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When talking to a prospective employer, youíre obviously thinking about how the jobís pay and benefits align with your skills and experience. But at the same time, you should be considering how well youíll fit into the companyís culture. After all, youíre going to spend an awful lot of time at work, and whether the environment matches your approach and personality will have a lot to do with whether you succeed ó or donít.
The interview offers a prime opportunity to get a sense of the employerís culture. Itís simply a question of paying attention to your surroundings and how people treat you, and each other, during your visit. Here are some things to look for.
They say first impressions count. When you entered the office, how were you treated? If there wasn’t a receptionist, did you stand around for a while before anyone noticed you, or did someone greet you and offer you a chair and a cup of coffee? Were they friendly while they did it, or did you feel like a distraction? How people respond to visitors provides a good indication of whether the company’s looking to build a team or simply get a body in the door.
What’s the Buzz?
As you’re walking through the office, pay attention to the noise level. It’s always interesting to notice whether people are talking to their co-workers or are simply intent on their screens. If they’re conferring at a desk, in the hallway or in a conference room, observe their body language and energy level. You’ll be able to tell if people are engaged in their conversations and relaxed in their interactions. The question to ask yourself: Is this the kind of environment I want to work in?
The Break Room
If youíre offered coffee or water, take the opportunity to check out whatís going on in the break room. If people there are formal and don’t talk very much with their co-workers, that hints at a culture where relationships arenít very important. Or, workers may feel they don’t have even a minute to spend away from their desks.
Take note of the layout, too. A room without tables hints at a company that’s more interested in having you stay at your desk than get your breath occasionally. Tables, sofas, easy chairs and television indicate the firm recognizes that people need to clear their heads every once in a while, and that socializing with your co-workers can be a good thing.
Cube Sweet Cube
Engaged people nest. If every cubicle has bare walls and desks empty of family pictures, that’s a sign people come to this office because they have too, not because they want to. When people take the time to personalize their workspace, it means they’re vested in being there.
Look and Listen
You can tell a lot about a company’s culture by observing how people interact with their co-workers. Every time you’re introduced to someone, take note of whether they’re cordial or formal, whether they’re relaxed or seem to be “on stage” while they’re talking to you or their colleagues. Easy conversation is a good sign that people work well together.
Finally, donít be afraid to ask questions about the workplace and the culture. Inquiring about what type of culture the company tries to maintain, whether a workplace is always so quiet (or raucous), and what managers do to foster a commitment to the corporate mission can help you get a sense of what itís like to work at a place day-to-day.
Interviewing is a two-way street: Itís as much about you checking out the employer as it is the employer sizing up you. Use your time visiting the company to get a sense of what the workplace is really like. The job might feel like a perfect fit, but itís tough to perform in an environment that doesnít match your personality.
Mark Feffer has written, edited and produced hundreds of articles on careers, personal finance and technology. His work has appeared on Dice.com, Entrepreneur.com as well as on other top sites. He is currently writing for JobsinVT.com, the top local resource for job seekers, employers and recruiters in Vermont.