how to get a feel for a company's culture… and why you should care

The stars have aligned, Jupiter's moon is rising and all your research, practice and preparation have paid off: you’re in an interview that’s going well. You know because the hiring manager is talking about next steps in the hiring process and is checking to see if the department manager is available to meet you. But aren’t you forgetting something?

Before you start mentally figuring out whether or not the salary is enough for you to pay your bills and maybe have a little to spare, you need to find out about the company culture and whether it’s a good fit for you.

why you should care about a company's culture

what exactly is company culture, anyway?

Company culture encompasses many things; it’s the organization’s core values and beliefs system. It’s how things are done and how people are expected to behave and communicate with each other and externally to vendors and customers. Company culture, while somewhat intangible, governs business in quantitative ways.

You may not be able to put your finger on exactly what makes an organization’s culture work, but you sure know when it’s not working or absent altogether. And in today’s world of work, employee impressions and experiences move electronically, literally faster than the speed of light. Try finding and attracting top candidates to a position in your company once word gets out and spreads like a brush fire that your employees are leaving in droves. Any business that doesn’t see the relationship between establishing a corporate culture that works and their bottom line is living in the dark ages.

No-one wants to spend the first few weeks of a new job disillusioned, disappointed and looking for the exits.  And unfortunately you won’t truly know if you’re a good fit for the company until you’ve worked there a while, but you can learn enough about it to see if it’s for you and move forward intentionally.

So how can you uncover the real story of a prospective employer’s corporate culture while still in the interview phase – when there’s still time to escape if it’s not for you?

use the web

You probably already did some research prior to meeting a prospective employer. You looked into the opportunity that was posted, checked out their website, and maybe did a little Google search to see what else turned up. Make sure you spend an equal amount of time looking into their company culture. Here are some suggestions for where to look:

  • Their website: Many companies post links to their core values, governing principles, ethics, behavior and dress codes and even photos. Clues abound. Check out the about us section, careers portal, and meet the team page for some instant insights.
  • Advertising, reports and marketing materials: If you can get your hands on them, they’ll tell you a lot about the organization’s corporate culture in the way language is used, if and how employees are referred to, and what they value most. Many companies post their annual reports on their site.
  • LinkedIn, Facebook and assorted social media sites: While LinkedIn’s approach leans a little more professional than a site like Facebook, it will help you identify and connect with current employees to whom you can reach out to and get a personal account of what it’s really like to work there. Ask questions like: How would you describe the company? Do you like it there? Are they clear about letting you know what’s expected of you? How do they value their employees? Are you expected to socialize with colleagues? How effective is their communication with employees?
  • Review aggregate sites: Sites like Glassdoor have reviews from people who have worked at a company and detailed observations from their time there. While you might need to take some reviews with a grain of salt, if you see a pattern immerging across multiple reviews, it might be a red flag, or on the positive side, a sign that this company is the right place for you!
  • To employer surveys and lists: Initiatives like Great Places to Work or Canada’s Top 100 employers provide yearly rating by employees of companies in terms of how they’re treated and who provides the best working environments in the country. Organizations like Randstad regularly survey employees across the country to identify companies that work hard to attract, engage and retain employees. Some lists delve even further to pinpoint the best organizations in various industries, for women, new immigrants, etc.

observe employees

Leave enough time before your interview to observe employees coming and going. See if and how they interact with each other. What are they wearing? Do they behave professionally or is the atmosphere familiar and casual? What’s the atmosphere: relaxed and friendly, or frantic and stressful?

ask meaningful questions

Even if a discussion of corporate culture is part of the interview and initiated by the hiring manager, ask questions of your own to establish it’s a priority for you in order to feel supported, valued and productive. You might consider questions around how decisions are made in the organization and how they’re communicated to staff; how work is done and if there’s room for flexible hours or off-site; how much autonomy will the person in this role have; and what career path does this role offer.

trust your gut

Humans are the only creatures on earth that sense danger and proceed anyway. Forget what your brain is telling you, even if our society has been taught to value intellect over emotion. If something doesn’t feel quite right, your subconscious is probably responding to cues your intellect has been trained to overlook. Heed that feeling in the pit of your stomach. You want to work for a company that doesn’t just talk the talk, but walks the walk.

Corporate culture matters because you spend the majority of your day at work. Many people actually spend more time at work then they do at home. That’s a long time to be unhappy, even if you love the work you’re doing. Use your preparation time and interview to assess your potential workplace so you’ll know whether or not to accept an offer if it’s presented or what to expect when you get there. You, your happiness and your productivity are worth it. When you and your potential employer are a good fit, everyone wins.

are you currently looking for a job? find work at a company with a culture that aligns with your expectations.

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