How to Determine a Company’s Culture

Before accepting a job at any company, it’s a good idea to gage what the ambience of working there will be like. Especially if you would like it to be a long-term position that helps you grow in your career, you want to ensure that it will be an environment where you fit in well and feel confident that you can thrive. Employees today list company culture as one of their top values. They know that even if they are compensated well, if they aren’t comfortable in the environment or with the people they are working with, it is unlikely to last long.

If you flat out ask a hiring manger or recruiter what a company culture is like, they will likely just tell you want you want to hear. Of course, when they are in need of more employees and know that you are a good candidate, they’ll say whatever they have to in order to keep you. That is why you as a job seeker can (and should) ask discreet questions and pay attention to subtle signs that help you gain a better perspective on what a company’s culture is truly like. Here are some suggestions:


1. Show up Early to an Interview and Observe

Instead of looking through your materials or going over what you plan to say in your head, pay attention to how the employees are interacting. Did the receptionist greet you? Are the employees conversing with one another? Is the office atmosphere quiet because everyone is working independently? Notice things like the dress code and how the office is decorated. This can be a good indicator of if it is a place you would enjoy working.

Whatever you take note of in the office; it is up to you to decide if you truly envision yourself working there. Everyone is going to have a different preference for what type of company will be a good fit for them. Gaging a culture begins from the moment you walk in the door.

2. Ask: “How long have you been with the company?”

This doesn’t just go for the person interviewing you, ask as many people as you can. If everyone you speak with has had a short tenure with the company, you need to ask more questions, such as, ‘how long have the longest employees worked here.” In the chance that the company is new, this can be ok. However, if it’s an established company, this is likely a sign that a company needs improvement. Maybe people are expected to work too much or that they would benefit from changing management.

3. Ask: “Does anyone here ever transfer departments?”

If you’ve ever been in a position where you enjoyed your company, just not your department, but were denied every opportunity to make a lateral move; it can be tempting to overtly ask if transfers are allowed. Most of the time, companies claim that they have plenty of flexibility and career growth, but often when the time comes, they choose to keep you stagnant for their own benefit. There’s nothing that will tell you more than specific examples. If they introduce you to someone who has made a lateral move, even better. 

4. Ask about Lunch Breaks

While you don’t have to ask specific questions about lunch, get an idea of how most employees spend their breaks. If you find out that everyone takes lunch at their desk, it could mean that employees are too overworked to disengage- even just for half an hour. It could also imply that the majority of people who work there are introverted and that it isn’t an office with a lot of interaction. While some people may prefer this, others may rather work for a company with strong social connections and a lot of team work. Depending on your preference, this can tell you a lot.

5. Review the Company on Multiple Platforms

This can happen before or after you go in for an interview. Look at employee review sites such as Glassdoor to see how internal employees rate the company. Where are their strengths and where are they falling short?  Also, LinkedIn to see employee profiles. Take note of how long several of them have been working for the company and what they list as their interests and job history. This way you can infer whether or not it is a pleasant place to work and see if you have anything in common with current employees.

6. Ask about Internal Career Paths

Just like everything else, ask for specific examples of where someone started, where they are now, and what it took for them to get there. How long were they with the company before they got their first promotion? How did they get the promotion, were they offered it or did they have to apply for it? Asking the right questions here is important because you don’t want them to give you a generic answer. If professional growth is important to you, it’s important that you find a company that not only sees your value, but also wants to see you expand.

When searching for your next best opportunity, you’ll want to make sure that a company matches your expectations. The best way to ensure this happens is with observation, research, and asking the right questions.

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