The Culture I’m Looking For

As I continue my job search, I’ve realized that a culture fit is the most important thing for me.  I have seen bad cultures, cultures that have soured over time, and best of all, great cultures.  I have a good idea of what I want, and what I want to avoid.  I’m very open with potential employers when I speak with them.  I have two basic requirements: a culture fit and a smart team doing interesting work.  I’d like to use this post to dive into the first.  Culture can mean many things and is one of the more subjective aspects of a company.  This list are the traits of what I consider an awesome culture.

Transparency

A good culture is transparent from top to bottom.  Decision makers should expect to explain why a decision was made.  Dictating direction without context should be avoided.  People shouldn’t be intentionally excluded from conversations and instead should be intentionally included.  Don’t fear disagreement.  This approach creates engaged employees who buy in, even if they don’t necessarily agree in the conclusion.  Keeping the process above board and out in the open is critical.

Trust

Team members must trust each other.  This trust manifests itself in a number of ways.  One way I always look for is how team members comment on their peers’ work.  Does the recipient respond angrily or dismiss the critique?  Is the critic genuinely looking to improve the solution or is he undermining the author?  Trust is required in both directions – the critic needs to trust the author will listen and the author needs to trust the critic’s intent.    

Growth

There must be opportunity within the team.  Emphasis should be placed on both technical and soft skill growth.  Leadership opportunities should be provided as often as possible.  A manager’s focus should be making her team successful.  Success should be measured not only in project deliverables but also in employee growth.  Teams that focus only on business outcomes will falter and lose people.  Individuals need to see growth and opportunity to stick around.

Collaboration

The team needs to work well together.  A collection of individuals working in silos never results in a high performing team.  Similarly, teams working in silos never result in a high performing organization.  We’ve all seen examples of fiefdoms in our professional lives; people who wrap their arms around “their stuff” and guard the walls.  That never makes for a healthy team.  Instead teams should work openly with adjacent orgs.  Trust that the best solutions will result from including others.

Accountability

Team members should expect to be held accountable.  Being held accountable doesn’t mean being flogged for failures.  It means that people take responsibility and learn from their mistakes.  It also means that leaders learn from missteps, better understanding how to position the team for success.  The team tries to do better the next time, constantly evolving and improving.  In the extreme, low performers are managed out and are not allowed to hold the team back.

These are the traits I’m looking for in a company culture.  These are also the qualities I try to instill in the teams I manage.  I believe they are critical regardless of the work we’re doing.  These are attributes of highly successful teams but aren’t easy to foster.  As a leader you must demonstrate them consistently and make sure your team is overtly aware.  If you are trusting someone, tell them.  If you have expectations, tell them.  If you’ve failed, tell them.

So how do I figure out company culture in an interview?

It is very hard to assess these qualities during the interview process.  These are some of the questions I use to suss it out:

What is the culture of the team?

Go after it directly.  If the interviewer stumbles or can’t describe it, red flag.

Is there someone who has left recently because they weren’t a culture fit?

Pay attention to why the person wasn’t a fit.  Is the interviewer factual or subjective in responding?  A response without emotional judgement is a good sign.

How does the team make decisions?

1:1 with an individual contributor?  Peer discussions?  This one speaks to collaboration.

Can you tell me about someone who has advanced her career here or elsewhere as a result of coaching?

Speaks to growth.  A good manager will be happy for someone who grows, even if it means it is somewhere else.  Sometimes there simply isn’t internal opportunity (for a management role as an example).


Do you have other cultural traits you look for?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks
Chris

Continuing My Search

It has been about a month since my last post and my job search is ongoing.  I have gotten on site interviews and phone screens at a number of places.  Some of the roles have been very exciting, others not so much.  The hunt has become a bit monotonous so I figured I would take a break and recount some observations I’ve made.  Looking for a job is hard.  When it gets me down, these are some of the techniques I leverage to give me a boost.

The wheels of talent acquisition turn slowly

This has been perhaps the single most frustrating piece of the process.  Resumes submitted to a job posting get tossed into a black hole.  People take weeks to get back to you, if they ever reply at all.  As a candidate, this is possibly the first interaction you’ve had with the internal workings of a company and it normally doesn’t leave a good impression.  I have taken to finding folks with “recruiter” or “talent” in their title on LinkedIn.  I’ll write a quick note asking for more information on the role I have applied for.  More often than not, this gets me past the automated resume screening and to a real person.  From there, interviews take days to set up while you’re sitting at home thinking, “Call me right now, I’m ready!”  Remember that they’re working and have other stuff to do.  Understanding this can help relieve the frustration you’re bound to feel.

Keep learning professionally

You can’t surf Indeed and LinkedIn all day every day.  You can’t apply to jobs, tune your resume, and write cover letters from dawn to dusk.  Take a break and keep your skills sharp.  I’ve found Udemy to be a great resource for some cheap training.  I’ve completed a course on Kubernetes and am in the middle of a course on Python.  I’ve also completed a professional certification: Amazon Web Services Cloud Practitioner.  All are associated with my skillset, but only the AWS cert was based on professional experience.  The other two are totally new topics to me and gave my brain something else to focus on while rounding out my knowledge.  Searching for a job is draining and having a distraction for your mind is important.

Keep learning personally

Lounging about is fun and while I certainly do that on occasion, I try to focus on keeping active.  Whatever your passions, devote time to them with intention.  While being unemployed sucks, it is also a time of freedom.  I’ve picked up a new hobby, a vegetable garden, and spent extra time with my chickens and bees.  I also brew beer and work on my 1979 Land Cruiser.  I’ve learned a bunch on small engine repair (my lawnmower busted) and have dropped a few trees that were over shading the backyard.  The last one wasn’t a passion exactly but who doesn’t like using power tools?  You have the time to pursue your passions – do it!

Don’t lose heart

A job hunt can be depressing.  There’s no way getting around it – the majority of places you apply will reject you.  Sometimes you’ll understand why, sometimes you won’t.  It is important to remember that it isn’t personal.  Employers don’t know you well enough and make decisions based on your CV or a LinkedIn profile.  You can’t let it get you down.  I’ve been rejected from ~20 roles at this point, about twice a week.  I wasn’t all that jazzed about all of them but there were certainly some I was excited about.  It is really hard to be told “no” over and over again.  But I know the right role will come along and I’ll be better for it.  As I said in my last post, I can’t settle.

You can review my LinkedIn profile here:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopherhendrick/

Do you have some other suggestions for keeping positive during a job search?  Please leave them in the comments below!

Thanks
Chris