Written by: Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.
During my PhD, I was not in a supportive environment.
I was forced to compete with my fellow PhD students to prove that I was better than them.
My advisors offered little guidance and when I did get support, it usually came with an ulterior motive.
I did not want to continue my research in this negative culture.
I dreamed of a lab where I could excel.
An environment where I would get the support and encouragement I desperately wanted.
While looking for postdoc positions, I visited multiple research groups, searching for the supportive research environment I wanted.
I interacted with people and asked other postdocs what it was like to work there.
I looked at how postdocs and other staff interacted.
Eventually, I found a place where I thought I would get along well with my colleagues and have the support of a prominent mentor.
I thought I had found the place where I was going to succeed.
But, it didn’t take long for me to realize that one academic environment is the same as another.
I could do all the research in the world on the dynamics within an academic lab, but it would never change the fact that within academia, competitive and unsupportive environments are the norm.
If I wanted a supportive environment, I needed to get out of academia.
But, I had no idea what kind of industry job I wanted or what job options were available for PhDs.
So, I connected with other PhDs that had already transitioned into industry, and began networking.
I was surprised to find that everyone I spoke with during informational interviews said that they loved their job.
They all said that they should have left academia sooner.
Clearly, the culture in industry was much better than in academia.
I knew that industry was going to give me the work environment I wanted and deserved.
Why Company Culture Is Important
The culture of a workplace can make the difference between PhDs loving or hating a position.
Academia sets PhDs up to believe that they are weak-minded and that an unpleasant working environment is normal.
What PhDs don’t realize is that outside of academia, a negative work environment is not normal.
Companies experience financial encouragement to create a nice workplace for employees.
According to a study published in the Journal of Corporate Finance, there is a causal link between employee job satisfaction and the company’s market value.
That means having satisfied, happy employees actually makes a company more profitable.
In industry, it benefits the overall company to have high employee job satisfaction levels.
A survey conducted by The Boston Consulting Group found that several of the top factors affecting job satisfaction are related to the work environment, or company culture.
These top factors include having good relationships with colleagues and superiors, having a good work-life balance, and feeling appreciation for their work.
A good company culture causes high job satisfaction, and high job satisfaction causes increased company profits.
Sadly, academia is not synonymous with a good work-life balance, support from superiors, or appreciation for work.
But, you do not need to stay in this poor culture.
There are many opportunities for PhDs outside of academia where you can work for a company with a supportive culture.
In these work environments, PhDs will excel and succeed.
5 Ways To Determine The Culture Of A Company
Companies know that their workplace culture can financially make or break them.
When companies invest in employees job satisfaction levels, this investment pays off in terms of increased productivity and increased profits.
But, the most satisfying type of workplace culture will be different for everyone.
This means it is important to find out the culture of a company before you decide to work there.
To succeed as a PhD, you need to find a company with a culture that will work for you.
Here are 5 ways to determine the culture of a company before you become an employee…
1. Set up informational interviews.
A great way to learn about a company’s culture, and network at the same time, is to set up an informational interview with someone who works there.
Use LinkedIn to search for the company and its employees.
Reach out to current or past employees and ask if they would be happy to discuss their position with you.
It’s ideal to find other PhDs who have transitioned into the types of industry positions you are interested in.
Do not start your informational interview by bluntly asking what the company’s culture is like.
Rather, ask questions about the person you are talking to — remember, this is a networking opportunity.
Ask the person about their current role in the company and about what they do on a daily or weekly basis.
Let the conversation flow normally, and ask follow-up questions.
Do not just fire off question after question — you are not a detective! Rather, maintain a conversational tone.
Often, the culture of a company will come out naturally during a conversation.
Look for cues such as, “I really love what I am doing” and “My boss is really great and supportive”.
If information about the company culture doesn’t come up naturally, ask what they like or dislike about the position or company.
If someone is really hesitant to mention anything relating to the culture of a company, be wary.
Talk to as many people as you can to get an idea of what a company is like.
Just because one person likes it, doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same way.
Be sure to send an appropriate thank-you message to the person you interviewed.
2. Investigate employee turnover rates.
The rate of employee retention can help determine if a company has a good culture or not.
If many employees are leaving after very short amounts of time, less than 6 months, this may indicate that something is wrong.
On the other hand, companies that have established a good working environment will have high levels of employee retention.
Employees are not likely to leave a company if they enjoy working there.
It can be difficult to determine the employee turnover rate for a company, but LinkedIn can help you investigate.
When viewing current and past employee profiles, you can check how long they worked for the company.
Job postings on LinkedIn will also show the hiring statistics of a company.
If the number of employees a company hires has increased over the past few years, this is a positive sign that the company is growing.
LinkedIn will also show the average tenure of a company’s employees.
If the average tenure of a company’s employees is 1 year or less, this should raise a red flag.
Employee turnover is a great indicator of employee job satisfaction and company culture.
3. Look up company reviews on the Internet.
Websites such as Glassdoor and Indeed contain company reviews from both current and previous employees, which can offer insight into a specific company.
Reviews offer an insider’s perspective to see what it is like to work for the company.
Plus, the reviews are anonymous allowing employees to be more open and honest about the company.
Glassdoor asks employees to rank topics directly related to the work environment, and Indeed allows you to filter reviews for specific topics.
This includes the company culture, work-life balance, job security and advancement, compensation and benefits, and management.
Information about the CEO’s approval rating can also provide insight into the work environment.
Also, remember that there will be differences between small and large companies.
Larger companies are likely to have more reviews and ratings than smaller companies.
You also need to take some of the reviews with a grain of salt.
Some people will only ever write reviews when they have had a bad experience.
To try and avoid bias, read as many reviews as you can.
Take all the information you have gathered and consider it as a whole when you make your judgement about the company.
Don’t just focus on one bad review amongst a sea of good reviews.
4. Follow the company on social media.
Many companies have a strong social media presence.
Most companies will have a profile on each of the widely used social media platforms, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Following a company on social media can help you keep up-to-date with the company’s current focus.
It will also help you to determine the culture of a company by allowing you to see how companies engage with current employees.
Do they express employee appreciation and highlight employee accomplishments online?
Do they post videos or pictures from employee outings and team-building activities?
Other things to look out for include the use of appropriate humor and how engaging a company is with followers.
Humor shows that a company is probably a fun place to work.
A company that engages with its followers, and responds to messages or comments, demonstrates that the company is willing to invest in people and future employees.
How a company presents itself on social media is a good indicator of its dedication to employees and to creating a good working environment.
5. Turn the tables in an interview.
One final way to determine the culture of a company is during an onsite interview.
By the time you have an onsite interview, you should have already done some research into the company’s work environment.
During the interview, you can check to see if your ideas about the environment are correct.
When you arrive for your interview, take a good look around the lobby or waiting area.
Placement of artwork, plants, and natural light can suggest a more relaxed and inviting environment.
How the receptionist welcomes you and interacts with you while you wait can hint at a relaxed or formal environment.
Look to see if employees have personal items, such as family pictures, on their desks or workspaces.
Look to see if there are notes about social activities displayed around the office.
Visual cues can give you insight into how formal or relaxed a workplace is.
When talking to current employees in a more casual situation, you can ask about where they go for lunch, or what they do for lunch.
Employees who eat lunch together tend to have a more social workplace environment and can be more collaborative.
When asked if you have any questions, use this opportunity to gather more information about the work environment.
Ask if there are regular employee meetings, or how often employees meet.
Statements such as, “as needed” or “one-on-one with managers” hint at a more independent workplace.
Ask about if there are peak periods or when the busiest times are.
This will give you an idea of what your actual work hours or expectations are likely to be.
Remember, it is important that you ask questions at your interview, as this is the best opportunity to really understand a company’s culture.
While the work environment within academia is poor and often unsupportive, there are many industry companies who are dedicated to investing in their employees and who pride themselves on having a good culture. Not all companies will have the same type of culture, so it’s important that you take the time to research and find out if a company’s culture is suitable for you. To determine if the company is a good fit for you, speak with current and past employees in informational interviews, learn about employee retention rates, research the company’s online presence, and ask the right questions during your interview. This will help you to find your ideal job and company so you can successfully leave academia and transition into industry.
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