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Researching company culture

Hi friends,

Shaped (or more accurately "scarred") by some of our personal experiences in this industry, Sam and I make it a point to stress the importance of finding the right fit and culture when searching for new opportunities. Yet whether we're having one-on-one conversations with members, speaking to a class, or talking on a panel, the topic inevitably leads to the question, "How do you know what a company's culture is until you're actually working there?"

Hmm...good question. Great question, actually. The kind of question that can ensure that you don't end up hating your life, desperately searching for a new job while your PTO days pile up because, like your mom's fancy China, they're meant for you to have but not use, if ya know what we mean. While it's not always possible to get all the information you'd like, there are a couple surefire ways to do some preliminary research and minimize the chances of ending up in a completely toxic situation. 

First, before you even start the interview process - heck, maybe even before you apply to an organization - you should do a quick Google search. Big organizations, especially sports teams, leagues, and media companies, if that's the route you're going in this industry, make headlines, both good and bad. If there's been a major scandal (think the Mavs' corrosive workplace culture back in 2017-18), you should be able to find information on it. Hopefully, you'll also be able to read up on how or what the organization is doing to impact positive change. That said, you can't always believe the PR campaigns, so make sure you're continuing to evaluate.

To that end, we'd also advise you to scan social media. Often, if a company has a bad reputation, whether it's because of the way they treat female employees, the lack of work-life balance, or just an overall culture problem, there will be rumblings on social. By following and connecting with other sports professionals, you'll be exposed to more industry posts and can start to develop a feel for how other orgs are run.

This brings us to our next point. This preliminary research should inform at least some of the questions you ask in the interview process. While current employees, especially those in HR or on the hiring team, aren't always the best source of information, it's worth asking about culture. In fact, it's even better if you can ask someone in the department for which you're applying or someone who is or was recently in a similar role. As you progress to later interview rounds, you'll likely have a chance to meet those people. That's the time to ask about anything you may have found in your research (positive or negative). You can also inquire about professional development opportunities, as that can tell you a lot about the way employees are treated, and of course, work-life balance. While balance may look a little different in the sports industry, you can ask about what, if anything, the organization does to help balance out the nights and weekends that may be required during the season or a busy period.

Again, while you can and should ask those questions in interviews, your best source of information may actually be former employees. Even if they left on good terms, past employees are much more likely to speak freely about their experiences. But how do you find those people without spending hours going down endless rabbit holes on LinkedIn? It's actually pretty simple. Check out our latest downloadable for step-by-step directions on how to easily search people's past companies so that you can identify and reach out for informational interviews. 

Although there's no way to fully understand the culture of a company, or more granularly a specific department, until you're in it every day, you can be proactive in researching, asking questions, and reaching out to current and past employees. The fact that you're even reading this blog suggests you already understand the importance of culture and how it can impact your experience even more than your day-to-day duties. Speaking as someone who didn't realize that until her "dream" job almost ruined the industry for her, that's huge! So keep doing what you're doing, prioritizing your mental health and well-being, and remember, you're awesome and you belong here. 

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