Before You Accept That Job Offer: Learn as Much as You Can about the Prospective Employer’s Organizational Culture

by Beverly Harvey

before you accept the job offerYou’ve received an excellent and tempting job offer. You want to accept. All the terms look promising. But you don’t know as much as you want to about what it’s like to work for this employer. How to research?

To mitigate this dilemma before it becomes a dilemma, consider conducting informational interviews with targeted employers before ever approaching these organizations as a job-seeker. If you interview people at the same level at which you’d be working (as opposed to supervisors or subordinates), you’ll have a good idea what it’s like to be in that position.

In the job interview, you can enhance your familiarity with the culture by arriving early and observing how workers interact, what they wear, how personalized their workspaces are what amenities and perks employees enjoy, and lots more cultural clues. Ask questions in the interview that target the culture – for example questions about how decisions are made, how teams are formed, how employees are recognized, acknowledged, and supported, and so on. Ask about growth opportunities.

Don’t be afraid to ask your interviewer about his or her personal experience with the company, especially a question like, “What do you love about working here?” Ask your interviewer how he or she would describe the organizational culture.

Reflect on the interview itself. Was the interviewer welcoming and professional or flustered and unprepared?

Writing for Fast Company, Jared Lindzon suggests some observable items that might not initially seem revelatory of company culture:

  • Sounds and tones of voice: Do people in this workplace sound excited or fearful and stressed?
  • Smells: If everyone is eating lunch at their desks, maybe the culture encompasses significant time pressure.
  • Restrooms: Their cleanliness and order – or lack thereof – may say something about the culture.
  • Length/pace of hiring process: A too-quick hire may indicate carelessness, while a complex and drawn-out process may signal difficulty with decision-making.

If you’ve missed opportunities to study the culture before receiving an offer, you can still research to help you decide whether to accept the offer.

Study the way the organization presents itself to the world. What is its mission? Its core values? Its reputation? Look up news reports on the organization. Sites like Glassdoor offer employee reviews of their employers.

Peruse company social-media profiles. Turn your prospective employer into a Twitter hashtag and learn what’s being said about the organization.

Check LinkedIn to see if any of your connections works at the organization; if so, ask what it’s like to work there. See below (click here) for questions you can ask that reveal the culture. Request to be connected with your prospective colleagues so you can ask them about culture. You might even consider asking if you can shadow the incumbent in the position or a similar position. Or as John Lees, author of How to Get a Job You Love, suggests, ask to “spend a few hours with your prospective team for a group meeting or brainstorming session.”

Consider seeking out customers and suppliers of the organization to ask about culture.

There’s also nothing wrong with calling the hiring manager and asking follow-up questions that target culture – or even requesting another sit-down meeting. Spend time getting to know the person you will be reporting to and learning his or her vision for the organization. This is a good time to ask about advancement and professional-development opportunities – and any other perk that may be beyond the scope of the initial offer.

Final Thoughts
Having performed your due-diligence, you must ultimately make a decision. No matter how much research you do, you have to go with your gut in the end. As Rebecca Knight writes in Harvard Business Review, “[Don’t] succumb to analysis paralysis. Trust your judgment and make a decision.”

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Culture-Revealing Questions to Ask People Who Work in Your Prospective Organization:

  • Why did you decide to work for this company?
  • What do you like most about this company?
  • How does your company differ from its competitors?
  • Why do customers choose this company?
  • What is the company’s relationship with its customers?
  • How optimistic are you about the company’s future and your future with the company?
  • Has the company made any recent changes to improve its business practices and profitability?
  • What does the company do to contribute to its employees’ professional development?
  • What systems are in place to enable employees to give management feedback and suggestions?
  • How does the company make use of technology for internal communication and outside marketing (e-mail, Internet, intranets, World Wide Web, videoconferencing, etc.)?
  • What other technologies are integral to the company’s operation?
  • How would you describe the atmosphere at the company? Is it fairly formal or more casual and informal?
  • Do people in your department function fairly autonomously, or do they require a lot of supervision and direction?
  • What are your co-workers like?
  • How would you describe the morale of people who work here?
  • Do you participate in many social activities with your co-workers?
  • Is there a basic philosophy of the company or organization? What is it? (Is it a people-, service-, or product-oriented business?)
  • What is the company’s mission statement?
  • What can you tell me about the corporate culture of this company?
  • Is the company’s management style executed from the top downward, or do frontline employees share in the decision-making?
  • Is there flexibility in work hours, vacation schedule, place of residence, telecommuting, etc.?
  • What’s the dress code here? Is it conservative or casual? Does the company have dress-down or casual days?
  • Can men wear beards or long hair here?
  • What work-related values are most highly esteemed in this company (security, high income, variety, independence)?
  • What kind of training program does the company offer? Is it highly structured or more informal?
  • Does the company encourage and/or pay for employees to pursue graduate degrees? Is there a tuition-reimbursement program?
  • Does the company offer an employee discount on the products it sells?
  • What’s the best thing about the company?
  • How does the company evaluate your job performance?
  • How does the company acknowledge outstanding accomplishments of its employees?
  • What kinds of accomplishments does the company reward?
  • Are there people within or outside the organization that the company holds up as heroes?
  • Does the company observe any rituals, traditions, or ceremonies?
  • What does the company do to foster innovation and creativity?

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