Any new job comes with an adjustment period—but the learning curve is even steeper if you’re fresh out of school and it’s your first full-time position. It can take weeks to learn the essentials of the job itself; getting a handle on an office’s culture can take even longer.
Many recent grads expect to enter a technology workplace/playground where ‘culture’ means free food, open offices and unlimited paid time off. The result is that employers are seeing greater expectations among young hires with regard to how interesting the job should be; those young hires are often pushing back at attempts to delegate their workflow, arguing that they’re stuck doing grunt tasks.
According to Danielle DeMaria of Betts Recruiting, many tech companies define their culture by transparency, access to leadership, growth potential and valuing individual employees. While perks are nice, she noted, new grads should understand the ‘why’ behind bottomless cups of good coffee and a catered lunch buffet. “Tech companies are a melting pot of different personality types,” she said, “so fitting in is less about being any one type of personality and more about being collaborative, humble, and hardworking.”
During the Search
Ji-A Min, the Head Data Scientist at Ideal.com, strongly advises new grads to conduct a cultural assessment during their job search. “Candidates should take the time to get to know themselves, their personality, and culture and environment where they will thrive,” she said. “As you go through the interview process, it’s critical to do a ‘deep dive’ on the potential employer’s culture.”
Min suggested these steps during the interview process to help ascertain fit:
- Speak to the leadership team and manager. Ask about the environment and how they celebrate big wins, as well as how they rally and work together to overcome challenges.
- Reach out to past employees via social media channels and hear firsthand what their experience is like.
- Review the company’s website and other materials for indications of office perks and culture; oftentimes you can find videos of company events that give you a sense of what to expect.
After Being Hired
To ensure you avoid major gaffes, review the code of conduct that the HR team or your manager shared with you. If you weren’t given one when you were hired, or if they don’t have one, ask if there’s a set of guidelines for employees.
Kathleen Mullaney, vice president of careers at Udacity, recommends a data-driven approach to understanding a company’s culture. Applicants should examine the metrics the organization focuses on, and which teams or people are driving them. “Chances are,” she said, “when you find answers to these questions, you’ve found the heart of the company.”
Mullaney also mentioned that, once you identify the center of the action, you’ll meet the people working on the most significant projects who are well-connected in the organization. They’re the group that you should be paying attention to. What you observe can be a blueprint for how you engage and what you focus on.
Don’t make assumptions about how the team (or anyone else you interact with) works. Take the time to understand the unwritten rules by listening carefully and asking questions. Your colleagues’ interpersonal behavior is critical to sorting out how the company communicates. For example, notice if people are comfortable being interrupted at their desks, or if they ping over chat or email. What happens at lunch? Do people eat with each other, at their desks, or do they go out?
Being the newest employee will work to your advantage in meetings, where you’ll be able to collect a wealth of information. You’ll have a bird’s eye view of who says what and when, and how others in the room react to whoever is speaking.
In all likelihood there are cultural aspects you won’t be keen on. Organizations sell themselves to potential employees in the same way you marketed yourself to the employer. But before trying to find a better fit at yet another company, allow yourself to fully acclimate to the environment. “If you are having trouble fitting in,” DeMaria said, “it might be time to check your ego and ask yourself if your expectations are realistic.”