As a budding financial professional, you’ll have plenty of potential employers to choose from. Most will give you some version of the same pitch, all about their great products, solid financials, and how they’ve been in business since before the Civil War. All of that’s great, but it won’t tell you which company to work for.

The advice I’d give my own brother if he were getting into the business is choose the culture, not the company.

As I look back over my career and reflect on all the good that has come from being in the financial services industry, I can directly correlate everything good that has happened taken place to having surrounded myself with people who inspire and motivate me to be better.  Past mentors, a friendly and caring staff person or my fellow office comrades all have had a positive impact on my career.  I respect and appreciate the company I represent but I love the people I surround myself with each and every day at the office.

You won’t find the company culture on the website (if “our company culture” is on the website, it’s not likely to be an accurate description). You’re going to have to do some digging. The key is to visit with as many employees as you can, all the way from the receptionist to the most tenured financial professional.  Have an informal chat. Ask how long they’ve been a part of the company and what they like or dislike the most—the answers will be very telling.

Take some time to ask what the local office does outside of financial planning.  Are they involved in any service projects?  Do they give back to the community in any way?  What about company parties or other recreational activities?  Is there an office-softball league? What happens if you don’t join it? Whether you like softball or not, these questions will give you an idea on the type of culture you’ll be working in.

Another great way to gain some insights is asking if you can include your spouse or parents in one of the interviews.  We oftentimes will include spouses/parents in the interview process.  This is one of the best ways for both parties, the company and the candidate, to get a good feel for the type of culture that exists in the office.

Think deeply about what is important to you. Dig deep. Remember, these companies are oftentimes selling you on their business, so think critically about what they tell you.  Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions and be prepared to answer tough questions.  After all, this is an incredibly important decision.