Of all the questions asked, answered, and fretted about during the dating game between job seeker and employer, applicants often forget one that should be directed at themselves: Is this opportunity a good fit? Figuring that out is less science, more art, says Reesa Staten, director of workplace research for staffing firm Robert Half International. "People need to take that extra step to not just envision what they'll be doing but where they'll be working and who they will be working with every day."
Getting a clear picture requires the hefty task of learning as much as you can before and during the interview process about the company culture and the management style of your future boss. Among the mismatches you may discover: The firm is team oriented, but you work better on your own. The company resists innovation, but you have an entrepreneurial spirit. Your boss would employ a hands-off approach, but being closely managed makes you more productive.
1) To help you assess a company's work environment, search the Web to read what other people are saying about the organization in news articles, for instance, or blogs.
2) You should also see what the employer says about itself on its website. Online management bios can be particularly helpful. "If you learn the management of a company is all brand new, what does that tell you about the company?" says Bernadette Kenny, chief career officer of the recruitment firm Adecco Group North America. "That it's probably going to be getting ready for a lot of change. Are you OK with that? Are you a change agent, or do you like things to be very status quo?"
3) Be sure to mine the knowledge of your network, which probably is bigger than you think if you use online networking sites like LinkedIn. "Things like networking are still the most paramount piece of a job search, because that's when you get in and learn about the company and about successful people in the company," says Jay Hargis, managing partner of Talent Insight Group, a human-resources consulting firm.
4) You should also speak with people you'd be working with in the company. Ask them why they like working there, what makes people succeed and fail, and what the culture is like.
5) Simply observing the workplace can yield important clues as well. Hargis suggests taking notice of the following during interview visits: Is the office clean and modern or furnished with old furniture and nothing's been painted in 10 years? Are people walking through the hallways smiling? Were you greeted, or did you walk into an empty lobby? Are there awards on the walls? "Those are good indicators of what the climate's like," he says.
A quick case study: Last fall, when Randy Zimmerman went to interview for a sales position at yellow pages publisher Idearc Media, he saw motivational posters and daily sales results hanging on the walls. He says he took those as signs that the culture was competitive and that the company wanted to keep people excited.
During his interviews, he was particularly interested in learning whether he could be creative in his sales. A former employer that marketed pharmaceutical products limited flexibility by requiring sales representatives to follow strict guidelines. Zimmerman found working at a company with such a regimented structure to be tedious.
When he asked his Idearc interviewers about a sales rep's typical day and what employees needed to do to be successful, he learned that "the culture is such that they want you to make it your own," Zimmerman says. "They strongly encourage creativity when you're in front of the customer and also when you're prospecting." Zimmerman took the advertising consultant position and now works with businesses in and around Dallas and Fort Worth.
But while fitting in with the company is key—here is a Workplace Culture Calculator from OfficeTeam—it is also important to mesh with your direct supervisor. "To me, that relationship has the biggest impact on your job satisfaction," says Staten of Robert Half.
6) Staten encourages job seekers to ask managers pointed questions not only about what it's like to work at the company but also what it's like to work for them. "Your boss's working style should be a fit for your working style," Staten says. Some questions worth asking: What is your ideal employee? How will you evaluate my performance? How do you define success in your employees? How do you like to manage products and people?
7) Ultimately, trust your instincts. "If you're getting a sense you guys don't have a chemistry, that maybe this isn't the right fit for you," Staten says, "I think that says a lot."