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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

5 Different Ways to Get the Real Scoop on a Company's Culture

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It goes without saying that there are plenty of organizations known wide and far for how amazing they are to work for, but what do you do if you’re in the running for a job at a company you know little about?

How do you get the low-down on culture before you even walk into your first interview? It’s not always super easy, but it sure is worth trying. Poor employee morale or a company vibe that flies in the face of your values can turn a seemingly great opportunity into a true dud in no time at all. And the last thing you want to do is leave a company you’re not happy at to start a job at another company you’re not happy at.

So, here’s how you can sleuth out the situation before you get too deep into the process:

1. Ask Current Employees

It’s pretty much always wise to hunt down a friend, former colleague, friend of a friend, neighbor or relative who currently works at a company of interest. (Or, if you don’t know anyone, initiate a conversation via LinkedIn using these templates.)

Ask well-thought-out, specific questions, not just, “Hey, what’s XYZ Company like?” Instead, go with something like, “I saw that the company is moving its Detroit plant to South Carolina. What’s the impact of this on your team?” Just remember to keep your conversation positive and professional—especially if you don’t know this person well (or really at all). He or she could end up being a great internal reference for you, or your downfall.

2. Ask Former Employees

Now, here’s another important thing to consider: you could also talk to a former employee. If you don’t know someone off the top of your head, you can certainly find a couple to approach via a LinkedIn people search (just don’t check the search box indicating “current employees”) using the same templates as above.

People who no longer work there are sometimes more willing to be candid and give you the straight skinny on the good, the bad and the ugly than a current team member will be.

3. See if There’s Online Buzz

The most obvious instinct to have when researching companies of interest is to go right to the organization’s website or LinkedIn page. This is certainly a sound move, but keep in mind that the company’s marketing team and executives likely control the messaging on these sites (deliberately and strategically).

You may find stronger hints related to company culture if you dig around on the firm’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, and other message boards and forums (including Glassdoor). I’ve even been known to google “Company Name sucks” from time to time.

If employees are up in arms about that organization, you’ll surely find some fodder in no time at all. (Just be sure and review this information with a critical eye and an open mind—some of the gripes will be coming from people who are just professional complainers.)

4. Talk to Customers or Suppliers

This speaks more to the “how this company treats the people it works with” than to overall corporate culture, but you may be able to gain some strong hints to the firm’s core values and care toward others (both key elements that make up culture) by chatting it up with clients and vendors or suppliers.

How is their response time? How do they handle conflict or problems with customers? How well do they collaborate with their partners and support teams? Dig around a bit and you’ll surely uncover a few puzzle pieces from which you can make a strong guess on culture.

How, exactly, can you pull this off? If the company lists out clients on its company website, you’re well on your way. Mosey over to your LinkedIn profile and see if you know anyone working at these companies. Start with them.

5. Study Recent News Events

Years ago, I was laid off from a reporting job at a weekly newspaper and offered a spot at a larger daily that the same publishing company owned. I thought, “What a sweet deal!” and jumped at the offer without a second thought. But, when I arrived in the newsroom, I discovered that several of my co-workers were not happy. (And I mean, seriously not happy.)

Why? Come to find out, they’d just gone through a round of union negotiations that had resulted in them losing out on vacation time and some additional pay and perks they’d enjoyed in the past. Their disappointment and irritation was like a grey cloud that hovered over the newsroom for months.

Don’t be me. Do your homework before you dive in. Do some research to see if anything of note has been going on at that firm of late. Any recent acquisitions, layoffs, or vague “we’re restructuring” press releases? Have any company leaders made news recently? For what? Change (even good change) has a way of shaking up mood and culture inside of organizations. Better to be in the know then caught unaware.

Now of course you’ll be in an even better position to study people and assess mood and environment once you arrive or your first (second, or third) interview, but don’t squander the opportunity to sleuth out company culture before you get too far into the pipeline. Because nothing throws shade on a brand new job faster than a marginal-at-best corporate culture.

And no one got time for that.