Insights on company culture, job seeking

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BYU seniors joined hundreds of thousands of other newly-minted graduates as they moved into the job market after graduation in April. Some may have looked at the dynamics of potential employers, including how companies’ size and type impact their culture.

Whether a business is modern or more traditional, it may not be safe to assume every tech company is informal and every corporation values formality.

Dr. Candilyn Newell is a life sciences career director at BYU who also teaches etiquette — a subject that if practiced well, she says can greatly enhance a new graduate’s career opportunities. She used to advise students against sending paper thank-you notes to tech companies after an interview because such companies typically have a more informal, digital-focused culture. However, she said one larger local tech company recently told her that they actually do appreciate the consideration of hard-copy thank-you letters.

Though a company may appear to have a more informal culture, good manners are always appreciated when job seeking. Several students over the last four semesters have told Newell their thank-you notes helped them get another interview or job offer.

“A thank-you note expresses time management and use of language, not just gratitude,” Newell said.

The way people interact with each other and how smoothly the process runs can give insight into whether or not a company would be a good fit for potential employees and their specific expectations.

Many differences in this process correlate with different types of companies: whether a company is growing and new, large and traditional or any combination of these factors. For example, larger or more established companies often have more red tape than smaller companies do. Fingerprints, background checks and references are common requirements when interviewing with larger corporations.

At a smaller company, the hiring process is often quicker, sometimes comprising only a few interviews for an internship or entry-level position. A potential employee will oftentimes interview with upper management or executives rather than human resources or a recruiter. New companies don’t always have a recruiter, and the executives preside over a small, curated team.

Touring the office when interviewing for a job can help reveal details about the company’s culture. For example, if a company has an open office, that can show they value collaboration and teamwork. If a company has tall cubicle walls it can mean they are more traditional, and people are more likely to work independently.

Computer engineering student Amanda Fails interned at two companies with very different work situations. One of the companies had tall cubicle walls, so it was difficult to collaborate and interact with others.

“The cubicle walls were so high that you kind of felt boxed in and didn’t see a lot of people. Everyone was just in their own space working,” Fails said.

The other company put their entire research and development team into one large room with no cubicle walls or dividers. She said it was easier to get to know people and work with others although it was also easier to get distracted.

Another way job seekers can learn about a company’s internal culture before accepting a job is to reach out to current employees on LinkedIn and ask them about certain aspects of their experience that would be more difficult to learn from an interview. Information from a potential colleague about their day-to-day successes and the office culture can help determine if a company would be a good fit.

For a student without connections, this may seem difficult or intimidating. However, BYU’s University Career Services has an alumni research tool with a directory of over 188,000 contacts who are available to help BYU students as they search for a job.

Newell advises students to send a short email or LinkedIn message to the contact and to address them with respect.

“Use respect and formality. Start out using Dear Mrs. or Mr. so people don’t get offended. Don’t assume familiarity too easily,” Newell said.

Following these guidelines will make the contact more likely to reply and become a valuable network connection at the company.

Another resource available to BYU students is Handshake, a platform where interns and employees can post about their experiences at a company. Students with questions about Handshake can learn more at the Career Studio.

Even at a more informal company, it is still wise to dress professionally for an interview and to show gratitude and appreciation with a thank-you note.

“The small things can distinguish you,” Newell said. “There’s never anything wrong with saying, ‘thank you.'”

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