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    5 Steps to Assess a Company’s Culture Before Accepting a Job Offer

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    It can be difficult to assess a company’s culture and accurately spot red flags before joining a new organization. Any company can use savvy employer branding and marketing to make their organization appear to be a “Best Place to Work” when it’s anything but.

    Speaking from personal experience, it hurts to be misled by an employer. Earlier in my career, I was hired into a senior management role at a large foundation in Silicon Valley. Upon joining the organization, I learned that I was deceived by a deceptive job description, a flashy website, and coyness throughout the interview process. Thankfully, I was able to secure a new, far better role at another organization in less than two months and learned a lot of lessons from the experience.

    Reflecting back, I’m disappointed I missed some of the blatant red flags, as I could have approached my evaluation of the job offer, company, and culture with much more scrutiny and skepticism. However, I’m human and let my excitement for the nonprofit’s mission and work get the best of me.

    Expert Tips to Assess a Company Culture Before Accepting a Job Offer

    So, how do you identify a potentially toxic culture before accepting a job offer? Keep reading to learn the best ways to evaluate a company’s culture from the outside as well as strategies for spotting potential red flags before you sign on the dotted line with a potential employer.

    1. Create a company must-have list — before you start looking for your next role.

    A good place to start is by developing a list of what you require in your next job, as well as any potential deal-breakers. You want to spend time developing this list and getting clear on what’s a must-have and what’s a nice-to-have before you have a job offer, or multiple job offers, in front of you, since that excitement can quickly cloud your judgment.

    When working with job seekers, this is often the very piece of “homework” I assign them, as it sets the metaphorical GPS for their forthcoming job hunt. And if you’re already in the middle of a job search, don’t fret, because you can create this list now by asking yourself:

    • What are the absolute requirements for my next job?
    • What do I want in my next job, but can compromise on if necessary?
    • What are the potential deal-breakers in my next job?

    Don’t be afraid to adjust your list as you progress with your job search and learn more about what you want in your next role and employer.

    2. Use online communities to identify companies that align with your must-have list.

    As you get clear on your ideal culture list, you can then use online communities to identify companies that align with your requirements and preferences.

    As a tech career coach, I’m partial to the platform Built In, as it caters to tech companies and startups and allows you to do a deep dive into a company’s culture and employee benefits. You can also use platforms and communities like Glassdoor, Reddit, and Fishbowl to learn more about company culture.

    Important: If you come across a negative review, you can take note of it, but also be mindful that a single experience isn’t necessarily representative of the entire company. That said, if you see multiple complaints about the same issues, you might need to dig deeper.

    3. Conduct backdoor research.

    In addition to harnessing the power of online platforms and communities, you can also conduct “backdoor research” with employees to learn more about a company and its culture.

    If you know a current or recent employee of the company, requesting an informational interview to learn more about their experience is the perfect place to start. However, if you don’t know anyone connected to the company, you’re not out of luck — you can contact employees on LinkedIn to request a brief conversation or email exchange to get your questions answered.

    Moreover, you can use LinkedIn’s powerful search algorithm to gain insights into the average employee tenure across titles, departments, regions, and the company as a whole. While tenure is only one indicator of company culture, you can take note of any trends that emerge through your research and bring them up during your interviews.

    4. Ask thoughtful questions throughout your interview process.

    Speaking of which, you want your take advantage of the end of your interviews, when you’re asked, “What questions do you have for us?” Although you can conduct a Google search to find the most common questions to ask a prospective employer, I advise instead crafting questions that truly get to the heart of what you really want to know about the company and culture.

    You want to ask questions that require the interviewer to share specific examples, rather than a canned response. For example, if having an open-minded manager is important to you, consider asking something like, “Can you tell me about a time you adjusted your leadership approach based on feedback from an employee?”

    Also, be sure to refer to your list of requirements and deal-breakers from step 1, and then develop questions that allow you to see how the company aligns.

    5. Request additional conversations with key stakeholders, if needed.

    Finally, while on the topic of interviews, don’t be afraid to request an additional conversation if there’s someone specific on the team or at the company you want to meet yet weren’t able to through the company’s formal interview process. This is especially important if there is a colleague or team that you’re supposed to regularly interact with, yet have never met, as this could be a red flag.

    For instance, if your role interacts frequently with the engineering team, but you never interviewed with the engineering VP (or whoever plays that role on their team), a request to meet with them is more than acceptable.

    Final Thoughts on Assessing a Company Culture Before Accepting a Job Offer

    There are a lot of strategic and tactical ways to suss out a company culture before joining. However, sometimes you simply must trust your gut if something feels off during your interview process, backdoor research, or conversation with potential future colleagues. You’ve got this!

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