Networking is the best way to find out what the “word on the street” is regarding company culture. People who are well-established in your network and with whom you have developed a rapport through the years are most likely going to be very candid with you.
Also, if you have a contact with a person you previously worked with at another company who is now in a target company, this contact is gold. This person can get your foot in the door, give you candid feedback on company culture and perhaps give you feedback on how you did during an interview – something that you will most likely not hear about from your interview panelists.
In seeking out new networking contacts, you will need to discern the information that you hear. Try to find a contact that will give you a balanced viewpoint. No company is ever perfect, but no company is ever totally bad, either. A new networking contact that will give you a balanced viewpoint and answer your questions in a straight-forward manner is of great value in determining culture.
The interview process can also give you clues as to the culture, especially when you interview with the Human Resources representative, as their task is to see if you fit into the company culture. During your interview day, you may also be interacting with peers, hiring managers, and C-level executives.
Listen carefully to their expectations and ask questions about culture. Also, be mindful of the obvious, too. If you have interviewers complaining about their job or describing the company in poor terms (and this does happen), or perhaps you are on-site and the company looks as though it is unsafe or otherwise not well-maintained, these may be indicators to you that the company’s culture is not a fit for you.
Finally, you may hear advice which says that if you are at a job interview and you feel that the company’s culture is not a fit for you, then you should terminate the interview immediately. DON’T DO IT! Yes, you may leave after you finished your interviews with a gut feeling that a company may not be right for you and that is OK. Interviews are two-way conversations, and as much as the company is sizing you up for employment, you are sizing them up to work there. However, terminating an interview process during your interview day denies you of seeing the complete picture as well as risks burning bridges with potential future hiring managers.
Should you decide to withdraw your application because of a bad culture fit, do so in a professional manner in your thank-you note when the interview is done. Also, if you can, recommend to that employer someone in your network whom you think would be a good fit for a role. Even if you turn down working for them now, this act of helping the company find a perfect fit down the road will showcase your own professionalism and may work to your advantage down the road.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.
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