One of the most important criteria to consider during the job, graduate school, or Postdoc search is to learn about the culture of the place where you are applying. This means to gather information about the employee’s opinions of the work environment, the support and benefits that they receive, and the values that drive the organization. This is important because you will work and /or study in this environment for many years and you want to find a good fit for your interests and personal style. But how do you assess this when you are applying?
Step 1: Learn about and list your values
- Factor in your personal and work values into your career decision. For example, if you value work where you have multiple work assignments, a culture that values family, work-life balance, opportunities to publish, and/or working in an urban environment, then these will become the criteria that you use when considering multiple options.
- Meet with a career counselor who will help you to identify a broad range of important work values through the use of career assessments around values, interests and skills
Step 2: Research the organization for information about their values
- Look for a mission and/or value statements
- Read the job description carefully for words that give you a glimpse into the culture. For example, wording such as collaborative, team, independently, diverse, fast-paced, results oriented, balance multiple priorities, etc. shed light upon the nature of the work environment.
- Conduct informational interviews with alumni, colleagues, PIs, Postdocs, etc. Connect via Linked In who are familiar with the organization.
- Listen to what your mentors and colleagues say about the organization.
- Attend the NIH Career Symposium or the 2017 NIH Graduate and Professional School Fair so that you can meet NIH Alumni, current employees, and recruitment professionals who will give informational sessions and answer specific questions about their environment.
- Explore employer surveys such as the ones posted on the AAAS , Corporate Quality Index, The Scientist, Science Magazine.
Step 3: Listen closely during your interview
- Listen carefully to the questions that are asked during an interview. Is there a common thread that gives you some insight?
- How were you treated when you arrived to the interview? Who greeted you, were they pleasant, outgoing, distant, stressed?
- Was the host(s) welcoming, approachable, resourceful?
- Were there any specific qualifications that the interviewer stated about their culture (i.e. fast-paced, long days, independent, work interdependently, cultural diversity)?
Step 4: Ask Good Questions during the Interview
- Ask interviewers to describe the environment.
- Learn about opportunities for professional development.
- Ask if employees work as a team, independently, collaboratively.
- Ask the employers to describe a typical week.
- Ask about work-life balance.
Professional/ graduate school and Post Doc opportunities:
- Ask faculty and students to describe the culture?
- Learn how the curriculum structured and how students study.
- Review OITE blogs to learn how to select a mentor.
- Attend the second look (medical schools) and or pre-matriculation program.
- Learn about opportunities to become involved in the community.
- Ask about students support services are available to support wellness.
- Are there special interest groups or student organizations? Where do participants live? Is there family housing and partner benefits?
- How is research, conference and publishing encouraged?
- Determine how the school /department supports diversity and inclusion.
Step 5: Create a spread sheet to evaluate each opportunity
- List the places where you are applied on the left column.
- Write your personal values on the top row.
- Place a check mark and any comments in each box for each organization.
- Analyze your results to determine which organizations one(s) have the most values.
- Note the organizations that have the closest match to your values.
- Factor into any additional criteria.
Feel free to visit the OITE https://www.training.nih.gov to meet with career counselors, Premedical school advisors, and wellness counselors who can further support you during this process. Also see our events and services.
* OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.