindset. If they’ve studied an MBA and worked at some huge multi-nationals, things may be more bureaucratic. If you have similar interests, you could well end up good friends.
Of course, none of this is guaranteed to be completely accurate. But finding out what you can about the background and values of your potential managers will shine more light on what might be in store for you at that specific company.
What Are Employees Saying?
Next, check out sites like Glassdoor and Indeed.com, to find out what past and current employees are saying. Not only do these reviews provide insight into how actual employees found working for the company. They sometimes even share what you can expect in your interview!
Bear in mind that reviews posted on these sites are anonymous. Plus, most reviews posted online are extreme, based on great or terrible experiences. You’re not too likely to read much about the “average” experience here.
In other words, don’t take what you read on these sites as gospel, but if you keep coming across the same issues, complaints, and compliments from time and time again, then there’s a good chance there’s some truth in those.
What Are Customers Saying?
A good indicator of how a company operates is to look at how they treat their customers. What approach does a company take to rectify mistakes? Do they even respond to customer inquiries?
Again, these kind of reviews are anonymous and represent more extreme customer experiences. But if the same issues keep cropping up, it might be safe to assume there’s no smoke without fire.
You can find these kind of reviews on the Facebook page of many companies. If you’re looking into a more local business, search Yelp. You can also search Google for “[Company Name] Reviews”. Finally you could always search Twitter for mentions of the company to see what’s being said over there.
Loiter in the Lobby
There’s nothing like first hand experience to judge the culture of a company. So when it’s time to go for your interview, turn up 10 minutes earlier than usual, and loiter in the lobby. If you want a glimpse into the actual offices of larger companies, see if they have a write-up on The Muse.
This is a great chance to see how other employees interact with each other. Do they walk past each other without uttering a word? Do they greet each other like close friends? Do people treat one another like equals, or is there a clear hierarchy? Do people seem happy to be there?
Take Advantage of the Interview
The interview isn’t just the part where employers judge whether you’re a good fit for their company. It’s also the time when you can find out if the company is a good fit for you.
The structure of the interview itself will give a lot a way. If most of the questions were assessing your technical skills, then this is likely what the company values most. If the interview was all about working in teams, expect a lot of team-work in the role. If all the questions seemed bizarre and took you off guard, you can assume the company likes to do things differently.
Also, when the interviewers inevitably ask whether you have any of your own questions, this is your chance to probe more deeply into the company culture, and learn what’s really expected of employees.
You could ask about the common traits of successful employees. You could ask for a specific example of an employee who has done particularly well in the company. You could ask what the main reasons are why people decide to stay on at the organization.
The more specific the questions, the better. And if you can ask for examples, then do. This stops the interviewers from just reeling off a clichéd response, and prompts them to give a more detailed, contextual answer.
Make a Decision
All of this taken together may seem like a lot of work. But by figuring out if you’re likely to enjoy working at a company before applying, you could save yourself a lot of time. Not just in applying to jobs, but also in potentially months (or even years) spent in a job you hate.
To go back to Peter Thiel and his PayPal story, as a potential employee, throughout this entire process, you should be asking yourself, “are these the kind of people I want to work with?”. If the answer is no, it’s probably not the right match.
How else do you decide if you’ll likely enjoy working for a company? Which resources do you find to be most reliable?
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