You know company culture is a big deal. It’s one of the main ways companies distinguish themselves from one another, which is why you’re probably constantly hearing about it. Tech companies and startups in particular always seem to be trying to outdo the competition in terms of a cool culture full of workplace perks (like these!).
But before you get lured in to a new job because of ping-pong tables and beanbag chairs, you have to figure out if that culture is actually going to be one where you can be happy and successful.
Do some digging to figure out what, exactly, the company culture is, and then sit down to think about whether it’s the right environment for you. Here’s what to consider before you accept a job offer.
What Motivates You?
For some people, a beautiful office with floor-to-ceiling windows does wonders for their productivity. For others, what the office looks like hardly matters so long as there are smart people to exchange ideas with.
To figure out what type of environment really motivates you, think about a time when you were extremely productive. What was special about that situation? Were you working alone or with others? Did you have a looming deadline or generous time freedom? Were you dealing with people or with the product? Ask yourself these questions and more. Then, do the same thing, but with a situation in which you were horribly unproductive.
In short, try to pinpoint what helps you do your best work (and your worst). Having an idea about what is right for you and then seeing if it aligns with what your prospective employer has to offer is the first step in deciding whether this new job is for you or not.
What Makes You Happy?
What makes you happy at work and what motivates you can sometimes be pretty similar. Autonomy, for example, could cover both. But that’s not always the case. Working under pressure, for instance, might motivate you, but it might not be something that you particularly enjoy.
For people who have had the luxury of working in a place that they loved, it might be easy to figure out exactly what makes them happy at work. For others, it’ll probably take more work. In that case, it might help to work backward and think about what makes you unhappy. Are you super cranky in the morning? Maybe you would appreciate a later start or more flexible schedule. Is your day incomplete without witty banter about the current state of American politics? Knowing the interests of your colleagues will be important in your decision. Do you feel like an empty husk of a person if you can’t get in a quick run in the middle of the day? A company that incorporates exercise in its work week might just be the thing for you.
It’s easy to be dazzled by perks like catered lunches and beer on tap, but don’t let them tempt you into a workplace that is actually ill-suited for maximizing your own personal happiness.
What Is the Lifestyle Fit?
You’ve gone through the whole interview process, and presumably the hiring manager believes you are a good cultural fit. Now it’s your turn to see if the position is a good fit for your life. The job can be fantastic, but if it ends up being really taxing on the lifestyle you want, it could be a bigger problem that you realize.
It turns out, company culture has a surprising amount of impact on your lifestyle. For example, the culture might be that no one leaves before the CEO or that everyone gets kicked out of the building at 6 PM. Or it might be that everyone bonds over daily catered meals—which sounds nice, unless you’d rather spend breakfast and dinner with your family. When you’re thinking about company culture, it’s not just what will keep you happy at work—it’s also what will keep you happy at home. Don’t neglect that bit.
In the end, this has been a longwinded way of saying that finding the right company culture for you comes down to understanding what your career values are (more on that here). It might seem awfully self-important to consider all this before accepting a job offer, especially if you’ve just gone through a grueling job search, but realistically you’ll be on the job market a lot sooner than you’d like to be if you don’t think about the type of environment in which you’ll be happy and successful. So, go ahead—be a little self-indulgent and think about what you really want in a company culture. Just think of it as doing future-you a favor.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author