Over the years Amazon has taken some heat for its “terrible” culture stemming back to 2015 and a blistering piece in The New York Times. But whether the culture is terrible, or not, is really a matter of perception and personal opinion. The determination of whether a corporate culture is effective, or not (and effective is really a better descriptor than “good”) has to do with whether the company achieves its goals.
It’s not really about good, or bad—it’s about fit. And that’s one of the first considerations that a prospective employee should bring to mind when considering whether a job may be right for them.
People who are competitive, hard-driving and thrive on pressure, tough deadlines and direct feedback will likely thrive in Amazon’s culture. People who prefer a more laid-back, collegial atmosphere probably won’t.
One person’s great job can be another’s worst nightmare. It may have nothing at all to do with the company, or the position, but a lot to do with you—your preferences, values and work habits. What warning signs should you be alert to when considering a job offer?
Much of what determines whether or not a job will be a good fit are your own personal values, beliefs and expectations. A good starting point when seeking a job, or thinking about changing jobs, is to think about your own personal mission statement.
Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People popularized the concept in his book. Personal mission statements, just like organizational mission statements, serve as a foundation against which to measure, compare or consider various decisions. Your person mission statement, then, can be a guidepost to help you determine jobs that may, or may not be a good fit. A company with values that don’t align with your values is not likely to be a good fit.
During the job application, interview and screening process you are likely to encounter a number of signs—subtle, and not so subtle—that can give you some clues about what working at the company might be like:
- Are employees friendly? Do they greet each other—and you—when they encounter you, or do they turn away?
- Do employees seem happy? Do you see employees chatting with each other in the hallways? Are they smiling? Or are they sitting at their desks, behind doors, looking frustrated or frazzled?
- What is the environment like? Is it clean, modern, open and light—or cluttered, even dirty; cramped and dark? Are desks, furnishings and equipment in good condition suggesting that the company is willing to invest in its employees—or old, dilapidated and worn out, suggesting an environment that might be extremely budget conscious?
- Has the job been open for a long time, or is it a job that seems to be posted frequently?
- Why did the former person in the job leave? If it was for an internal promotion, great! If you ask the question and the interviewing team seems uncomfortable, perhaps not so good.
Take advantage of the time you have to personally interact with a company—not only the hiring team, but others you encounter while you’re on site. Those interactions can tell you a lot, if you’re attuned to the signs.
The Critical Questions
There will come a point in most interviews when you’re asked whether you have any questions for the interviewer(s); you should. This is your opportunity to delve into some of the issues that will help you determine whether, or not, the company will be a good fit. For instance:
- If you’re applying for a managerial position and want to get a sense of the level of authority you may have, you might ask about your level of sign-off for expenses, and the approval process. A response of: “Managers can approve up to $50, anything over that amount needs to go to their director and the CFO for approval” sends a clear signal that this may be a very tight ship.
- If corporate social responsibility is important to you, you might ask about the causes that the company supports and opportunities that employees have to get involved, or about whether the company allows time off for volunteerism.
The point is that you will have an opportunity during the recruitment process to ask the critical questions that can help you determine whether this job is right for you.
Does the Company Have a Bad Reputation?
Just as prospective employers should check into the backgrounds of their applicants, prospective employees should check into the reputation of the companies they’re considering working for. That’s relatively easy to do these days with sites like Glassdoor providing transparent insights into what it’s like to work for a wide range of companies—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Companies take these reviews seriously; you should too.
In addition to Glassdoor, LinkedIn can be a good source of information and insights into company culture and climate. Are you connected to anyone who works, or has worked, for the company you’re considering? A simple search on LinkedIn for the company name will quickly tell you. If not directly connected, you can always find mutual connections to help make an introduction.
Check out the company’s social media sites—including any sites that may belong to company leaders or employees. You can glean some key information about the style and tone of the organization by reviewing how the company, and its staff members, respond to online comments—and the nature of those comments.
Finally, heed the subtle warning signs that may be keeping you up at night. Don’t accept a job that just doesn’t seem to be a fit. It probably isn’t.