How do I decide which company I want to work for?

Help! All companies sound the same!

For those job hunting during the current climate, it can feel difficult to know where to focus your job search. You might have an idea what type of role you’d like to do, but how do you know which employers you’d like to work for?

While the Internet can provide us with plenty of information – from career advice, to job vacancies and salary reviews – navigating this vast array of information can be tricky. Knowing where to look and who to trust is challenging, and it can be tempting to apply anywhere and everywhere in the hope of securing SOMETHING.

I’ve discussed previously how taking a scattergun approach can result in more rejection, and lower motivation and confidence. So if you are being strategic about your job hunt, how do you set about shortlisting the firms you’re most interested in?

Start by reflecting on your values

Values are principles or standards that you deem to be of the utmost importance. The term “values” in this context doesn’t necessarily mean moral values, although your morals may well be reflected within your key values. Your values simply represent what is most important to you as a person. 

Personal values are specific to an individual (e.g. not necessarily work-related), however, it makes sense that you would want your career to align with your values, to ensure there is no conflict between what you and your employer value. 

Reflecting on your values causes us to reflect deeply on our most important priorities – what we value above all else. If a type of career or employer’s values does not align with your own values, you could find yourself becoming frustrated and disillusioned with your career and lose the motivation to maintain high standards of performance over time. At the very least, the companies you apply for mustn’t violate or contradict your most important values. 

How can I tell what a company’s values are?

The first place to look is on the company’s corporate or careers page. Companies – particularly larger ones – are much more open and transparent about their values than they were 10 years ago, as they recognise the benefit of attracting candidates whose values align with those of the company. 

Similarly, job seekers are recognising the importance of aligning with a prospective employer’s values and are keen to understand as much as possible about what the firm represents before committing to work there. These might be listed as company values, core values, or guiding principles. 

Why does it matter to me what a company values?

Values often drive culture, and the working environment has a huge influence on how happy and successful we are at work. 

Manifestations of these values can sometimes be obvious in the language and wording used when talking about the company on their website. For example, if a company shares a lot of insight about training and professional development – along with clear examples of how staff have benefited from this – the company is likely to value learning and growth.

Newer companies with a less formal culture may try to get this across by using a friendly or informal tone of voice in their communication and how they describe themselves. It’s not uncommon for smaller companies wanting to come across as friendly and approachable to have employer profiles with ‘fun facts’ like their favourite pizza topping listed online.

Many emerging tech startups try to create the image of a light-hearted and inclusive culture by sharing details of an office slide or company pet. 

A word of warning…

Be wary of companies that repeatedly tell rather than show you their values. For example, many companies talk about the vital importance of diversity and inclusion to their company, particularly on their corporate website. Job seekers may (rightly) become sceptical of the depth of this value if they discover that all graduates that have been hired for the past few years are all the same gender, ethnicity, and economic background. 

As much as companies are being more open about their values, they also know that choosing certain values could be likely to attract a certain type of candidate they aim to recruit. Any company can say they value innovation, but it may be an aspirational value, rather than a reflection of the company at the moment. 

How can I work out what a company really values? 

Adopt a proactive, curious and reflective attitude when researching a company. After looking at the core values shared online, assess how consistently any other communication or exposure to the organisation aligns to what they say they value. 

For example – you may be suspicious if a company claims to value collaboration and community, and the first few people you meet from the company come across as cold and standoffish. 

Follow the company’s career focused social media accounts to gain a deeper insight into their people. Companies often use this platform to get across the more human element of their organisation – for example, Q&As with employees, ‘day in the life of’ blogs, photos from socials and charity initiatives. 

Again, remember this will still have been approved by the company’s official comms team so it won’t be a total ‘warts and all’ expose, however companies are trying to share a more authentic, less formal and more human side to the company through channels such as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. 

How can I gain a deeper understanding of company culture? 

The best way of truly understanding what a company values and therefore what the culture is like is by speaking to its people – either at organised events or through your own personal networking.

If you build a good rapport with someone in conversation, you can start to ask slightly more personal (but not intrusive) questions such as: what’s your favourite thing about working here?” or “what do you find most challenging about working for the company?”.

While employees may feel pressure to highlight only the positive side of working for their company, asking more focused considered questions can allow them to share stories and insights from their own personal experiences, rather than simply regurgitating generic benefits from their company website. 

To wrap up… 

Finding the right company for you is important, and not an easy task. Invest time and effort to try and get to know companies at a deeper level through digging deeper – ideally having conversations with people that work there. Keep notes to record your interactions so you can reflect back on them afterwards. 

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