Main image of article How to Tell If a Company's Culture Will Strangle Your Soul
During the depths of the Recession, landing an engineering or development job was a phenomenal win. If by chance the employer's cultural values aligned with yours, it was a bonus. 17213669_mBut here we are in 2013, with the overall economy gaining steam and the unemployment rate down to 7.7 percent. The situation is even better in the tech sector, which posted a mere 3.5 percent unemployment rate in the first quarter. With signs showing an economic recovery is underway, even if it's advancing slowly, it's time to put cultural fit back into the equation when you're deciding whether to join a company.

Evaluation Tools

The first step is to know yourself and your values well. "You need to know what is important to you. For example, how much do you care about a flexible schedule, a collaborative environment or a quiet work space?" asks Evelyn Frith-McNeill, a career adviser for NOVA, a workforce development organization in northern California. As an example, Frith-McNeill describes a woman in her 20s who recently visited the Google campus. She had a friend working there and was interested in joining the company, as well. In the end, though, the woman realized Google wasn't for her. She needed a quiet, private working space that would be unlike Google's open, sometimes noisy environment. Once you have a good grounding in your values and have prioritized them, the next step is to seek out companies that fit them. The place to start is their websites, where you can find hints of the culture in its the mission statement and by viewing employee photos and video clips. Also, join the company's social media networks to see how it interacts with prospective job seekers, employees and customers, says Melissa Venable, chair of the technology committee for the National Career Development Association. Other places to look include Glassdoor and Yelp. And, of course, use your network to contact people who already work there.

Interview Assessment

When you get in for an interview, remember that the discussion is as much about you vetting the company as the company vetting you. While you're sitting down with the recruiter, hiring manager or potential team you'll be working with, Nick D'Ambrosio,  founder and managing director of First Round Search, poses some questions you should ask. "The No. 1 thing you need to ask is, 'why is there an opening?'" he says. "What you'll want to hear is that the company is expanding and that's why there is an opening. If it's because of turnover, that says something about the company." Then ask, "Why did the person leave and how long did they work at the company before they left?"  Says D'Ambrosio: "If they were there for less than six months, that's a red flag." Given that the former employee left so soon, here's another question: What would make for a successful candidate? Of course, asking these things isn't always easy. "Developers and engineers tend to be introverts and asking these hard questions aren't in their DNA, but it needs to be done," D'Ambrosio stresses.

5 Signs It Ain't Gonna Work

After looking at your values, researching the company and interviewing with the hiring manager and team, it's time to figure out if you'll feel like the proverbial square peg in a round hole if you take the offered job. Look for these five warning signs:
  • The company has fewer than 70 percent of the values you seek.
  • Your gut is screaming, "no way."
  • You have zero comfort level with your prospective team or boss, based on their personalities, age or peculiar habits.
  • The company, its products or services, or the job itself lacks any personal meaning.
  • After a couple months on the job, you're ready to jump to another one.
"When people are without work and they need a job, they'll take whatever comes along," observes Frith-McNeill. "This will likely change as the economy recovers." You have to hope so. It's one thing to put in long hours. It's another the feel like you're a galley slave while you're doing it.