Finding the right employer – research organisations and their work culture before you apply

Office funIf you have an idea of what sort of job or broad career sector might be right for you and you’re job hunting (or will be starting in the next few months), you should also have a think about what organisation might be a good fit. For some reason, a lot of people don’t give this much thought, but where you work is as important as what you actually do. When people complain they’re unhappy in their jobs, the problem is sometimes more to do with the people they work with and the general culture of the organisation than it is about the day-to-day job itself.

If you’re going into your final year you’ll probably be juggling assignments and job applications by October. So if you can spend some time now researching organisations you’d like to work for and bookmark their recruitment website so you can keep checking when they open for applications, you’ll be much better prepared.

Researching organisations will help you come across better on your applications and in interviews too. Why? Employers often tell us that where applicants often fall down is in not making a convincing enough case that they really want to work for the organisation, believing somehow that bland ‘cut and pasted’ statements on their covering letter like “X is a market leader in the finance sector” will suffice. Companies invest considerable sums on graduate recruitment so they’re as keen as you are to make absolutely sure that you’re a good fit for their organisation.

So what sort of things should you consider when trying to decide if an organisation is a good fit for you? Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  • How formal is the work culture – are ripped jeans the norm or is it ‘dress to impress’? Are there formal reporting relationships and a clear management structure with subordinates and various levels of management, or is it quite non-hierarchical?
  • Is it an open working culture with lots of team working is prized or does the organisation place more value in individual achievement?
  • Is it a competitive working environment where people are doing what it takes to get ahead or is it more relaxed?
  • What are the expectations regarding working hours? Is it a case of stay as long as it takes to get the project done or does everyone knock off at 5 or 6?

How do you research an organisation to get answers to these questions?

  1. Start with the organisation’s recruitment website, as recruiters often try to communicate something about their culture and what kind of people they are looking for in order to attract applications from suitable candidates. For example “a challenging, fast-paced working environment” may offer a different work culture from “a supportive, team-based working environment”. Read between the lines” when you read graduate profiles or watch videos. What do they say they like about the job or organisation? When certain ideas are repeated, such as “the cameraderie is great” and “it’s always good fun”, you might start to build a picture of at least some of the positive things about the organisation.
  2. Check out relevant jobs/careers forums and also blogs and social networking sites like Twitter to see what current and past employees are saying.
  3. Talk to someone from the company directly and ask a general question like: “How would you describe the working culture at X?” or “What do you like best about working for X?”. At the Careers Service, we’re currently organising lots of recruiter events on campus for next semester, as well as a few big careers fairs, and some organisations offer their own ‘taster days’ or run web chats. Don’t be shy – employers are impressed when they read on your application form that you spoke to x person at a fair, as long as you are specific about what it was that convinced you that the company was for you!
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