Have you ever woken up early on a Monday morning with a feeling of dread about having to go to a job that feels like a grind? If you haven’t, you are damn lucky. Let’s face it, we spend almost as much time at work as we do at home with our family and friends. For me, a job has to be challenging and fulfilling, and I truly have to believe the work I do is meaningful in some way. Company culture is the overall vibe of a workplace and it’s influenced by things like core values, executive leadership, benefits, personalities, and learning opportunities. (More on those shortly.) I cannot stress enough how important it is to work at a company that has a positive and supportive culture—it’s crucial to our overall happiness as humans.
I remember my first job out of college. I was bright eyed and bushy tailed on my first day—which started at 7am. Gasp! I wore a crisp, fancy suit and I was eager to jump right into things. 12 hours and one commuter-trip-in-hell later, I finally made it home. I kicked off my high heels, collapsed in bed, and passed out from exhaustion.
Before I knew it, four years had passed and I was still there. Still working an 80-hour week. I used to joke with people I suspected my boss thought my name was “Hey, can you [insert task]?” Everyone there was referred to by an employee number. Fifteen years later, I still remember mine. I was employee number 7,745. Recently, I was invited to join a support group on Facebook for former employees. While I definitely cultivated an unparalleled work ethic during the time I spent at this awful job, I had no clear career advancement options and knew I was stagnating. Things needed to change.
So that’s when my story took a turn. I was ready to start a family and began job hunting. But I did learn one valuable lesson from my old job and I take it with me to this day: company culture is the single most important thing to consider before deciding where to “put down roots.” I knew which questions to ask to weed out companies that did not value culture. Years later, I’ve finally found my “worktopia” and my life is completely different. I get the opportunity to work with smart, passionate people and the work I do is meaningful. I love feeling like I can actually make an impact on my organization. I never dread coming into work and (thankfully) I was able to donate those crisp, fancy suits.
So how do you figure out if the company you are interviewing for has a positive company culture? Start by understanding it’s your job to interview the company the same way they are interviewing you. Here are five of my pro-tips for anyone looking to begin a great career with a company that has a positive culture:
You absolutely have to read these! The types of reviews on Glassdoor are anonymous and they come from “insiders” who know the company you are considering best. Reviewers are usually a mix of current and former employees, as well as other individuals who have gone through the interview process. Ask yourself if current and former employees have mostly good things to say about benefits, work environment, and even executive management. If they do, it’s a great sign. But if reviews talk about things like red tape, job insecurity, or “salty” team members, you may want to consider how this negativity will impact the role you are interviewing for.
Glassdoor allows “reviewers” to post pros and cons about the company, as well as advice they want management to hear. These, often colorful, depictions will tell you all the things you’ll never find on a careers page of a company’s website. On top of average salary ranges and benefits for a workplace, you can also see pictures, videos, and social media feeds for the company you’re considering—something I really like. I’d definitely recommend asking your interviewer about things you have read and seen on Glassdoor, it shows them you’ve done your research AND you may learn a lot more about the company.
I never want to work for a company where I feel my skills getting stagnant again. Finding a place that sends you to conferences and encourages mentorship and collaboration can help you continuously sharpen your skills. Ask the interviewer about what they do to encourage learning. Do they have a mentorship program for new people? What is the on-boarding process for new folks who join the team? Are team members given the opportunity to attend and talk at conferences? Is there a good mix of junior, mid, and senior-level people working on the team?
When you work next to people who are truly passionate about what they do, it shows. Are they exploring new technologies? Do they have lots of side projects? For me, working with people who love what they do is invigorating. I feel like many of my co-workers would be designing or hacking away at software even if this wasn’t their full-time job. In a culture that embraces passion for making, you will always learn new things through peer collaboration.
This one is pretty straight forward. Would the people you’d be working with pass the “airport test?” In other words, if you were stuck in an airport with members of this team, would you have a good time with them? If not, it’s a pretty big red flag considering you may be spending eight or more hours a day with them.
Companies that value their team will provide them (and their families) with great benefits. Always ask what type of profit health plans are available, if there is employee profit-sharing, and what vacation time would be offered to you when you start. In my experience, plans tend of differ dramatically from company to company. On top of those basics, any perks the company offers are an added bonus.