What I Am Looking For in Company Culture

by William Long

For we Millennials, a glimpse into a grey maze of cubicles — no matter how many funny cartoons may be posted on the walls — doesn’t leave us aspiring to find our place amongst them. Instead, it’s a stereotype, a parody, a vision of corporate anonymity that terrifies us with the implications of ID badges, inter-departmental communications, and formal performance reviews. So what do we look for in the culture of a prospective employer? What jumps out at us and decides the difference between a job that we must take to make rent, and a job that we’ve been dreaming about?

We’re always told to dress nicely, and present ourselves as intrepid young professionals. First impressions, however, go both ways, and a lot can be said of a company or organization based on how they conduct their interview process. Many interviews have become ritualistic. Questions are read one after another from a sheet of paper, asking the interviewee to detail the conflicts that they’ve had in the work place, and how they were resolved. “Can you give me an example of a time when you went above and beyond in the workplace?” Well, sure. The questions are vague, and designed to encompass any prospective employee that might come along, and because of that lack of specificity we thank them for their time yet hang up the phone or leave the office with a feeling of disconnectedness. Why should we want to work for a place that doesn’t seem to care enough to attempt to personalize a job interview for either a person or a position? Is that indicative of the workplace setting?

The best interview I had — and an interview that lead to a very engaging and rewarding job — did not have all that much to do with the position to which I was applying. Instead, it was an informal conversation where the interviewers and myself simply got a feel for one another so as to gauge the social and cooperative aspects of our respective personalities: We’ve all learned how to embellish an application or create stock answers for stock interview questions, but in simply sharing a dialogue with the executive director I was to work for, I got a better sense of how a day in the office might look, and whether or not she would be receptive to new ideas or open to questions.

Having grown up right alongside the Internet, social media, and the popularization and proliferation of the personal computer, the average Millennial is accustomed to innovation and ingenuity. We expect and demand these traits in the products we buy, from the services we use, and we’ve come to view any work environment that embraces these traits as ideal. Tech firms and other start-up operations have almost become synonymous with unorthodox workplace settings — whether they have ping-pong tables in the lobby, bean-bag chairs in the boardroom, or encourage employees to use portions of their time for simply thinking, these qualities are something that we fantasize about. A workplace that encourages and celebrates individuality and their own brand of community more than the abstractions of profit and efficiency.

These are all, of course, idealizations of what might be a ‘perfect’ job. Unfortunately, with the job market what it is, Millennials are hard-pressed to find work, and oftentimes we take the first opportunity that presents itself. It isn’t easy to scour the Internet for work with the lights cut off. As a result, Millennials tend to hop from job to job, working in one place as they hunt for a better position. So what entails a ‘better position?’ As previously mentioned, bean-bag chairs and professional recesses are great, but the things that actually make a great job are simple: we want the opportunity to make something of our education, of our mottled work experience, and of our own talents and ambition. We want the chance to join a company and not only become a viable member of its operation, but be able to become more. A lot of the Millennial workforce has already spent time in jobs in the food service or in retail, where there is limited room for growth. An attractive position is one that lends itself to being shaped and expanded by someone who works that position as time goes on.

So, in a word, we’re looking for the opportunity to connect. Thanks to the multitudes of social media profiles and various other online communities, we’re already connected in so many ways — now we’d like to in our workplace. We want to be connected to a great manager who can communicate with us not only as employees, but as members of the same team, as people who started at the bottom but have come for the long haul. That’s not asking too much, is it?