How job seekers can assess an employer's office culture

Just as hiring managers try to determine whether a job seeker will fit with an organization's culture, job seekers should judge whether an employer's culture is right for them--no matter how desperate for a job they may be. Job seekers' curiosity about an employer's corporate culture will impress hiring managers and help them stand out.

With job opportunities so scarce these days, job seekers are under tremendous pressure to impress hiring managers during job interviews. In fact, they're so caught up in making a good impression that it's easy for job seekers to forget that the job interview remains their opportunity to assess a prospective employer's corporate culture and to determine whether that work environment will suit them, says Vanessa Hall, author of The Truth About Trust in Business (Emerald Book Company, 2009.)

Worse, job seekers may be tempted to accept any job offer regardless of signs that indicate an employer is not right for them.

Failing to consider an employer's corporate culture is a job search mistake, career and hiring experts say. Job seekers risk taking a job with an organization that doesn't suit them, being miserable, and soon find themselves on the job market again-either because they couldn't stand the company and quit, or because the employer recognized the mismatch and terminated their employment.

Either way, the situation is disadvantageous to the job seeker, says Edward Lawler, a professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business and author of Talent: Making People Your Competitive Advantage (Jossey Bass, 2008.)

"It doesn't help for the employee to have a record of being fired or turned over after a short period of time," he says.

On the other hand, if a job seeker researches a prospective employer's culture and finds an organization that matches her personality, work style and values, not only is she more likely to be offered the job, she's also more likely to be successful inside the company, says Hall. And with success comes job security (at least in theory).

What's more, job seekers who express interest in learning about a company's culture during a job interview make a better impression on hiring managers than candidates who don't ask questions or who only ask about career development opportunities, says Hall.

"As a manager interviewing people, when someone sits down and asks you questions, they stand out as someone who's prepared and who's really checking whether this opportunity is right for them," she says.

Since the clues that reveal an organization's culture can be subtle, assembled the following advice for sizing up a prospective employer.

1. Before the job interview, check out the company's website, says Elaine Varelas, managing partner of Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career management and executive coaching firm. Pictures of employees on the website, along with employee testimonials about what it's like to work for the company, can indicate that the employer cares about its employees and wants to be a desirable place to work, she says. (Of course, images of smiling employees and shiny testimonials can also be lame PR efforts to cover up a dysfunctional work environment.)

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