Years ago, as my graduate work ended, I was lucky enough to receive job offers from a few different companies. My final decision came down to two successful consumer packaged goods companies — although the type of work would be similar, the two companies’ work environments were different.
At Company A, I would spend the first few years on a very structured, sequential assignment track, working on a particular aspect of marketing, then moving on to the next. Company B’s approach would expose me to multiple types of projects from the start. Both approaches were viable and had proven successful for both organizations.
I chose Company B, in part because their approach was a better fit for me. I knew I would enjoy variety and the challenge of multitasking more than the structured approach. Lucky for me, it worked out and I had a great experience.
But not everyone is so fortunate. Sometimes a company’s advertised culture and its cultural reality are two different things. As a new employee, it’s up to you to determine if the culture is the right fit — but how?
Here are five areas new employees should evaluate to see if a prospective company’s culture is the right fit for them.
Purpose is the soul of a company’s culture. It’s important to make sure your company’s purpose aligns with your own goals. After starting your new job, take note of the organization’s values. Have they made their cause clear? Are business goals set with a greater mission in mind? What sort of success stories are told that convey the company’s overarching message or noble cause?
Identifying the company’s purpose is essential to feeling connected to your workplace. People long to connect to something bigger than themselves; they want to feel that their contributions directly impact the company and its mission. Understanding your company’s purpose and how it relates to your personal growth will help you determine if the organization is the right fit.
Maybe opportunity is what attracted you to this position. But opportunity can mean different things to different people, and it’s important to understand what it means to you and your organization. Take note of your new coworkers. Do they feel challenged? Can they freely express their opinions? These things may not seem important compared to factors like salary and benefits, but frequent boredom or stifled creativity can indicate lack of opportunity within an organization.
Consider interactions between team leaders and different departments. Are there opportunities to work on cross-functional teams? Do leaders encourage new skill development? Are entry-level employees invited to contribute to important projects? Knowing this will help you understand the opportunities available within the company — or lack thereof. Know the type of opportunity you’re looking for so you can easily identify the signs of its availability within your organization.
Understanding the company’s definition of success can reveal key insights into its culture. If success is mainly results-driven but a competitive environment isn’t your cup of tea, you may need to reassess your decision to join the team. Are work hours unreasonable? Is there a success-at-all-costs mentality? Are you encouraged to assimilate rather than innovate? Understanding the sacrifices you’re willing to make for your job allows you to identify if and when your company’s culture crosses your tolerance threshold.
Identify how the company values your contributions. Do you feel your work is meaningful and that it directly impacts the organization’s success? Is there an emphasis on innovation and continuous improvement (as opposed to maintaining the status quo and redundancy)? Are goals and objectives clearly defined? How is feedback delivered and received? The answers to these questions will give the insight you need to understand how you can be successful in your new company.
In a recent workplace study of over 10,000 employees in 12 countries, employee appreciation was identified as one of the most important factors when deciding to join a company. Employees want to feel that their efforts are recognized, whether that be through a promotion or a simple exchange between team members. New employees can identify the level of appreciation their coworkers’ efforts receive by noticing how their team leaders behave. If leaders encourage their employees’ hard work and promote others to express appreciation to their team members, it’s likely that recognition is important to that company’s culture.
You may want to consider deeper levels of appreciation as well. If you want to feel valued for how you uniquely approach your work, it’s crucial that you understand if and how that message is conveyed. Identifying how contributions from other teams and departments are valued will also help you interpret appreciation’s role within the company.
Within the aforementioned study, a focus on employee well-being was also singled out as one of the most important factors employees consider when joining a company. While many organizations have adopted wellness programs to promote physical health, it’s also important to understand how a company addresses employees’ emotional, social and financial health.
As a new employee, you should understand the importance the organization places on things like work-life balance, establishing healthy relationships between coworkers, flexibility with deadlines and objectives and how your work impacts the bottom line. All of these things will directly affect your well-being in the workplace and should be carefully considered after joining an organization.
Workplace culture significantly contributes to your success. Although my first months at Company B were somewhat hectic, it was the right environment for me to do my best work, and it provided a great foundation that has directed me throughout my career. However, sometimes the cultural reality is different than what you expected from an interview — and that’s okay. There’s no shame in leaving a job if the culture fit isn’t right; be aware of those differences sooner than later to keep both you and the organization happy.
Not everyone is able to work at their dream job, but most people can find a position where they are happy and successful. By learning and prioritizing which culture elements you find most important, you can find a job where your work is exciting, engaging and rewarding.
Gary Beckstrand is a vice president at O.C. Tanner, the world’s leading employee recognition and engagement company. There, he helps oversee the O.C. Tanner Institute, a global forum that researches and shares insights to help organizations inspire and appreciate great work. He has consulted with numerous Fortune 100 companies to assess recognition cultures, develop strategic solutions and measure results.