So, you finally landed the proverbial first interview (congratulations, by the way)—but how should you prepare? We’ve already outlined a few different ways to approach your interview, including how to answer questions, convey enthusiasm, and dress appropriately. Today, we want to focus on evaluating the culture of a company. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but no matter how amazing a job may seem, if the culture doesn’t align with your personality, goals, and beliefs, you’re going to have a difficult time enjoying it.
What is Company Culture?
When talking or thinking about something meaningfully, it’s important to have a decent grasp on the thing being meaningfully talked or thought about, right? So what exactly is “Company Culture” and why is it so darn important?
In sum, the culture of a company refers to a company’s personality. Composed of bite size elements of equal importance that together make up the work environment, it’s the very culmination of behaviors and beliefs, of practice and theory. These elements, or traits, include–but are by no means limited to–company values and goals, as well as employee expectations and personalities. While many companies have similar personality traits, a particular culture is what distinguishes one work environment from another. It’s weird to speak about a company like it’s a human being, but it’s a good analogy. You wouldn’t hang out with someone you couldn’t stand, would you? It’s best to think about work in the same way. After all, you’re going to be spending a good eight hours a day there.
It’s important to find a company that agrees with your way of thinking and doing. Are you a team player, or are you more of a lone wolf? Do you prefer a formal management style or something more relaxed? These are the questions you should be considering. No matter the case, we believe it’s critical to find a workplace that encourages personal development and professional growth. You should enjoy being at work, but you should also enjoy doing the work.
Ask (The Right) Questions
Evaluating a company’s culture starts with asking the right questions. Questions are the ideal starting point because they arise organically as part of the interview process. For the most part, your interview will be a private one-on-one meeting, making it the perfect time to gain a real, intimate insight into the ongoings of the office. You’ll be asking questions regardless—and interviewers expect them—so don’t hesitate to ask away.
Make sure that your questions are structured in a way that seems natural to the conversation. In other words, avoid asking seemingly “stock” questions. Throwing in a curve ball or two is rarely a bad idea, but try to avoid asking negative questions whenever possible.
We’ve put some culture-probing questions together to get you on the right path.
- What three words best describe your company’s culture?
- How have you grown in both a personal and professional capacity since working here?
- What do you love about working here?
- If you could change one thing about the company, what would it be?
- How does the company handle failure?
Request A Walk Around
Company culture is a tricky thing to apprehend with questions alone. The interviewer might not necessarily work for the company, and if they do, they might not be able to answer your questions beneficially. That’s why we recommend requesting an office walk around or tour. Not only does this show enthusiasm, but it’s also a great way to introduce yourself to your prospective co-workers and get an understanding of company culture from the front lines.
The culture of a company is most visibly reflected at the employee level. While we don’t necessarily recommend interviewing anyone (drilling into others with questions isn’t only overbearing, it’s rude), we do suggest putting on your figurative detective hat and visually inspecting your soundings, taking mental notes of everything you see. Do the employees look happy? How are they talking to each other? How are they dressed? What’s the overall work environment like?
Do Your Homework
At the risk of being redundant, overly repetitive, and a little motherly: do your homework. Learning more about the company beforehand is something we’ve mentioned elsewhere, time and again, because it is that important. There are countless ways to go about this, and while some suggest reaching out to past and present employees, this isn’t something that we can recommend in good conscience. Setting aside the creep-factor (and it’s creepy, there’s no denying that), the information you obtain from employees isn’t always the most reliable because you don’t know exactly who you’re asking—or their personal or professional history. In a sense, you’re not casting a very wide net. You could very well be looking into only those who have positive things to say or those who have only negative things to say.
For the sake of their jobs, current employees might speak abstractly or in half-truths while previous employees might hold grudges. Bad memories or negative emotions tend to stick in our minds for longer, often lying dormant until poked. Even if someone has fond memories of their previous employer, there stands the chance that those thoughts are unintentional and lamentably corrupted.
Instead, we recommend thoroughly researching a company by using credible sources, such as Glassdoor. Here, you can read plenty of employee reviews in a way that’s easy to digest and non-invasive. Don’t just pick and choose, read everything you can: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Doing so helps you discern disgruntled employees and gives you a substantially more reliable idea of what employees think about the company.
When evaluating the culture of a company online, start with their website and social media outlets. Both afford a fundamental understanding of a company’s goals and personality. Read the “About Us” page and client testimonials, watch videos, take notice of any awards or badges, and so forth—an online footprint can even be indicative of a company’s culture.
As employment specialists, we recommend that the best ways to grasp a clear understanding of a company’s culture are to do your research, visit the organization in person, and ask meaningful questions that will ultimately help you determine if the company is a good fit. Because they’re composed of people, companies aren’t perfect. But it’s imperative to find one that closely matches your personal and professional ideologies. You won’t just be happier and more motivated at work, but you’ll live a longer, more fulfilled life.