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How to find a company culture that fits you

This past weekend I found myself browsing my favorite boutique only to fall in love with a stunning dress. Of course, I talked myself into trying it on. If you're anything like me, you get in the dressing room and shimmy into that perfect outfit...just to find that the sleeves are too long or the dress is too tight. And oh yeah—that price tag? It's way more expensive than you expected.

Finding the right job fit or strategizing your next career move can be eerily similar to a regular shopping experience—it too is all about fit. Here are four strategies and guiding questions you can use to ensure that you're looking beyond the job description to find something that works for you:

1. Be honest with yourself and dig deeper
Expanding on this fashion metaphor: any job description is similar to seeing that dress or blazer on a mannequin. Reading through one gets us excited about the type of work we will be doing. We think: I love how this sounds. But we need to know more:
• What about the job description or organization is speaking to your individual purpose and career path? Will it hinder or optimize it?
• Think about the simple stuff like location and the job's ability to fit in your natural flow of the workday. Will your routine suffer?

2. Use the interview or phone screen as your fitting room
We all know we need to work. But if you land an interview, think outside your automatic motivation to get the job. Open your senses to cultural cues that will help you gain insight into what your realistic day-to-day experience may look and feel like.
• Observe the physical space of the location. Are there offices? Open cubes? How happy (or miserable) do the current employees look? How are people dressed? All of these observations will begin to paint a picture of formal and informal policies and values that the organization holds dear.
• Remember, it's a two-way street. If you get the opportunity to interview or speak to the manager who will oversee the position you are looking to land, take advantage! People leave managers, not organizations, so use this time to ask about their philosophy around leadership and how best to work with them in this role. If anything comes across as off-putting or insincere, that's a red flag.
• Test that "inner voice" when you walk out of the interview. Do you feel accomplished and excited or de-motivated?

3. Communicate what it is you want
It's second-nature for us to attempt to match our career desires with the job description, because we've been taught that gives us a better chance at landing the job. Although this still rings true, take some time to really think through these common interview questions, so you are matching up assumptions about the job to your own version of career success. Don't just tell them what you think they want to hear. Try these:
• Where do you see yourself in five years?
• What about this role/organization interests you?

4. Don't buy something that doesn't fit
Would you buy that dress or blazer if it didn't fit? There is no rulebook ever written that says you must take a job if you're offered it. Don't be afraid to turn down an offer if it's not the right fit or doesn't align with your career journey.

A version of this article originally appeared on Career Contessa, an online platform facilitating honest conversations by real women about work and life—to help you achieve fulfillment and balance in both.

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