Job Hunt

Where Do You Want to Work?

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison on how to figure out what work environments are right for you.

3 min read

When you're looking for a job, you need to adopt the mindset of being a "buyer." With that way of thinking, you need to envision your ideal employer—the type of organization, culture, and environment where you'd fit best. But trying to decide what works for you can be very difficult without breaking down the process and learning more about what makes you tick. What if you like both working on your own and collaborating with colleagues, or going out to lunch sometimes but other times preferring to eat in solitude at your desk? Here are a few questions that may provide you with insights into your preferences—large or small, formal or informal, established or start-up.  

"If you aren't honest with yourself, you could wind up pursing companies that aren't a good fit for you." What do you want to wear to work?

The way people dress reveals a lot about company culture, especially with regard to formality. When you think about dressing for work, do you prefer casual clothes? Or is the idea of hoodies and yoga pants unappealing? Don't dismiss this as merely anecdotal—it could give you meaningful insight. Consider the example of Paul, who with an advanced degree in computer science could have easily found a job at a Silicon Valley start-up or with one of the large, well-established technology firms. But when Paul thought about going to work, he pictured himself in a suit and tie. Not surprisingly, he found the right fit for himself at an investment bank. What do you like to read?

Imagine you're in a reception area with a rack full of magazines. Are you more likely to choose The Economist or Sports Illustrated?Do you prefer a library—or a sound studio?

How would you feel about walking into an office where you could hear a pin drop? How comfortable would you be with music playing and multiple conversations going on at once?Do you like structure?

Do you like the idea of reserved parking spots, offices with names on the doors, and specific scheduled times to meet with people?Do you like familiarity? 

Do you like company picnics and holiday parties? An environment in which people know each other's families?Lunch—with strings? 

Do you like the idea of daily communal lunches, knowing that the expectation is that you'll spend long hours at your desk?Office hours? 

What does your ideal workplace look like at seven in the morning? Seven at night? How full is the parking lot during off-hours?On the road again? 

Are you open to frequent business travel? How much is too much? 

Don't judge your responses or try to answer in the way you think you should. If you aren't authentic with yourself, you could end up pursuing companies where you wouldn't be a good fit. Besides asking yourself questions, you should speak with former bosses, colleagues, and/or trusted advisors about companies (and culture) where they think you would thrive. A former boss's perspective may affirm your own ideas, or even expand your thinking about possible opportunities.

While feedback from others is helpful, you are the one "shopping" for the job. So make sure you are making a wise choice for yourself. Culture is everything when it comes to being a good fit—and finding a comfortable fit for yourself.

Adapted from Gary Burnison’s book, Lose the Resume, Land the Job.

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