Career Trends: How to find out if a company’s culture is right for you

6 min read

Edition: September 7th, 2021
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS

The company you ultimately choose should enable you to flourish rather than wear you out. (Image Credit: Shutterstock)
  • Excerpts from article by Kristi DePaul, published in Harvard Business Review

Would you want to work for a company with this job description?

We are looking for strong, determined candidates with 1-3 years of experience. Your boss won’t bother to invest in your career development, you won’t be able to speak your mind, and your contributions will be of little value to our leadership team. But the salary is great!

Probably not. Sadly, this is the case in more companies than you might think, though they rarely admit that in the job description.

A majority of respondents to a survey said that they found aspects of a new job different than what they had expected based on the interview process. Company culture was cited as one of the factors that differed the most.

Whether you’re just starting out or are looking to make a career change, company culture might be the most important thing to consider during your search.

What is Company Culture?

  • In business speak, culture refers to an organisation’s shared beliefs and values.
  • Culture is often established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods.
  • It impacts everything from your interactions with colleagues and customers to your advancement, career satisfaction, and mental health.

As a job applicant, you want to find a culture that:

  • Aligns with your values and ethics
  • Fulfills you and gives you a sense of purpose

Misalignment can take a toll on you

Misalignment with your company’s culture can take the form of:

  • An employer who insists that you work late nights and on the weekends
  • An organisation that fails to show its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • This can impact your day-to-day well-being, dampen your motivation, and in extreme cases, result in physical illness.

Pre-Covid, decoding company culture was slightly easier. You could gauge a lot of information by walking into a physical office space. You could get vibes from the people, layout, and generally, how things were being done.

But now that most workplaces are remote, how can you actively and deliberately figure out whether an environment is right for you?

Here are 3 tips to find out if a company’s culture is right for you:

1. Scour the Internet for Evidence

Almost anything can be found online these days — and that includes a company’s culture. You just have to know what to look for.

Mission, vision and culture statements

  • Job seekers should start by paying extra attention to the nuances of language in these messages. Analyse the words used in job descriptions. 
  • Pay special attention to how postings are written; their wording can reveal beliefs and priorities that aren’t overtly shared.
  • Keep in mind that some keywords may initially sound positive, but it might actually mean something very different.

Gender bias decoder

  • There are a variety of online tools that read text and analyse its tone for gender bias.
  • Job descriptions that skew more masculine with words like competitive, dominant or leader, for instance, may result in a lower response from female candidates.

Job review boards like Glassdoor

  • Sometimes even Reddit will have threads about certain organisations, depending on how large or well-known the company is.
  • Reading anonymous reviews from current and former employees will give you more insight.
  • Comments that point to unrealistic workloads or expectations, a lack of growth opportunities, group think, or toxic internal cultures are red flags.

Social media

  • See what an employer is currently sharing on their channels.
  • Scroll back to dates around times of controversy or uncertainty to see how they reacted to social movements, civil unrest, instances of racism, or matters of public health.
  • Their responses in these moments can reveal a great deal about their core values and beliefs.

2. Uncover What Lies Beneath

Ask specific questions during interviews. You can use scenarios to get more detailed answers on the culture. Otherwise, people may default to overly generalised descriptions like ‘We’re very collaborative!’ ‘We’re results-oriented.’ or ‘We care about diversity and inclusion.’

If you ask the right questions you can learn much more than you think.

Try posing more pointed questions, like:

  • When someone drops the ball on a project, how does your team handle that?
  • What specific efforts have been made to create an inclusive culture for underrepresented employees?
  • When there is a conflict cross-functionally, how do folks resolve it? 
  • How does the company ensure there is a sense of community even when people are working remotely?

You might get vague responses. But even that is useful information. Ambiguity indicates that the company hasn’t broached the important topics you’ve raised. Though it’s not a positive sign, it’s better to know before you accept an offer.

3. Make an Effort to Connect

The above advice may be helpful if you’re still in the interviewing stage, but what if it’s too late for that? What if you’re reading this article and have already accepted the job offer?

How do you decode your new company’s culture now — especially if you’re remote?

  • Remote employees should intentionally seek out information by creating opportunities to connect with others once they’re hired.
  • Some organisations will have robust remote onboarding procedures in place, while others may need a few nudges to provide a more inclusive onboarding experience for new employees.

Before your first day, ask these questions:

  • Are there any handbooks, online trainings, or other resources that can help me get a head start and learn more about the company? 
  • What social platforms is the organisation active on? 
  • Is there anyone on the team who might want to pair up with me, as a remote onboarding buddy? 

Remember that it is always okay to ask if you need more information or more support. Building inclusion and equity is important whether someone is in a physical office or working remotely.

The company you ultimately choose should enable you to flourish rather than wear you out.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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