I work with a lot of different companies. I am often an outsider looking in. As that outsider, I share a lot of similarities with a job seeker. For me to place the right person in each job I am recruiting on, I want to learn as much about the culture at each of my clients. Here are some of my pointers to learn about the culture at a company.
Company Website: The very first thing I do when interacting with a new client is to review their website. I look at it like the company's resume. It should list the important information about the company and highlight the people at the business. The "About Us" or "Our People" section often will show who is there, and give their backgrounds, job responsibilities, and if I'm lucky, some fun facts. Now, fun facts can also be wacky, which tells me a bit about the company's perspective on itself and its people. The website should also tell me about the company's vision and mission, and most likely some history about it.
Parking Lot: Rolling up to my client's property, I am paying attention to everything, down to the signage, parking lot and cars in the lot. This is my first view of how the company presents itself physically. I'm looking for tidiness, good directions for visitors and an attractive view of the vineyards and the hospitality area. I'm also making sure there are cars in that parking lot. If a company is supposedly super busy and there are only a few cars in the parking lot, is this company really as bustling as my contact says it is. And if there are people in the parking lot, how are they acting. Are they complaining about their long hours? Are they rushing to get back to work? Are they engaging with me and asking me if they can assist me in anyway? These all give me little hints about what the company is like.
Front Door and Reception Area: Does the company think about the image it is presenting from your first step on the property? Walking up to a winery, good signage is important. Often I am meeting my client at the winery offices. Good signage should get me to the right spot. Once inside the door, my first impression counts. Is there a sterile unmanned front desk or is the waiting room well appointed for visitors, inviting with someone there to welcome you? The vibe you are getting here may tell you something.
Greetings, Introductions and Staff Interactions: When I meet a new client, I'm paying attention to how they interact with me and others. Are they professional, poised and engaging with me? Are they kind and considerate to their coworkers? Do they value my time and those of others they interact with? Is the atmosphere light, friendly or quiet and stark? Are they being secretive, disrepectful or rude to anyone? Reading this you might think that every potential client I meet is super professional. Oh no, I can see a lot of telling behavior in these first few minutes and also during my tours of companies. Pay Attention!
Work Space: Getting a tour of a winery can involve touring the office, the tasting room, the production area, the vineyard and possibly the kitchen. Frequently tours include a wine tasting. During these visits, I'm looking at how every physical area of the company is maintained. While the tasting room may be beautifully appointed with friendly faces greeting me, I may turn a corner and see broken down office chairs and dirty drains in the production area. This is a flashing warning light for me. My instinct is telling me this company is putting money strictly on the tasting experience, and not where it may matter most--employee facilities and quality winemaking practices.
Information Exchange: During my visits, I'm frequently getting information from my potential client. This information could include job descriptions, salary ranges, interview plans, pricing and programming and employee benefits. I look for easily accessible information, free exchange of information and how the information is shared. Are they making a copy of a copy of a copy of a document and handing it to me? Are they swiftly sending me the information in an email attachment? Are they sharing Google Docs with me? All of this tells me how they run their business and how they share information. I don't expect every company to have their information quickly found and shared via the most advanced technology. It simply conveys their communication style and relationship with technology. It may tell you more, and if you would be a good fit at the company, so pay attention.
Follow Up: After these meetings, I also look at how my contact follows up with me. Are they quick to respond. Do future correspondences have a sense of urgency, good communication style and additional information that is helpful for me. If I was in a meeting where my potential client said they need someone yesterday, and then they don't return messages and act harried when I'm requesting additional information I think they don't have their act together. If on the other hand my client quickly sends me additional information, gives me clear outlines of our engagement going forward and follows up on any of my requests quickly, I feel that this is a great client to work with and I get to work on the search.
Look at the Whole Picture: Looking at these things when I'm going into a meeting, I get a full picture of the company, and it gives me an educated guess on how this company will be to work with. When you are going into an interview, use a critical eye and note things that are right and wrong. These points can help you when you are determining if it is a company you want to work at, or not.
Coming Up: Culture Club Part II: Digging into a Company's Culture