The company you want to work for is profitable. It dominates its competitors. Customers love its products. There’s just one problem: The organization’s culture is a disaster. Its employees hate their jobs, and that’s how you’ll feel if you go to work there. If you don’t learn about the firm’s culture before accepting a position, you could be in for a nasty surprise.

We had the opportunity to talk to organizational consultant Sheila L. Margolis about the top things job seekers should consider before accepting a position and what potential employers should look for when hiring new talent.

getAbstract: What should job seekers focus on?

Sheila: When you’re looking for a job, you have to think about what matters to you in life and what feels purposeful to you. That’s why I talk about purpose and principles in the Job Seeker Manual. When I talk about purpose, I’m looking at the things in life that provide meaningfulness to you. Research has shown that when people feel that their work is meaningful, they are more engaged and they stay with the organization. As a potential employee, you have to ask yourself, “If I work there, will that be the place where I’ll get that sense of meaningfulness?” It’s important to think that through even before you start the job search so that you know what type of companies would be a fit for you. So that first step is understanding yourself.

Then there are the values or principles that truly matter to you. If you were in an organization that didn’t share those same values, you wouldn’t have a sense of harmony. It wouldn’t feel like the right place because the key initial criteria for employee engagement are fitting the culture and the job.

getAbstract: Finding details about the job is probably an easier task than figuring out whether the culture of a company would be a fit for you. How do you find something like that out?

Sheila Margolis: First, you have to identify the values that are important to you personally and professionally. Then it requires a lot of research and going online. There are things that companies promote that implies what their values are. They’ll have a mission or purpose statement and a list of core values. That’s part of it, but you also have to look at what a company publishes to see what’s truly the character of the organization. Look at the founder and the principles and ideals that were part of the creation of the organization. Obviously, companies go through mergers and acquisitions, so that’s going to change.

getAbstract: What about after you’ve applied for a job and are invited for an interview. What should you be paying attention to?

Sheila Margolis: You have to be very observant when you go to the company. How do they treat you? How do they greet you? What types of questions do they ask? How do they interact with each other? What are the types of things they do informally that might express what’s important to them? Look around at what they put on their walls, how their desks and layout of the office look. All these things will give you a sense of what’s truly important there.

getAbstract: And from the company’s perspective, what are companies looking for, someone who fits the job description or someone who fits in their culture?

Sheila Margolis: Most companies today, the larger companies for sure, are looking for both. I know companies that screen initially by phone through culture fit and then they do further screening after the person some in. Sometimes companies also consider whether they can train a person to do a job, and if that’s possible, then they look at the culture fit first.

getAbstract: What would you recommend HR specialists if they can’t find a candidate who fits both the culture and the job?

Sheila Margolis: It depends on whether a person could be trained to do the job and if the company is willing to do the training. Then the culture fit would be the way to go. If the company doesn’t have the capabilities to train a person, then they need to look for both because if you hire just for job fit, the person probably won’t stay for long. Then you have a retention issue. You have someone who can do the work, but doesn’t want to be there. And as soon as they get a better offer, they may be gone.

Employers have to remember that most people make a decision within six months and they’re still looking for new work even after they start a new job. So just because they accepted the job doesn’t mean they’re not looking for other work. If you don’t have a culture fit where the person feels like this place is home you’ll probably have to fill that position again in a short time.

getAbstract: How can an employer figure out if a candidate fits into the culture of their company?

Sheila Margolis: They have to screen on the two levels, purpose and principles. You have to ask questions that reveal what type of work feels meaningful to this individual because if the work you do doesn’t feel meaningful then they are necessarily connected to the purpose of the company. For example, let’s the person doesn’t care about the environment and the whole purpose of the company is to save the environment, then that’s obviously not a fit.

The screener really has to see what causes really do matter to this person. What topics do they read about? What interests do they have? They need to figure out why the person wants to come to their company. And then you have to get an understanding of their prior work because you may see a trend. Maybe health and wellness is a theme that’s in that person’s life and you’re in a healthcare industry. Then you can see where it would be a fit for them because your work would feel purposeful to someone who really cares about that area of work.

getAbstract: Obviously, culture fit is important, but are there principles that a person can learn once they start the job?

Sheila Margolis: Let’s put it this way, if there’s a value that’s not necessarily in conflict with who you are, but it’s important to that company, then yes, you can be trained and you can learn. But for instance, if a company is not ethical and you’re ethical, then there’s really no training there. People can grow and develop as long as it’s not in conflict with their internal nature.

Do you want to hear more from Sheila? Visit her website or have a look at her book, Job Seeker Manual.

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