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How to discover a company's true culture

Every company has a culture. And the right culture will almost certainly affect your happiness at work as much as your job description and pay. Therefore, as you begin the process of applying for a new job, it is absolutely necessary to spend time trying to learn about a company’s culture.

Discovering what it is really like to work at a specific company takes a little extra effort but could save you the headache, and heartache, of realizing your new company isn’t want you thought it was. Here is our advice for uncovering a company’s true culture and if it will make you happy: The first step is to identify your motivators, incentives and happiness must-haves. They might be:

  • An “open door” leadership style
  • Benefits
  • Collaboration
  • Dress code
  • Flextime
  • Mentors
  • Office & workspace design
  • Professional development
  • Social opportunities
  • Telecommuting
  • Work/Life balance

Once you identify the things that make you happiest and inspire you to do your best work, you can start to look for those things at the companies where you are considering applying.

Before the Interview

Do your research. Read everything you can about, and written by, the company. Review the company’s official website, social media accounts, annual reports and press releases through a culture lens. Often these will give you a good sense of the company’s values. What do they promote? How do they interact with followers? Are current or former employees engaged in the social conversations? Next, read everything you can that is written by current and former employees. LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Indeed are great places to start. Talk to people in your network who have experience with the company and ask specifically about the culture and your identified motivators. Remember that former employees, vendors and partners of the company can often give insight that current employees may choose not to disclose.

During the Interview

Try to schedule your interview around the lunch or at the beginning or end of the day. Arrive early and observe the behavior or employees coming and going. Do they seem happy and enthusiastic? Tired and overworked? Do they interact with each other and the office guests in a positive way or are they complaining? While the observations of a handful of employees should not be the deciding factor in your decision, it can definitely give you an idea of the office environment and the additional questions you may want to ask in the interview.

Ask the Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask specific culture questions. Sell yourself and make it clear you will be an excellent long term fit for the organization. Ask plenty of questions about the company, the role, projects, as well as specific questions about corporate culture. Ask about your happiness motivators and how they feel about working at the company. Ask them to discuss their specific challenges and how they were resolved. Listen to their body language as well as their words. Remember, every company is different, and often, things like flextime and telecommuting are only earned over time with great work and not guaranteed by a company policy. Remember, asking for too much up front, and setting unrealistic expectations, can greatly hurt your chances for landing the job.

Ask For an Office Tour

Pay attention to the office environment and the workspace. Is there an open floor design or are there cubicles? Is it organized? Is it colorful? Are there collaboration areas and an employee lounge? Are people working together or is it silent? Think about what it will feel like to work 8-12 hours a day in that environment.

Reflect

Once you have gathered all the information you can, take time to reflect and be honest with yourself. Many people spend more time in the office and with their coworkers than in their own home with their family. Before taking the job, make sure you can honestly say the company’s culture will make you happy and inspire your best work.

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