Company Culture: What to Consider During Your Job Search

Company Culture: What to Consider During Your Job Search

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by Ed Weirauch, Lead Resume Writer

Understanding the culture of a company or workplace can be key to your success and longevity with that company. How might a corporate culture be determined when you are on a job search, just getting to know a company or deciding on a job offer? Being alert of the potential impact of a company’s culture is half the battle.

A corporate culture can be loosely defined as ‘the way things get done’ in a corporation, what works and what doesn’t, sometimes unstated traditions and approaches; although with some employers, a culture may be clearly defined.

What to Look For
A basic way to identify a workplace’s culture can often be as simple as noticing the dress code. If men are still in ties, that culture is probably fairly conservative. In professional settings like law firms, investment banking and finance, people are likely to be dressed conservatively because they need to earn their clients’ trust and confidence. Often this carries over into conservative approaches to new ideas and a hesitation to easily accept a new person’s ideas.

On the other hand, seemingly no dress code at all can indicate an acceptance of new ideas, perhaps even an expectation that you bring a new approach. I suspect that the computer programming and marketing industries could be credited with the rise of khakis and open shirts in the workplace and the demise of the suit and tie because the very livelihood of these industries depends on change, sometimes even revolutionary in nature.

So becoming aware of culture signs is important and knowing where and how you fit can determine your success. If you have been in a ‘shirt and tie’ industry and are moving into a khaki job world, you must understand that this difference goes beyond the wardrobe. You may have developed conservative approaches to your business and now you’re working in a world where you’re expected to offer new ideas and approaches. So shopping for casual clothes may not be enough; be ready to adjust your approach to the work itself.

Other indications of culture can be the work environment. Do most people work in offices, cubicles or in an open environment? Offices can indicate individual approaches while open environments can be more conducive to teamwork, idea sharing and group development.  Which works for you?

Cultures of for-profit and non-profit are often thought to be different and if you’re moving from one to the other, be aware of this. Is your new organization on a mission to help people or to generate revenue and satisfy its shareholders. Neither has to be right or wrong, good or bad but if you’re going to succeed in either of these, you need to understand which is paramount.

Addressing the Culture Question

Perhaps your prospective employer is so conscious of the importance of culture that the people you meet talk about it openly during your interviews. This makes it easy for you and also indicates that this group is serious about their culture. More typical is the workplace where you may need to dig a little to detect the culture. Consider these questions:

  1. Just ask up front: “How would you describe your corporate culture?”  If the person hesitates or gives an unclear answer, that’s a sign that culture and values aren’t a priority or that the culture might be challenging.
  2. “What might be some less obvious factors I should think about in my success and ability to contribute here?” This is a good question after you have discussed the actual work and expectations of the prospective employer. You may need to clarify this question by asking “how does work actually get done?”
  3. “How would you describe the people here, generally?” You want to keep this exchange conversational and friendly while privately considering the answers you get to be very important.

A good way to evaluate the prospective employer’s culture is to see if you can meet the team, rather than just the manager, director or vice-president. You’re going to be working with these people so why not spend a few minutes with them. A good question for your prospective co-workers: “So what’s it like to work here” or “how do you like working here?”

Asking these questions can be the easy part of a job search. Evaluating the answers and thinking long and hard about how you fit into that culture, whether it’s described or you have to detect it, is your real test!