I just left an otherwise satisfactory job because the company culture was toxic. How can I avoid making that mistake in my next job?
You’re very wise to think about this ahead of time. If all goes well, you’ll spend most of your waking hours in your next company for several years. Of course you want to know if you’ll be comfortable there, and if they do something you consider worth spending your time on. So do your research, starting immediately.
Of course there are endless variations on the theme of company culture. Some companies feature free food, nap pods, and the option to bring your dog to work. Others offer endless gossip, hostile co-workers and plenty of overtime. In between, you’ll find a great deal of variety.
Start by thinking about what’s important to you. Right now you have the benefit of a bad example, so pick out the factors that made you most unhappy in your last job.
Then it’s time to start talking to others. Most people with a few years of experience have identified the sort of atmosphere they like (and don’t), and will have clues for you to watch out for. If you’re thinking of particular companies, talk to people who work there. Have specific questions to ask, not just “What’s the culture like at your company?” Question them about what they like most and least about their company.
You might also be able to track down people who have left a company you’re considering. They may be more candid (or critical) of their former employer, and will have great insight for you. Keep in mind that every opinion is one person’s point of view, and yours may be different.
As you’ve found, being in an unhappy company culture can take a good job and make it miserable. It can turn a great employee into one who can barely stand to come in the door Monday morning. Life is too short. Do your research, and find a company that not only uses your skills and experience, but that will make you happy to be there too.