how to get the scoop on a company’s culture before accepting a job offer

We hear about ‘company culture’ all the time. These phrases have become so commonplace, that if you’ve been on a job interview in the last few years you’ve probably heard an interviewer tell you about how great their company culture is and why you should want to work for them. When you think about a great company culture, you might envision something startup-esque – a modern, airy, open-concept space scattered with beanbag chairs, glass partitions and snacks galore. But company culture is a lot more than these surface perks. At its heart, company culture is about how you’re treated and how you feel being a part of company. Here are a few tips to dive into what a company’s culture is like and decide whether it’s right for you.

how to get a feel for a company's culture

talk to the receptionist

If the company you’re interviewing with has a receptionist, pay attention to how they greet you and other employees who might pass by. Are they friendly and open to chat with their coworkers? Or are they direct, to the point and zoned out on their computer? If the receptionist is curt and all-business it may be an indication of a stressful or work-focused culture. This person was selected to be the face of the company and the first person that newcomers will meet. If they can’t muster up a little friendliness for a potential new employee, it’s worth considering whether you’ll be welcome when you’re a part of the team.

talk to current employees

If you have a chance, talk to employees when you visit for your in-person interview. If you’re well into the hiring process and you think a job offer may be imminent, it’s not out of place to ask your interviewer if they’ll take you on an office tour, or introduce you to some of the team members you might soon be working with. (If they say no and don’t give a good reason for declining, there’s a good chance they’re hiding something… like overworked, stressed-out employees, for instance.) When you meet other employees, feel free to ask them a question or two (don’t go overboard, no one likes an inquisition!) to get a feel for the team dynamic and whether you’d fit in.

ask former employees

LinkedIn can be a great resource to get in touch with former employees of the company you’re considering working for. Asking a former employee for their thoughts can sometimes net you more honesty, because they’re no longer beholden to that company to make a living. Current employees may gloss over the negative parts of a culture or fear what would happen if they’re too honest with potential employees. Just remember if you’re reaching out to someone you don’t know to get their feedback, it’s important to keep your communications brief and to the point. Ask one or two burning questions. Ask for too much and your chance of getting a reply goes downhill big time.

check out online reviews

If reaching out to strangers on LinkedIn isn’t your cup of tea, you can always check out reviews of the company online to get a similar sense of the company culture and some common pros and cons. Glassdoor and Facebook have popular platforms to review companies and accept feedback from current and former employees.  Try to read a variety of reviews (check out both 1 star and 5 star reviews) to make sure you get a balanced perspective. Look for comments about work-life balance, stress and work expectations to get a sense of what the culture is like.

google it

When in doubt, Google it. If you’re really not sure where to find feedback on a company’s culture, Google will point you in the right direction. Search for things like ‘what it’s like to work at [company]’ or ‘[company] employee feedback’ to see what people are saying about the company online. If it’s a big company, you may even find an article or two with more detailed information, such as a day in the life of an employee that might help guide your decision.

ask questions in your interview

Don’t forget to use your interview to ask questions of your own. When the interviewer asks if you have questions, there are lots of things you can ask that will help you get a sense of the company culture. You can ask about flexible work opportunities such as the ability to work from home, adjusting your schedule, or how they feel about using vacation days. Or for a more personal perspective, you can ask your interviewer about their experience working for the company.  Here are a few questions to spark some ideas: 

  • how would you describe [company]?
  • what make you proud to work for [company]?
  • how does [company] support career development?
  • what’s your company policy on using vacation?
  • are there opportunities for flexible work at [company]?

finding a workplace culture that aligns with your values and what you want out of your job is important. check out more advice from our HR experts on how to find the right fit.

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