Since 2008, most job hunters have been in a position of seeking just a job -- that is, any job that offers some measure of security and a paycheck. You might be inclined to relate Gertrude Stein's famous quote, "A rose is a rose is a rose" to the world of employment: A company is a company is a company ... and a job is a job is a job.
However, that broad-brush approach fails to stand up under scrutiny. Companies come in many different flavors, and have widely different employment practices. Beyond the obvious -- big versus small, there are differences in management styles, physical work environments and views of the workforce as a whole. Companies understand that they must do an excellent job of representing their mission.
Moreover, when quality people are emotionally engaged with their employer, they are more likely to become magnets for others like themselves, thereby ever increasing the value of a company's workforce.
A recent iCIMS Hire Expectations Institute survey of more than 400 job seekers sought to determine what aspects of a company's culture are most important. The survey found four clearly distinct cultures: clan, hierarchy, market and advocacy. Depending upon your own personality, you are likely to feel more comfortable in one or another of these kinds of environments. As a job seeker, it is important to reflect on what kind of culture fits you best.
1. What kind of culture makes you thrive? Are you, like 48.6 percent of respondents, at home in a clan culture, where collaboration trumps a top-down management style? Companies of this sort have leaders who effectively facilitate, mentor and build their teams. At the other end of the spectrum, only 11 percent of people in this survey prefer a hierarchy culture, where leaders heavily coordinate, monitor and organize their employees, then exercise their control by valuing efficiency, consistency and uniformity.
2. What kinds of perks are important to you? The survey reports that the most valued perks are retirement plans, flexible schedules and job/skills training and development. Still, 27 percent of companies don't offer programs to advance people's careers by building their skills. Some companies allow employees to take breaks at will and provide multiple snack rooms with ice cream bars and free beer on tap. Which do you value most?
3. How do you want to be managed? Less than 5 percent of people just want to be told what to do, when to do it and how it has to be done. By contrast, more than 40 percent prefer a manager who takes time to mentor them. Which style best fits your level of ambition, personality and values?
4. What size company do you want to work for? A company's size has a great deal to do with how flexible it is, how quickly it can adapt to its market, the kinds of policies it will need and how those policies are implemented. You may be more of a generalist in a smaller organization, or specialize on a very small aspect of the overall business in a larger one. It is worth reflecting on how you see yourself, and coming to understand which kind of role will best fit your personality.
5. What kind of workspace makes you productive? How companies physically arrange their workers can make a big difference, ranging from team offices where a small group collaborates in a semi-enclosed area, to a shared office, open office or cubicles. It turns out that relatively few people like to share an office with one or more colleagues, while the plurality among all age groups these days prefer an open office with neither walls nor cubicles.
You can learn about a company's culture in many ways. Check out its employment page of its website to see what it says about itself. Often, you'll find video testimonials of people who work there. Of course, this is all part of employer branding and reality doesn't necessarily match the advertisements. Don't rely on this alone, but use it as a jumping off point for your investigation.
To dig deeper, look to see what current and past employees anonymously post about their employers on sites like Glassdoor.com and Vault.com. You might also want to do an advanced search on LinkedIn for people who used to work at the company, and reach out to a few of them to build your network and ask for a few minutes of their time to learn more about their experiences.
Bear in mind that you may encounter individuals who left out of frustration, as part of a layoff or who for some other reason will have nothing good to say.
It is your job to gather lots of data and put it all into a larger context. Your interests and priorities won't necessarily align with everyone's, and that's just fine. But as you learn more, you can get a general picture of the kinds of people who work at a given company, the overriding values and management style and the means by which its work gets done.
Your aim, just as is an employer's, is to find that right fit, which includes far more than a description of the job and the experience necessary to do it successfully. And when you take the time to look at this larger picture, both you and your new employer can look with confidence to a longer-term relationship.
Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic "I'll apply to anything" searches into focused hunts for "great fit" opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.
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