In the April 21, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders if it’s possible to figure out what an employer is really like — before accepting a job offer.
You emphasize the importance of showing how you’d “do the job” in a job interview, and how you’d produce value for the employer. But that is in a perfect world. What about the real world?
How does one ascertain in an interview what the political environment is in a company? Most companies have some kind of political system, defined here as the messy arrangements one goes through to actually get something done.
What questions could one ask to determine the real political environment as opposed to the happy faces they present in the interview? They are all “team players” and they all want team players, but what are the rules of the game in that company? Is there any way to really determine this before taking a position? What questions could one ask that wouldn’t just generate “the company line?”
Ouch — please don’t accuse me of giving advice in “a perfect world.” If it were perfect, who would need advice?
Your questions are excellent, and there’s only one way I know to get them answered: Look under the proverbial rug! Meet the people who will affect your life and job at the company. Before you accept an offer, ask to talk with:
- Others on the team you’ll be joining.
- People who have jobs in departments that will affect your success at your job.
- Managers who run teams that will interface with yours.
Don’t ask these people about the politics. Just ask them to tell you how they do their jobs and who they interact with in the company. Then hush and let them air their laundry. You’ll learn a lot. If you talk with enough of them (at minimum, one from each category and preferably three from the team you would join), you will get a very good sense of how the company really operates. (See also It’s the people, Stupid.)
Another good approach is one I try to use whenever I’m meeting with a prospective client. Have lunch in the company cafeteria and ask to be introduced to the people they work with. You will learn a lot while people talk as they are sipping soup or munching sandwiches.
If a company refuses to schedule such meetings for you prior to you accepting an offer, that ought to tell you something. A good, healthy company will be proud to show off its people, and management will be impressed that you’re willing to take the time to meet them before making a commitment. Frankly, I’m surprised all employers don’t insist on such activities before making a job offer.
In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, I explain how to expand your due diligence on an employer. This includes tracking down former employees of the company, and talking to its customers and vendors.
Does that sound like a bit much? The employer will check you out in detail — so it’s astonishing how little a job seeker will do to check out an employer! Here’s one specific tip from the book (pp. 12):
Check a company’s references. Talk with people who depend on the company for a living: attorneys, bankers, investors, landlords, and others. This will give you a community-wide perspective and also help keep you out of harm’s way. Explain that you are considering an investment in the company. (Your career is indeed an investment!) Ask for their insight and advice. Is this a good company? Why?
It isn’t a perfect world, so we’ve got to scrutinize jobs and employers closely. In my experience, most people who go job hunting do so because they took the wrong job with the wrong employer to begin with. Don’t make that mistake! Do your due diligence, and look under the rug!
For more about how to judge an employer, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, which includes these sections:
- Introduction: Don’t walk blind on the job hunt
- Do I have to “kiss ass” to win a job?
- How can I make up for lack of required experience?
- How to pick worthy companies
- Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?
- Age discrimination or age anxiety?
- How do I deal with an undeserved nasty reference?
- Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies
How do you examine a company’s culture and politics before you accept a job offer? Have you ever made the mistake of not looking closely before jumping into a new job?