By Robert Half International
Job seekers often view compatibility with a potential employer’s culture as a perk — something that’s nice to have but not essential to their satisfaction or career growth. That can be a mistake.
Incompatibility with your new colleagues, the work environment or the company’s values can quickly overshadow your love of the job itself. If these more subjective factors don’t suit you, you may find yourself in a position that looks great on paper but doesn’t bring you satisfaction. You might also find yourself back on the market before too long.
That’s why turning your job search on its head can yield valuable results. Focusing on companies first, and then positions, can help you target the opportunities in which you’re most likely to thrive. It can also reveal tailor-made opportunities that a conventional search can miss.
You can’t match yourself to a workplace until you’re clear about your own needs. If you’ve worked in a wide range of environments, you likely have a sense of the type of conditions under which you excel.
Consider your tendencies. For example, do you often arrive before regular office hours or stay late so you can focus on getting things done, free from distracting colleagues? Or do you hit your stride when the office is buzzing with conversation and ideas?
Keep in mind that what appeals to you and what helps you thrive aren’t necessarily the same. An open floor plan, for example, might sound refreshing if you’ve spent years behind high cubicle walls. But it can be overstimulating if you favor a nose-to-the-grindstone work style. The same goes for fun perks and activities. A foosball table that helps one employee relieve stress can be a distraction for another.
Before you start evaluating employers, imagine your ideal. Consider questions such as the following: What would a typical day look like? What would management value most in workers? Would collaboration or individual accomplishment be the focus? Refer to this benchmark as you job hunt.
The interview stage may be the best time to get a look at a company’s workplace in action — and to ask questions about its culture. But it’s possible to get a ballpark sense of those factors long before you visit the office.
Use your network to find current or past employees, and ask them what working there is really like. Don’t stop when you get a response or two; the more impressions you gather, the more accurate your overall picture is likely to be.
Seemingly minor details about a company’s office life can tell you a lot about its culture. For example, if you hear that a company has an onsite cafeteria with free food, that might also mean employees are expected to be in the office through breakfast, lunch and dinner. Similarly, an abundance of games and contests suggests a social, collaborative, competitive workplace. Ask your contacts to share their experiences.
The company’s online presence can also yield useful clues. Do its stated messages about itself match your own impressions? If you receive mixed messages, tactfully ask your interviewer about it.
Find a common purpose
Finally, ask yourself whether you’d be proud to let people know you work at the company. A sense of solidarity with the company’s overall mission and values can motivate you to excel even during rough patches.
Such alignment can be just as important as rapport with any individual at the company — even your soon-to-be supervisor. Hitting it off with your future boss is a great sign, but it won’t mean as much if he eventually leaves.
Once you’ve discovered a few companies that seem like good matches, contact them about openings, whether or not they are currently hiring new staff. Even if the firm doesn’t have a suitable role for you right now, the hiring manager might keep you in mind for a future opportunity.
In any case, taking the time to identify employers that fit you can help you concentrate your job-search efforts on the most viable opportunities. It also prepares you to convince those companies — now or down the road — that you fit them, too.
Robert Half International is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at www.roberthalf.com/bloopers or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.