“Checking out a company”
How do you know what a company is really like before you work there? You don’t for sure. But you can pick up clues.
For starters, you can go to a company’s website to fish around for a sense of their culture. See what the senior management has to say. Read their speeches. And press releases. Check out the mission statement. Take, for example these statements about “Values” from the website of a large U.S. company:
“Respect: We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don’t belong here.”
Integrity: We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely.”
Communication: We have an obligation to communicate.”
Sounds like a great place to work, right? Unfortunately, it is Enron. Whose ultimate demise, say competitors and analysts in The New York Times, was due to “a culture of greed and arrogance that bred excessive secrecy.” An industry analyst describes the company as “an adrenaline-driven culture” having “an obsession with 15 percent a year or better earnings growth.” Now that wasn’t on the website.
But that’s no reason to throw up your hands and say, “Why bother doing my homework, it doesn’t matter.” It does. Enron is one company out of millions. It would be unfair to say that what a company says publicly is meaningless rhetoric. Many companies put their hearts and souls into constructing their mission statement–their guiding light to unify employees, give them a sense of identity and lay the foundation of the company. And they live by it as best as they can.
Researching what the company says publicly is important–even if it sounds lofty. You can’t guarantee it will be totally accurate. You also don’t know whether people shoved the mission statement in a drawer and forgot about it the day it was printed. But it’s still important to find out what it says because it will give you a point from which to ask questions and nose around.
Pay attention to what a company says not only about its mission, but about its vision and values as well–something most potential employees don’t bother with. Job hunters are typically more interested in a company’s financial statements. They don’t put as much energy into rooting out the culture which can help them better understand the environment they’d work in.
When you go through the interview process, investigate what the words on the website really mean. Ask about the company’s vision, which establishes the overall direction of company. Ask the interviewer: What does this company strive to be? What are people working toward making this company into?
Delve into the company’s values, which are the collective principles that guide how people think and act. Ask: What does this company stand for? What does the management believe in? For example, does the company practice risk-taking and learning from mistakes?
Seek out the company’s mission, which states its purpose for existing. Ask: What does this company want to accomplish?
Your interviewer will probably have to stop and really think about your questions. Hopefully this will lead to an enlightening discussion of how the leaders of the company think and what it’s like to work there.
Has the company been in the news lately? If so, was it about questionable activities? Any recent layoffs?
Dig around to find out what kind of name the company’s leaders have made for themselves and how others view them. Read between the lines. Beware of promises that sound too good to be true. And always, always, listen to you gut.