How to Spot Bad Company Culture

US News

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to take a new job: salary, benefits, title, length of the commute. Those things are all important, but there is something else to think about before you accept an offer: Will you be happy at the company?

Bad company culture--often characterized by fear, intimidation, animosity, and laziness--is one of the biggest killers of job happiness. And being unhappy in your job can stunt your career in the long term, making you depressed and causing you to disengage.

[See our list of the 50 Best Careers.]

Don't end up unhappy because you took a job with a company that has a bad culture. Instead, stay on the lookout for these warning signs when you go in for an interview.

1. The interviewer is a jerk. There's a good chance the person interviewing you isn't all that good at conducting interviews. Still, an awkward and uncomfortable interview may be par for the course. Even with skilled interviewers you can expect to feel like you've been put on the spot as you discuss your skills and experience. You shouldn't, however, feel like you're under attack.

If the interviewer is a jerk--if there is an edge to his questions, if he judges rather than evaluates, if he insults you--you may be getting an inside look at how people treat each other at the company. In other words, the interviewer's nastiness may be cultural.

[See 10 Secrets of a Hiring Manager.]

"If it starts there. It's downhill after they hire you," says Robert A. Giacalone, a human resources professor at Temple University.

Also, be wary of someone who puts you on the defensive, tears you down, and then offers you a job. If you're as much of a loser as they're making you out to be, why would they want to hire you?

2. You can't get a straight answer. A job interview goes two ways. While it's certainly an opportunity for a prospective employer to vet you, it's also a chance for you to learn more about the place in which you may end up spending the bulk of your time. You can--and should--ask questions about the company. And you should get honest answers.

"Negative environments tend to try to hide," says Giacalone.

If an interviewer refuses to answer questions, gives guarded answers, or appears to be lying, it's a safe bet that he is trying to hide something. Good relationships, after all, are built on trust.

[See 4 Mobile Apps for Job Seekers.]

3. There's an unhappy vibe. When you arrive for your interview, try to get a look at the workplace. Do the people look happy and engaged? Can you hear the buzz of conversation and collaboration? Have employees personalized their workspaces? Or are they downcast and silent, just slogging away at stark desks until 5 p.m., when they can run for the hills?

"Faces tell a thousand things without knowing it," Giacalone says.

If spending just a few moments in the office is unpleasant, then spending your days there as an employee would be agonizing.

4. The company has a bad reputation. Hop online and do a little research. Search for company reviews, both from clients and employees. If there are an overwhelming number of negative reviews--especially from clients, whose satisfaction should be a top priority-- then consider yourself warned.

"If they are treating their customers poorly," Giacalone says, "you won't fare any better."

Luke Roney is content manager for CareerBliss, an online career community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Check out CareerBliss for millions of job listings, company reviews, salary information and a free career happiness assessment.

Twitter: @CareerBliss



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