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Why a company exists, the problems the team is focused on solving, and the steps they’ll take to get there represent aspects of the company’s mission and goals. A company’s mission is its reason for existing. Some companies treat their mission statements like inspirational quotes about changing lives, or the world. Others are more straightforward: to provide a product or service that people need. The work that the team does, as well as the goals the business is focused on, is tied to that purpose, that reason for being. The mission, and the underlying goals and values that the company has will drive decision making, influence team structure and role design, and help shape the culture. In mission-driven organizations, the pull to participate and make a difference is a leading factor why people choose to work there and the resulting camaraderie and commitment can create a unique environment.
To determine whether or not a company’s mission and goals will rise to the top of your priority list, consider the following:
Are you purpose-driven when it comes to your career?
Is there a cause that you want to commit to working on professionally?
Do you need to believe in the underlying “why” to commit to a company?
Is it important for you to be able to connect your work to higher-level company initiatives and outcomes?
Does the company’s mission resonate with you?
Most companies will highlight information about their mission on their website. Finding the “About Us” or “Mission” sections will help you gather information. Spend some time reviewing this content. A connection to the mission, or the absence of one, can have a significant impact on your experience. If you are passionate about a cause, being around people who are working toward related goals can be energizing. On the other hand, if you are not deeply committed to the work or end outcome, it can be isolating, even demoralizing.
Throughout the course of the interviews, listen for clues about how the mission influences the experience and work. Consider how often the topic comes up in interviews and how the team members talk about what it means. Are the signals that you hear and see in line with your level of attachment and interest in supporting the end goal of the company? Would you feel comfortable if you were a contrarian or apathetic participant in company meetings or initiatives?
important It’s also important to learn how the team works toward the company mission as well. If you are excited about their “why,” but disagree with how the company is tackling the problems and opportunities or have concerns about who they are partnering with to achieve results, the mismatch could be disheartening or troublesome. It’s worthwhile to determine who “wins,” when the company succeeds (investors, executives, employees or customers). Are those who have the potential to benefit the most the people you’d be excited to support and cheer on along the way?
Once you understand and assess the company’s mission, it’s time to understand how the organization’s goals are structured. Some companies can plan effectively multiple years out and cascade relevant information, goals, and responsibilities throughout the organization. When you’re interviewing with a company with that level of sophistication into their multi-year planning, you’ll be able to ask about their objectives and get reliable information in return. Many companies, especially early-stage startups, are still working on next week or tomorrow and the ability to pinpoint specific initiatives or outcomes multiple months or years out is… out of the question. There may be ideas or aspirations, visions, and dreams, you should explore with your interviewers, but you can’t put too much weight into information that falls into one of those categories.
The sophistication of a company’s goal-setting process, communications, and ability to cascade and distribute that information effectively throughout the organization will vary significantly. A scrappy, small company might do this well with a refined approach, accurate data, and synchronized responsibilities and cross-functional efforts. Some of the world’s top companies might be successful despite a broken or overly complicated and slow goal-setting process that is disconnected from most employees' experience. It’s valuable, if not imperative, to care about the purpose the team is working toward and understand the categories of goals they will focus on in the near term (often tied to revenue, growth, margin, client, or customer satisfaction). The “what,” “how,” “how fast” and “with whom” are the type of details that you’ll have to push to learn more about during the interview process.
With that in mind, prioritize getting a very clear picture of what’s going on right now concerning how the team operates and what they view as their organizational strengths or weaknesses during the interviews. The more you know now, if “now” sounds exciting and aligned with your aspirations, the better you can feel about “later.” If you can get behind the current initiatives and see yourself working well with the people who are on the team and find yourself curious about how a particular project might turn out, those are good signals. Perhaps that company is a place where, regardless of where they or you end up in 5–10 years, you’ll have benefited from the experience.
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