Many years ago, I was a newly minted sales manager running a Xerox corporate sales team in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sales target in hand, I was determined that we would make our number. All it would take is hard work, a focus on our sales process, and a 100% commitment from the entire sales team. Victory was in our grasp, and the rewards and accolades would soon follow.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into the office one November morning only to find the sales area empty. Not a sales rep in sight. Empty desks and cubicles. No customer calls in process. No bells ringing to announce orders in the bag. I asked my controller where the sales team had gone and why the sales office was empty. “It’s the first day of deer hunting season,” she replied. I argued, “But we have customers to call, proposals to deliver, and orders to sign.” She looked at me with a knowing smile and said, “There are no customers to contact today. They are all in the woods hunting deer.”
I had just made a classic mistake early in my career as a sales manager. I had not correctly invested the time to learn about the culture of the organization I was assigned to lead. I am not a hunter. I did not understand or appreciate the importance of that activity for my team and our customers. Instead, I brought my pre-conceived notions about work and the sales process to the Milwaukee office and just assumed everyone would follow my lead. Had I done some research on the culture of the organization I was joining, I would have known that on that first day of deer hunting season, over a half million people head to the woods of Wisconsin, including my sales team and our customers!
Suitably chastened, I realized it was never too late to learn. By the end of my three-year tenure in Milwaukee, I knew a lot more about the merits of deer hunting, ice fishing, and of course, the Green Bay Packers. And together, we closed a lot of deals and made more than our fair share of President’s Club trips. Lesson learned.
Culture matters. It matters at work, in your career, and your job search. Company culture plays a pivotal role in several steps along the path in your job search process.
Self-Assessment: Before you start the job search process, you need to look at yourself in the mirror and do an honest self-assessment of your goals, skills, and value proposition. The better you know yourself, the more clearly you will be able to identify the types of companies, work environment, and culture best aligned with your approach to work.
Interview Preparation: In a job search, the candidate that is the most prepared and has done the homework is the one that will not soon be forgotten and will likely advance in the hiring process. Completing in-depth research on the company culture will positively impact your interview performance in many areas.
Customizing your elevator pitch to best fit with the company culture and values.
Tailoring your resume and cover letter with relevant keywords, skills, and experience to mirror the target company culture.
Adapting your answers to standard interview questions to align more closely with the company culture.
Selecting STAR stories (Situation, Task, Action, Result) that promote your ability to contribute to the company culture.
Even selecting how to dress for your interviews. A safe approach is always to dress one level above the company culture.
Recruiter/Screening Interviews: The primary goal for a screening interview is to narrow a large pool of applicants down to a manageable number (typically ten or less) of viable candidates for a specific job posting. One filter commonly used to determine a match is fit with company culture.
Hiring Manager Interview: The hiring manager interview is the last stop in the selection process. Culture and team fit are essential hiring criteria for the decision-maker to evaluate in the hiring process. Interview questions at this phase of the hiring process are designed to assess how well you will integrate into the organizational culture and how much you can contribute to team performance.
Evaluating the Job Offer: There is more to evaluating a job offer than just salary and benefits. In your interview preparation, you completed research on the culture of your target organization. Having completed the interview and hiring process, you now have a more in-depth and realistic view of the organizational culture in which you will work every day. You need to evaluate if that enhanced view matches up and reinforces your initial research.
So, what are some effective techniques to research organizational culture at the start of your job search or as an element of interview preparation?
Networking: At the absolute top of the list, there is no better resource to learn about company or culture than from current or former employees of that organization. Incorporate culture questions into your exploratory meetings. If you need some additional guidance on networking, check out my collection of articles on networking as an element of your job search process.
Online Research: Beyond company websites, there are a few other online resources that you can leverage for your research.
Glassdoor: This site provides reviews of companies supplied by current and former employees. With no independent verification process, you need to take the information (positive and negative with a grain of salt. Also, company HR departments have increased their presence on the site to curate and supplement the reviews. So, you need to dig deep and read as many reviews as possible. It’s not complete information but still one data point for your research.
Indeed: Similar in nature and structure to Glassdoor, the Indeed site also allows you to research reviews of specific companies. All the same words of caution expressed above for Glassdoor apply to the Indeed reviews.
Published Articles: A basic Google search will yield articles about specific company cultures along with executive interviews where company culture is discussed. I have found that using a simple Boolean search routine like “Company Name AND Company Culture” yields excellent results.
No matter the path you take to gather your research, make sure that you start down that path before the job search begins and the interview requests hit your inbox. If you consider that step, you will never end up in an empty sales office on the first day of deer season in November.
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Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.