8 Things To Know About a Company Before You Join



KnowBeforeYouJoin_01Photo: Caiaimage/REX USA.
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Let’s face it: There are a lot of people who don’t like their jobs. The 2013 Gallup State of the American Workplace Report found that 70 percent of Americans are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” with their work. If you’ve found yourself perusing job listings lately, you may be among them. So, how to avoid that fate with your next move? Step 1: Start researching other companies now. Yes, before you get an offer — maybe before you get an interview — and certainly before you accept another job. “It is your job to make sure it is the right fit for you,” says Anna Runyan, career coach and founder of ClassyCareerGirl.com. Read on to learn how.

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Start With The Vibe From HR
Even before you meet your potential boss, you can learn a lot about how a company is run by its gatekeepers. These are people who you first come in contact with, from the human resources manager to a company’s receptionist. “If HR seem disorganized, distracted, or not on the same page as you — even about the job description, for example — this should raise a red flag,” says Runyan. “The company may also be generally disorganized.” If you’re reading between the lines: This may not be a sign of a happy work environment.

Still, if you’re getting a sub-par read on HR, don’t cancel your interview just yet. But, when you meet with your potential boss, be sure to get a detailed description of the job and go over anything you were confused about when interacting with HR. Hopefully, this will clear up any misgivings.

Do A Background Check
This is a win-win scenario. You not only look into the company to get a better grasp of their corporate culture, you’re also helping to prep for the interview. “You have to prepare to sell yourself. To do this, you need to know your client: who they are, what they do, how they do it,” says Laura DeCarlo, president of Career Directors in Melbourne, Fla.

This exercise also gives you a deeper understanding of a company’s corporate culture. “Visit their website and ask: Is the language of it formal or fun? Are the pictures ethnically diverse or focused on one particular culture of people or type of dress? Do they have a career center that talks about their benefits and who they are? How does their ‘About Us’ page read?” DeCarlo also recommends the tried-and-true Google-search. Read any press releases or other media information you pull up to learn how others perceive the company professionally. For example, if the company recently put out an announcement on their plans to restructure operations or has been in the news over a U.S. Justice Department settlement, it may not be the most stable place to work at the present time.

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KnowBeforeYouJoin_02Photo: OJO Images/REX USA.
Give Yourself A Preview
“Do not wait until interview day to know who you are dressing for, behaving for and presenting to,” advises DeCarlo. She recommends a discreet visit to the company’s building before the day of your meeting. “Do a drive-by, but not on a Friday when people may dress more casually. You can easily get a look at how people dress and act when coming and going to work.” Then, use this information to your advantage. It’ll show you how to dress accordingly on the day of your interview — and if you’re prepared to match how formal, cutting-edge, or frumpy they are if you take the job.

Comb Message Boards For Gossip
Stealthily explore how employees view your prospective employer without getting near their water cooler. Websites exist that offer employees an anonymous forum to dish about their companies. Try LinkedIn and Vault. “Glassdoor.com is a great site to give you an inside look,” adds Runyan. “But, I wouldn’t completely trust all online information though.” Since it’s anonymous, you won’t be able to know 100 percent if the information is true or just a single disgruntled employee stating the same points over and over.

Use this information gingerly as you suss out a corporate culture. See many complaints about the long weekend hours, for example, and you’re not keen on it either? Ask the hiring manager to describe the hours of a typical work week to see if this rumor matches up to reality.

Do A Once-Over Of Staff Members
On the day of your interview, after all the background prep, size up your possible future colleagues quickly as you make your way around the office, suggests Nicole Williams, career expert at Works By Nicole Williams and author of Girl On Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success.

“Take notice of the atmosphere. Is the silence deafening or is there some chatter and collaboration occurring? Chances are this is indicative of what you can expect of a typical day,” says Williams. Later, you’ll use this info to assess what dynamic you need to thrive. “Some people cherish quiet and others need the stimulation of a more verbal office.”

Williams also recommends you look at their desks. Are personal items displayed? The lack of photos, for example, may suggest that employees are not comfortable in the work environment. Are the desks organized and neat or a hot mess? “If everyone has loose papers and seem disheveled it might mean that the employees are overworked and possibly understaffed.”

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Get A Word In Edgewise
Whether it is the HR director or your possible future boss, do you find you’re doing most of the listening? Do they spend most of their time talking and not listening? If the person you meet asks all the questions and seems to control the interview, this may be a glimpse into the day-to-day operations at the company. “It may mean that the boss is controlling and doesn’t give other people on the team a say,” warns Runyan. Again, this could be warning sign of a frustrating place to work.
KnowBeforeYouJoin_03Photographed by Anna Alexia Basile.
(Lightly) Grill Your Interviewer
Yes, you can turn the tables to learn more about the corporate culture. But remember, this isn’t an interrogation, but a subtler tactic. Arlene Barro, Ph.D., behavioral educational psychologist, author of Win Without Competing and founder and CEO of Barro Global Search, an executive search firm in Los Angeles, has advice. There are two kinds of questions to pose: open-ended (what Barro dubs “divergent-thinking”) questions and closed (or “convergent-thinking”) questions.

The open-ended answers may not be right or wrong, but will give you insight into the expectations of the job. Examples include: In the next five years, what new directions will your company take to generate more revenue? In the next year, what are the benchmarks of achievement for this position that I’m interviewing for? What are the growth opportunities here for my skill set?

Closed questions are designed to really have one answer to them. They’ll leave you with black-and-white information that you can weigh against your needs. Examples include: What date do you ideally want to fill this position? How many direct reports would I have? Is this a new position or are you refilling an existing one?

Says Barro: “These questions are the keys to the kingdom. The answers are important to help you whether this position and company are the right fit for you.”

Decipher The Red Flags
So, what do you do with all this homework you’ve done on the corporation you’ve been meeting with? Much of this information is personal. Whether you prefer a job with flexible hours or one that expects a lot of travel time is up to you. You should know what you need to be happy, and be careful about compromising too much. For example, if you value autonomy and your job requires you to have hourly check-ins or work under the nose of your boss, you will be miserable, says DeCarlo. Or, if you are a salesperson motivated by incentives, you shouldn’t join a company that expects to pay your colleagues the same regardless of their performance.

A job seeker needs to know what her core values and motivators are. “Your job is your second home,” reminds DeCarlo. “You will typically spend more daylight hours there than you do with friends and family, so you want to fit in, be happy and not be filled with stress or misery. Make sure you are a fit for the company, and you will both be winners.”