For many of us, especially in the current market, our job hunt is focused mainly on two areas – field/area of interest and money. No one wants to get up everyday to work in a field they absolutely hate and there’s no denying that you should judge a job based on the salary you would be making, money makes the world go round and you need to be making enough to survive right? However, one area of the job hunt we sometimes forget to focus on is the culture of the company. We get so hung up on the salary and the field and forget to make sure that we would actually like working there.

An organization’s culture is basically made up of the beliefs, values, assumptions, attitudes and behaviors of a group of people. For example, MTV describes their corporate culture as “a one-of-a-kind corporate culture that empowers our people to be who they are and do their best.” I’ve never worked for MTV, but from this statement it can be assumed that individuality is celebrated, they encourage a learning environment to help employees achieve their best, they have fun, etc. How a company describes their culture can be very telling and for long term success it is very important that in addition to the field and salary being a perfect fit that the culture is a perfect fit for you as well. Here are a just few things you should look for when determining whether a company’s culture is right for you.

Does the company actually live its culture?
I’ve seen it time and time again. Companies will have fancy mission statements and goals describing their company culture, but on an everyday basis they don’t live it and because of that employees have no model to follow so they don’t live it either. That work/life balance they talked about seems non existent, that individuality they were proud of, gone after the first interview. Make sure to do your research on the company, see if the news about them matches up with the blurb in their “About Us” section. If they say they are a team environment, call them on it and find out what team building activities they provide. On the interview, pay attention to what’s going on in the office as you wait. Do employees look happy or stressed? How are they dressed? Finally, make sure to ask the interviewer about the company’s culture directly and how they implement it on a regular basis.

Is the company open to change?
One thing that can make or break a company’s culture is their receptiveness to innovation and change. Nothing’s worse than working for a company where the higher ups don’t embrace change as part of the company’s growth. Having superiors that are hell bent on keeping things they way they were in the good old days can spell disaster and stunt your potential for growth.

Do individual employees have the chance to make contributions?
Unlike generations past where employees were content with just going with the flow, today’s employees are bursting with new ideas that they are more than happy to bring to the table. You want to make sure that the company you choose is open to contributions from its staff. When you go on your interview be sure to ask the interviewer to give an example of a successful idea that came from one of their employees and how management worked to help facilitate it.

What training is available and does the company have a development plan for each employee?
A commitment to improving employees’ skills is a characteristic of companies with superior cultures. While boosting specific job-skills is part of the package, it’s not the only type of training offered. Learning more about computer software, customer service, communication techniques and other topics promotes productivity and increases retention. This practice attracts and keeps great employees, because it indicates the organization values them and is willing to spend time and money to help them grow. Find out if the company offers any kind of tuition reimbursement, brings in expert speakers, has workshops, etc. Make sure that while working there you will be given the opportunity to grow and advance in your area of expertise.

How does the firm reward employees?
Sure, most companies give merit increases and raises each year, but what do they do on an everyday basis to reward employees and keep moral high? How do they reward staff for completing that big project or bringing in that new client? How do they just say thank you? I once worked for a tax firm that bought employees Crumbs cupcakes every Friday just to say thanks for working hard another week. It seems small and insignificant, but employees really looked forward to their Friday treat. Of course they loved getting a sugar fix, but what they also loved was the fact that their employer valued their hard work.

Do employees have fun?
Every employer wants their employees to work hard, be productive and do their part to increase the bottom line, but where’s the balance? What is it about the company’s culture that makes all the hard work worth it, where’s the fun? Everyone loves a paycheck, but ask anyone that works for a company with a great culture and they will tell you that having a fun place to work is one of the reasons why they love going to work each day. From employee lounges outfitted with Wii and X-Box systems, to company bowling nights and pizza parties, ask your potential employer about how they incorporate the work hard/play hard mantra into their company’s culture.

When job hunting, looking for these key elements in corporate culture help make the difference between finding a job for the moment, and finding a job for a lifetime. Good luck!

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