Cultural Fit & Job Offer Decisions

While I realize many of you aren’t likely quite as picky right now about “organizational culture” as you might have been in the past, if you’ve been out searching for a few months, it still never hurts to pay attention to the clues about a company’s culture, values, and environment that are given off throughout the typical hiring process.

I’ve advised people on this issue for many years, in fact, as part of their decision-making process when fielding job offers, and have found that these cultural fit factors end up playing a much bigger role in eventual job satisfaction than the more obvious realm of salary or benefit discrepancies.  Most professionals, however, still don’t always factor these cultural variables highly enough into their analysis of a given opportunity — or know how to spot the cultural tells and tip-offs a company might give off, in the first place.

Along these lines, rather than reinvent the wheel, let me invite you all to first read the recent post you’ll find here from a blogger I greatly respect, Jason Seiden.  This recent article of Jason’s hits a lot of the same themes on this subject that I typically cover with clients, individually, and does a great job explaining the importance of keeping your antennae up throughout your courtship with a prospective organization.  In particular, I’d shout a big “amen” to points #3 and #4 that he emphasizes.  Pay a great deal of attention to ALL the people you come across in the organization, not just the recruiter or hiring manager you’re meeting with, since while any given recruiter can temporarily “fool” you or put on a happy face, the moods/emotions of the other workers in the company (including the receptionist) can’t really be faked — and reveal a great deal about how the company actually treats its employees.  Do people seem stressed?  Laid-back?  Happy?  Frustrated?  While a company can impose all kinds of unhealthy work conditions and unpleasantries on their workforce, they can’t force them to be happy about it, so pay careful attention to how the people you come across seem to be feeling and faring.

As for Jason’s other point, about monitoring the flow of the hiring process all the way forward from the initial application phase, I think this is great advice, as well.  If you pay careful attention to how the hiring process unfolds, it will often speak volumes about how the company manages projects, makes decisions, values its people, etc.  For example, if your interview keeps getting rescheduled or the company promises to follow up with you, and then drops the ball time and time again, you might make a mental note to inquire further into this issue in the offer stage — and see if they’re dropping balls in other key areas, as well.  On the flip side, if the company honors their commitments and treats you with genuine respect throughout the entire process, boy, you might have a real winner on your hands!

Speaking strictly about some of my own experiences of this kind in the Seattle area, I still remember past meetings I’ve had with Cutter & Buck, Coinstar, and (most recently) CampusPoint where I was blown away with the courtesy, caliber, and professionalism of the staff I encountered.  At CampusPoint, for example, the receptionist literally took two elevators down 20 or so floors of the building to fetch me my coffee drink of choice from the lobby Starbucks.  And at Cutter & Buck, at least as of a few years ago, I remember thinking that they must be putting Prozac in the water cooler — since every employee I encountered (or witnessed in the hallways) seemed to be laughing, smiling, and just having an all-around wonderful time.  This stuff makes quite a positive impression, since it doesn’t happen every day in most organizations.  And at the same time, there are definitely some “toxic” companies around town (even some with good external reputations) that are riddled with dysfunction and probably wouldn’t be worth working for at any cost.  I’ll pass on naming them publicly, but as always, if I’m working with a client who asks me about the reputation of a certain outfit — or is debating whether to work there — I’ll let them know some extra “due diligence” might be a very wise move!

Just some things to think about, if the job market keeps picking up (LOTS of promising reports brewing lately!) and you suddenly have an offer or two in your hands to consider…

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3 Responses to “Cultural Fit & Job Offer Decisions”

  1. Mel: Good question — although I think the right questions to ask are generally some pretty obvious ones. You can ask each person you meet what they most like about working for the company, for starters, just to see what they’d say. And then, if appropriate, you could move on and ask them to share some thoughts on issues like how the company a) Makes decisions; b) Prioritizes things; c) Promotes teamwork; d) Manages/rewards performance and the like. This usually will get you pretty far, and then if you have any final burning issues or worrysome elements you want to get some peace around, before accepting an offer, you can hit them with these more hard-hitting questions at the very end when you have maximum leverage. Things like “I’ve heard you have a high turnover rate here — can I ask you to speak to that?” or “With all due respect, the word on the street is that your company doesn’t tend to promote from within very often — is that indeed the case?” Again, I’d only ask these “hardball” questions if you’re willing to walk away, but you do have every right to demand satisfaction around these kinds of areas before you sign on the bottom line with an employer. Hope that helps!

  2. Great article Matt!

    What questions do you suggest people ask a potential employeer to learn about a culture? Are there questions you have found that work better than others?

  3. These comments are written by a seasoned pro. The emotional social components of a work culture affect our sense of well-being for at least 8 hours a day. That’s the state of mind that we take back home and in turn affect the people we care most about. Thanks for pointing these out.

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