In part six of this series, we asked college career counselors to share how seniors can find the work environment suits them best.
This is part of an ongoing series of advice for new grads from career counselors.
From traditional, corporate workspaces and structured schedules to open offices and flexible hours, a lot goes into making a company culture. And from one company to the next, they can be totally different.
But if you’ve got limited experience in the corporate (or non-corporate) world, it’s pretty hard to know what type of environment will make you the happiest and most productive during your 9-to-5.
So to help you figure out your ideal work setting—and the companies that match what you’re looking for—we talked to college counselors who are experts in matching new grads with the right opportunities.
Start with what you know
Sure, you don’t have years of corporate experience under your belt, but chances are, you’ve had some kind of work experience.
“Take some time to think about jobs and internships you’ve had and teams you’ve been a part of,” recommends Matthew Wheeler, assistant director of career services at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. “What aspects of those experiences did you enjoy, and which parts were you not so fond of?”
Even if it was a summer job serving ice cream or a work-study gig shelving books in the library, there were things you liked and things you didn’t. For instance, did you thrive on the constant interaction with people, or did you love the solitude of being able to complete an independent project? Did you enjoy downtime, or did you get bored easily when the pace slowed down? These insights will help you determine your ideal company culture.
Consider the perks
Each company offers different “extras” designed to attract and retain workers. While some companies boast enhanced versions of traditional benefits like fantastic health care and generous retirement plans, others are more “informal,” like free lunch Fridays or gym discounts.
“While fun or informal perks may not have the same financial impact as the traditional benefits, they can go a long way in providing an enjoyable and satisfying work environment,” says Stephanie Kit, director of the Center for Career Development at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Don’t be shy about asking what perks or benefits the company offers. They know you’re choosing between different jobs, so they’ll want to impress you with the benefits they’re most proud of.
Of course, it’s also important to get a sense of the more formal benefits offered. “For example,” Kitt says, “What is the leave policy including vacation, sick and maternity? Are there partner benefits included in the health insurance? Is there flexibility with work schedules or working from home? All of these give insight into how the organization values the employee.”
Focus on where you work best
Do you like being surrounded by lots of people? Do you like a quiet, isolated environment? A closed-off workspace or an open layout? You’re going to be spending a ton of time in the office, so you’ll want to make sure the environment feels right.
“Make a list of what you need in your environment,” says Kristen McMullen, director of the Student Success Center at the College of Charleston School of Business in Charleston, South Carolina. “Think about when you wrote a paper or studied for an exam. What setting were you in when you end up getting a great grade? Where were you studying when you really didn’t do your best on the exam the next day? What was it about those settings that you think worked or didn’t? Those are part of your cultural preferences.”
Ask people who work there what they think of the culture
Sometimes it’s good to go to the source: people who work (or have worked) at the company where you’re considering spending 40-plus hours of your week. You can start by asking your interviewer(s). And don’t worry about sounding awkward or amateurish—interviewers expect to be asked about company culture.
“Try starting out with something like, ‘You seem to really enjoy your job. Can you share with me what is most exciting or appealing about it?’” says Kit.
That allows you to open the door to some more critical questions that might give you more insight. Kitt suggests following up with something like, “What are some of the biggest challenges you face?”
And finally, you should always do some investigating on your own and read company reviews to get an unbiased sense of what employees think. Pay attention to work/life balance and any descriptions of the people, energy level, and hours—and be sure to pay most attention when there’s more than one review with a similar piece of feedback. You wouldn’t want one stranger’s opinion to influence your career decision.