Looking for a job? Find your culture first.

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“Looking for a job” isn’t good enough anymore.
Find a place you fit instead.

Let’s be straight. Jobs are a dime a dozen. But dream jobs are few and far between. Overall, just one in four US professionals and 30% of global workers say they earn a living from their dream job or a related field. Let’s pause for momentary sadness and regret. Big sigh.

Ok. If you’re looking for a job, and need one fast, sometimes you have to take what you get. But, if you’re just browsing, your selection should base almost entirely on the job where where the culture fits you. You can learn skills. You can be trained to do anything. People are versatile like that. But a company’s culture? That’s a horse of a different color.

When looking for a job, a company’s culture is often hard to see. You view the organization “on your best behavior”. You typically have access to only the interviewers or hiring managers. And you certainly don’t want to “slip up. So you play it safe. Ask only the questions that put you in the best light. And leave a ton of information on the table. Sure, you have access to friends, social media like GlassDoorand other resources, but there is no substitute for a first-person account. I mean, a company’s press page that delightfully describes employees investing time with Habitat for Humanity is not the real-time description that lets you make an informed employment decision.

So, it’s certainly not uncommon for new hires to show up their first day and quietly say to themselves, “Uh oh. What have I done?”. There’s no sure-fire solution. But, ask these five questions to whomever you’re talking to at the company. They will help you uncover whether a culture is a good fit for you while looking for a job. And, at least, give you a chance at the workplace bliss you so richly deserve.

5 Culture diagnostics when looking for a job

1. What are three words you’d use to describe the culture here?

Use caution with words like “fast-paced” and “challenging”. These are code words used with guests to describe a workplace as “your expected to do anything at all costs at all hours of the day for the company – or else shunning and ridicule will be your fate”. Look for words more like “friendly” and “helpful”, “team-oriented” and “dedicated”. Altogether, avoid places where they describe their workplace culture like “wood-shredder” or “emergency-room”.

2. What does the future look like for this organization?

If the future is “unclear” or “uncertain”…run! Run for your life!! If there are clear goals and objectives, well-laid plans, specifics and milestones – it’s certainly worth a look.

3. How is this position managed to support the overall company’s mission, goals and pathway to success?

This is one is crafty. It’s a two-fer. You get some info on whether the position’s been well-thought out. Often times, managers convince HR that they “need help”. And the job description on Indeed.com and the actual role your being hired to fill are two completely different things. It indicates a lock of focus in the team in which you’d work. Perhaps also, it provides evidence that you’d be working for some kind of a clown rather than an effective manager.

4. May I talk with a couple of your team-members?

This one’s important, but dicey for legal reasons. They may inform you it’s not part of their interview process. A process that’s regimented to be identical regardless of candidate. It’s plausible. But, for me, it’s certainly a red-flag. Overly formal much? Yuck. Usually, if you’re on the candidate short-list, they’ll bring in some of your possible coworkers – for both your benefits. Be polite. Humble. your best, most social self. Pick their brains relentlessly.

And, last but not least…

5. Why do you work here?

Oh, this question is a beaut. You might have to dig through a couple of platitudes, but there’s gold at the end of this rainbow. If you get some version of “the money is great” or “you can’t beat the benefits”, get out of there and don’t look back.

If you’re looking for a job, always remember: Culture first. Happiness next. A pair of wise old songsters once said, “You can’t buy me love.”. Money isn’t everything. Get a job you like. In a place you like. That’s success. Even if it means you don’t get to drive an Audi 5000.


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