No one wants to waste time working at a company they don’t like. So, you study employers before you apply. Comb through their job listings for clues about the company. Determine if you fit.
By the end of it, you feel like you’re already employed… as a part time detective.
Fortunately, job advertisements tell you more about the company culture than you might expect. Even when most job listings are boring, vague, and made up of the same cliches and buzzwords.
Start with the structure
Your first glance at a job advertisement can reveal a lot. In fact, the structure itself can be very telling.
Highly structured job advertisements can indicate a more formal, structured workplace. So, if you see an advertisement that is carefully organized under all the expected headings–such as about us, qualifications, skills, education, responsibilities–you can figure the company cares about rules, guidelines, and processes.
On the other hand, job advertisements that use active language, are looser in their structure, focus on you as the candidate, and talk about opportunity and their values likely come from more relaxed companies. They are not as rigid and pay more attention to their employees.
Sometimes, an advertisement gives you a certain feeling. In these cases, trust yourself. Subtleties, such as the wording and formatting of an advertisement, can reveal volumes, even when you can’t quite identify where you’re getting the feeling from.
Notice the word choice
When we speak and when we write, the nuances in the words we use tell us a lot about what we really mean. And this is equally true in job advertisements.
By reading between the lines, you can decipher what type of culture a particular organization promotes, or even learn a little bit more about the role beyond what is explicitly stated.
For example, when the advertisement wants a “self-starter,” the job is probably more autonomous. Here, your higher-ups are not going to hold your hand or look over your shoulder to help you.
And an advertisement that describes a “team player” as their ideal candidate likely requires a lot of team collaboration and working together.
Phrases that reveal company culture
When a company claims to have “structured, well-defined roles” with “centralized decision making” and a “clear career progression,” this is a highly organized workplace. They value hierarchy and dish out promotions on a structured path. This type of company is best for someone who appreciates order.
Similar companies may use phrases such as “process-driven company,” “attention to detail,” and “compliance with regulations.” These terms similarly indicate structure and order, and are typically used by stricter, rule-following organizations that appreciate efficiency and stability.
But if that’s not your preference, you may look out for companies that put an “emphasis on work-life balance” or value “community involvement and social responsibility.” These types of companies care about the well-being of their employees and understand their impact on the world around them.
And if you like to get social with your coworkers, advertisements that tout a “collaborative work environment” might indicate a great employer for you.
The phrasing of a job advertisement can also clue you into the size of the company.
For example, a “tight-knit workplace” can indicate a small company.
And terms like “fast growing,” “scrappy,” or “we’re looking for a rockstar/ninja/wizard” can indicate a startup (or a company with a “cool” culture for the last one).
Red flag phrases
Certain phrases can also uncover a toxic or unpleasant company culture.
Harmless-seeming offers like “free meals, snacks, and drinks”–which sounds awesome at a glance–can sometimes mean you’regoing to work, long unexpected hours where you’re eating at your desk.
Phrases like “we’re like a family” sometimes shows a lack of boundaries, or perhaps means you’ll be required to work or show loyalty beyond your paycheck.
And “fast-paced environment”–while employers may think this sounds exciting–could really indicate an understaffed workplace with overworked employees.
Once the code is cracked, now what?
While advertisements can reveal a lot, you don’t really know if the representation is accurate. To verify your findings, you will need to do a little sleuthing.
Asking current employees about their experiences is a sure way to learn about the company culture. Or an online search through the company’s social media pages and reviews can show you more about what they’re like.
Before you begin cracking the code of job advertisements, first think about what type of company you want to work for and how they might describe themselves. When you come across your dream company, you’ll recognize them right away.