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How to Recognize the Work Culture That Will Make You Thrive

Just like a foreign country, a company looks different from the inside. To dig deeper and learn whether a potential employer’s culture is right for you, ask these four questions.

Sandwiched between enormous countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Israel always seemed strikingly tiny on a map. Yet my recent trip to the Holy Land showed me that looks can be deceiving.

From the biblically relevant Old City of Jerusalem to contemporary Tel Aviv, Israel bustles with an unexpected mix of history mingled with technological advancements and forward-thinking ideas. Israelis are comfortable not only honoring their ancestors with pilgrimages to Mecca, but also experimenting with skin cells to produce stem cells.

Essentially, what you see from afar is hardly what you get when you take a closer look. From a business perspective, I’ve found that’s precisely why job seekers must carefully analyze potential employers to find the right culture fit. If they skim the surface with a cursory visit through Glassdoor reviews, they might miss markers indicating the true culture of a company — similar to how people like me might overlook Israel’s modern and innovative culture.

Take my own company as an example. Jelmar’s a national brand in its third generation of family ownership. However, customers might be surprised to learn that, like Israel, we’re small but mighty. Our roster stands at fewer than 20 employees. Nevertheless, we accomplish incredible work by leveraging technologies and applauding innovation and change. Although most of our employees have been on board 10 or even 25 years, some are newer to the job market. This gives us a terrific mix of past and current perspectives.

Much like Israel, we buck expectations and appearances by consistently churning out innovative ideas. For that reason, I encourage anyone seeking the right culture fit to dig deeper. After all, you should never judge a book — or a company or country — by its cover.

Finding Your Company Culture Fit

My trip to Israel opened my eyes to its unique culture. Digging deeper into a company will help you do the same. Then, once you get a feel for its culture, you’ll start to learn what aspects appeal to you. To further understand what type of work culture is best for you — and learn more about the companies you’re interested in — ask yourself these four questions:

1. Does the company align with your personal mission?

Have you fleshed out your personal mission statement? Prior to embarking on a full-fledged job hunt, figure out what kind of work inspires you. Maybe, like the Israeli scientists who are exploring ways to turn air into water, you want to help people. Perhaps you care about environmentalism like Jelmar’s team does. Solidifying your values will make it much simpler to know which workplace dovetails with what’s in your heart.

A company’s mission statement can tell you a lot about its culture. Look online and find out how employees can live up to an organization’s stated goals. A perfect mission fit will ensure you remain inspired, even when things go a tad haywire.

2. What size company do you flourish in?

Are you someone who thrives in a startup environment with a few people who wear multiple hats? Or are you more successful in an established firm where you can dig deep into a niche area instead of spreading yourself across silos? Or do you prefer a mix? Each type has pros and cons, and you should know which one works with your style and personality.

At an emerging brand, for instance, you’ll often handle different tasks from day to day. This frenetic pace comes with a price, though: Many startups don’t last, so you must be willing to trade security for opportunity. At a long-standing company, you may get to do more work in your specific field and enjoy certain benefits, yet you may also encounter red tape. Only you can decide which size feels most like a culture in which you can succeed.

3. What is your ideal workday?

When you envision working for a company, do you picture a casual dress code or a suit-and-tie environment? Is a flexible schedule meaningful versus a consistent one? Jot down your “nice-to-have” and “must-have” points, then rate them from one to 10 to figure out which are most critical to your working success.

As you explore employers, do a little online digging to get a better sense of the work atmosphere and operations. Many companies showcase videos on their sites to help job candidates get to know them better. The more you understand about each employer before sending an application or résumé, the more you’ll know whether it’s the right fit.

4. How do you prefer to interact with your boss?

Do you like working closely with your boss or more independently? How do you want to receive praise? No matter what you prefer, interactions with your manager are a big indicator of whether you’ll like a company’s culture. In fact, most people who resign leave managers, not companies.

Though it can be tough to know how you’ll mesh with a potential boss, you can always ask pointed questions during interviews. For example, find out how the managers give feedback, and talk about formal or informal mentoring. Get a picture of how bosses at the company measure efforts, namely which metrics they use to gauge value and productivity. You should know how your value is measured. Otherwise, you’ll wonder how you fit within the company.

I’ve been to Israel a few times now, and each experience has shown me something new about the country. And I’ve realized that just like Israel, every company looks different depending on whether you’re on the outside or the inside. Be diligent and look deeply into what makes the people and organization tick before agreeing to work for an employer. Only then can you find a culture where you’ll thrive.

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