How to Avoid the Land Mine of a Poor Company Culture

How to Avoid the Land Mine of a Poor Company Culture
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When looking at a potential job offer, it is normal to focus on factors such as salary, employee benefits, cost of living, commuting distance, and growth potential, among others. But there is an additional factor that is often given little consideration, especially by transitioning veterans: company culture.


Assessing a company’s culture is critically important when considering whether to accept a job offer. For transitioning military personnel coming from a very defined and homogenous environment, this can be a particularly challenging concept to appreciate. While military culture does vary between the different service branches, career fields, and types of roles, underneath it all it is still the military. Incoming recruits are rigorously screened for their ability to successfully integrate into the military culture, a culture whose success is dependent upon highly cohesive teams.


Civilian companies have the same goal and face similar challenges as the military -- how to find qualified candidates who are also a fit for the organization. Employers have long known that fit is a prime determinant for how long a high-quality candidate will stay with the company. Turnover and searches for new talent are expensive, time-consuming, and to be avoided as much as possible.  


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Job seekers should be as keenly interested in this aspect of hiring as employers. No one wants to leave a position after just a few months because they do not feel the organization shares their values and beliefs, or because they are unable to thrive in an unsupportive or toxic environment. Given that most of your time is spent at work, it should be a place you enjoy – somewhere you have ample opportunity to achieve personal and professional goals.


How can you get a sense of a company’s culture? Online research, internships, news media reporting, and even company leadership videos on YouTube can help, but the chief method is networking.


Making Contact(s)

Networking allows you to obtain an “inside” look at the company by using the casual professional relationships you have established and cultivated. After you have narrowed down your list of potential employers, identify and reach out to current and past employees of your target companies. What you learn may help you screen out problematic contenders and double down on highly attractive potential employers.


How do you find these networking contacts? Friends and family are always a good first step --find out if they have a contact within the company. However, the most effective networking usually takes place in the next circle of people connected to you, even if only peripherally. The outer ring of your immediate networking circle generally yields the best results when seeking current or former contacts at your target companies.


What if you do not have anyone in your network who is connected to your target companies? No problem -- use LinkedIn to identify and reach new professional networking contacts. LinkedIn is a tremendous way to expand the number of your contacts in a meaningful, strategic way. Start by conducting a simple search using keywords that include the name of the company. You can add one or two other terms to help refine the search, such as “military,” “veteran,” or anything else that helps tie the search parameters to exactly what you are looking for.


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When you seek a connection and reach out to someone, keep the focus on information gathering, not job hunting. No one wants to be responsible for getting you a job, but you will find many people are quite happy to talk about their experiences with the company, especially if they are a veteran or military spouse.


Do not be shy about reaching out to people you do not know; networking is effective because it relies on the good feeling and mutual benefit people get when they do something that helps someone else. Just as you would be happy to have a brief conversation about life in the military or within the military community, that same wellspring of support exists among civilian professionals in the public and private sectors.


A little diligent utilization of your network before accepting an offer can help you sidestep the need to leave a company after only three or four months because you are not a match with the company culture. While the interview process can provide you with an opportunity to ask probing questions, networking beforehand can arm you with the right information before meeting with the company and considering any offers.


Need more networking advice? Consider joining MOAA for a virtual Military Executive Transition (MET) event, where transitioning servicemembers can get expert guidance on all facets of their private-sector career path, including how to build better contacts. You can register now for our Aug. 27 MET session, or check here for other MOAA transition and career events in the coming weeks.


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About the Author

Capt. Patricia Cole, USN (Ret)
Capt. Patricia Cole, USN (Ret)

Cole served 30 years in the U.S. Navy in a wide range of command and staff assignments in the U.S. and overseas, with her last assignment as commanding officer, Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Pacific in Wahiawa, Hawaii. She joined MOAA in 2012.