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Company Culture Check: What’s right for you

With the insane turnover rate at the White House, the leadership vacuum and the unrelenting public scrutiny, you might ask yourself why anyone would want to work there. Don’t they read the news and do their research before accepting a new job?

We’ve all had experiences where we’ve joined a new employer and realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t the right fit for us. What went wrong? You did all of your homework, dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s. The reality is that you can never really know what a company is like until you are working inside of it. Despite all of the glossy branding or “Best Place to Work” awards, a specific organization just may not be the right cultural fit for you. I once joined a small company with a great reputation in my industry, only to find that the serious and staid environment felt like being strangled. At another company, their poor Glassdoor reviews gave me pause before accepting my offer, but I joined anyway. Within months, many of the themes mentioned anonymously online became apparent to me and I left a short time later.

To help you avoid the same fate, here are a few tips to make sure that your next job is the right one for you. I recommend doing your due diligence. There is so much content available online that you need to dedicate a few hours to desktop research. However, all of the online sleuthing in the world is not a replacement for actually speaking to people IRL, so make sure you do both!

Read the company website – This is so obvious that it’s almost not worth writing down! Read as much as possible, but definitely check out the following sections: About Us, Press Releases/News, Who We Are/Key People, Regional/Global Offices, and the latest quarterly report (if it’s a public company). Some start-ups or smaller companies have very little information on their website, so you might need to dig a little bit deeper.

Check social media feeds – Most companies invest a lot of resources into their social media content. They may even ask current employees to post and act as brand ambassadors so you can get a real-time, inside look at the company culture.

Wikipedia – More established companies will have a wiki page that will often give you details about their founders and history. It’s also a good place to see if there are any mentions of gossip or scandal. Check out some of the links at the bottom of the page for further reading.

Read the news – Read up on industry trends as a whole, don’t just search for specific mentions of the company you are interested in. It’s useful to know what their competitors are doing and what trends might be impacting their business.

Check out employer review sites - Sites such as Glassdoor and Comparably allow employees to anonymously review their workplace. These sites are certainly useful but should not be used in isolation. Since the reviews are anonymous, they may not be 100% accurate. However, it’s likely that you’ll see some consistent themes emerge about the company’s culture.

Speak to friends or those in your network who used to work at the company or in a similar industry. If you know someone who currently works at the company and you can speak to them confidentially, that is the best option. An ex-employee of the organization can also provide you with some perspective. If you are interviewing in a completely new industry and don’t have direct contacts, try to connect with someone who has done a similar role in a similar company so you can get some tips.

Call a few trusted recruiters – In Hong Kong, it’s very common to work with agency recruiters to find a new job. If you’ve been in the market for a while, you’ll likely have good relationships with some of them and can have a discrete conversation to get their insight about a specific company or manager.

Work the interview process – The interview process is a two-way street: it’s your chance to get to know the company and for them to get to know you. I often speak to people who are offered a job after meeting only one or two people at an organization. If you don’t feel comfortable that you really know the company, the job or the team, insist on meeting more people. It doesn't need to be a formal interview, but even an informal coffee or lunch can help you get the comfort you need around the company’s culture and whether or not you see yourself there.

These are all useful things for you to check out both in the days leading up to your first interview and throughout your entire assessment and onboarding process. If the company releases a new product or gets embroiled in a public scandal, you’ll want to know in case it impacts your decision to join.

These tips can help you make a determination about whether or not a company is the right place for you, but there are no guarantees. I've had a great career working at two large investment banks where I had supportive bosses, fantastic learning opportunities and a chance to be a part of the culture through various initiatives and events. But sometimes, despite your best efforts, things may not work out. You could get unlucky and have a mercurial boss like Trump. Or you could join a great company and realize it isn’t the right fit for you. If that happens, at least you’ll know that you did everything you could to make the right decision before joining.  

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Renee Conklin is an HR Leader who writes about talent attraction, employee engagement and the future of work. She is the founder of RC HR Consulting.

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