Adjusting to an employer's corporate culture may be the hardest part of starting a new job. In a recent survey by OfficeTeam, nearly one-third (32%) of workers interviewed said acclimating to a new corporate culture poses the greatest challenge when re-entering the workforce after an extended absence.
Every company has a corporate culture -- a unique blend of workplace values and unwritten rules that affect how individuals interact and how projects move through the organization. If you have trouble meshing with the corporate atmosphere, your morale and work performance could suffer.
However, many of the norms unique to a particular company aren't readily apparent, especially from the outside. By learning as much as you can about the corporate culture upfront, you improve your ability to accept -- or decline -- a job offer with confidence. And if you do join the company, you give yourself the best chance of quickly integrating with your new colleagues.
Here are some tips for developing a feel for an employer's corporate culture during the hiring process:
* Do your homework. Start by visiting the company's Web site. Even the tone of the "About Us" page can offer hints: Is it formal or playful? Does it mesh with your preferences? For additional clues, check out the company's presence on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. These venues may even enable you to interact directly with recruiters and other workers at a target employer.
* Keep your eyes and ears open. Interviews and other office visits represent opportunities to observe the organization's culture in a relatively unfiltered way. Observe how (or whether) employees greet each other in the hallways. Do most people seem to be working independently in cubicles, or interacting in common areas? Do employees seem relaxed and enthusiastic, or tense and stressed? What's the dress code like?
* Use your interview. There's nothing wrong with asking your interviewer direct questions about the corporate culture. If a broad question such as "What's it like to work here?" doesn't yield a satisfying answer, try asking about more specific matters, such as how the company measures and rewards success or how often employees gather for celebrations.
* Talk to employees. Current and former staffers tend to be the most candid sources of information about an employer's culture. Reach out to members of your professional network to find contacts who've worked at the company. If you maintain an active network, firsthand insights about life at the firm may be easy to come by.
Starting off on the right foot
After you've accepted an offer, here are some tips for making a smooth transition during your critical first weeks on the job. After all, you want to stand out for your excellent work, not because you're leaving the office too early or because you're dressed too casually.
* Watch and learn. Pay attention to how others interact in the workplace. Some habits and preferences, such as how and when people communicate, can be learned only through observation and experience.
* Make the rounds. When starting a new position, many IT professionals concentrate so much on their work that they overlook opportunities for informal interactions with colleagues. Be sure to introduce yourself to all those you'll be working with. To break the ice, invite them to join you for lunch or coffee.
* When you need help, ask. It's better to admit you lack expertise in a particular area -- whether it's a technical matter or a cultural one -- than it is to fall short of expectations or commit a major gaffe. Asking an appropriate colleague for guidance usually has the additional benefits of putting that person at ease and helping you build rapport.
* Solicit feedback. After a couple of weeks, consider asking your supervisor for a brief meeting to discuss not only your performance, but also how well you seem to be fitting in with the company's culture. This early feedback can help you prevent minor problems from becoming major ones.
Understanding and adapting to a new employer's culture doesn't mean neutralizing your personality or acting like someone you're not. In fact, such insincere approaches may alienate co-workers and prevent you from truly feeling comfortable with your new employer. But by showing that you know and respect the rules -- written and unwritten alike -- you give yourself a head start toward becoming an integral part of your new team.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com. For additional career advice, follow Robert Half Technology on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalftech.
This story, "Fitting in with a new employer" was originally published by Computerworld.