For professionals seeking a new job, it’s often factors like salary, the day-to-day of the role itself, and the company brand that are central to the decision process. But each company has its own culture, customs, and values, even if they aren’t clearly defined, and they actually have more of an influence on your productivity, success, and even earnings than might be immediately clear.
The world of work has undergone some remarkable transformation over the last few years, accelerated by the pandemic and the redefining of our values that it sparked - not to mention the major shift to a candidate-driven job market. As a result, experts have been given the opportunity to rethink what’s important to them in their day-to-day work life beyond the paycheck or job spec, and in large professional sectors in particular, such as technology and finance, this has positively influenced hiring companies’ approach to culture and its pivotal role in attracting and retaining top talent, as well as quality of work.
A company’s culture is essentially its personality, and while some may think of it as a buzzword that signifies lunch time yoga or wearing casual clothes to work, it plays a much greater role in how an employee shows up for work every day than any promotion, bonus, or salary could. Thankfully, businesses are catching on, and companies from trendy new start-ups to corporate powerhouses are adapting to the changing needs of professionals, investing more intentionally in developing cultures focused on collaboration, positivity, and flexibility, alongside added perks that are both useful and unusual, giving them an extra competitive edge.
Business cultures are just as varied as those in societies, and there can be danger in taking a job in a company where there is a cultural disconnect between employer and employee. This can lead to issues down the line as the employee becomes unhappy and the employer is dissatisfied with attitude or performance. When interviewing for a new role, it is therefore imperative that you are conducting your own assessment of their culture and how you would fit into it. It’s one thing to ask broadly about what their culture is like, but it’s important to come prepared with more specific questions in order to get a deeper sense of what life as an employee there would really be like.
This article will look at what to focus on when assessing the culture of a workplace you are interviewing for, and how to get a realistic impression of the culture by doing some digging yourself before accepting a job offer.
Look beyond the free gym pass
When reading about a potential role at a new company, it’s important to look beyond the shiny, eye-catching perks that they’ll want to tell you all about. While a free gym pass, pizza Fridays, a pool table, and fabulous social events are alluring, (and rightfully so, as they are a sign of a company that wants to reward the hard work of its employees) these are surface level, and your experience in the company will depend much more on deeper cultural traits and values such as flexibility when you need it, a supportive team environment, recognition, and opportunities for growth.
While some perks are inventive and exciting and can certainly enhance your experience, a cool office space will never compensate for a negative work environment, and your happiness is always more important than a brand name on your CV or a bottle of beer on a Friday. Remember that perks are part of company culture, but not the culture itself, and it is a company culture that helps businesses pull through times when money for perks isn’t on tap.
What is truly important to you?
You can work in a beautiful office with tastefully exposed brickwork and a designer chair, but none of this will matter if you hate your job. Approaching your job search having previously assessed what exactly you are seeking from your work life, what your non-negotiables are, and which elements of company culture will have the biggest impact on you, will help you to stay focused and land the role that’s right for you.
Work out what truly motivates you and will support you to be the best version of yourself both professionally and personally, whether it’s flexible working options, a diverse workforce, or a tight-knit team, and see if this is provided by the company you are interviewing for.
Consider which environments make you feel productive. How do you best work? Are you seeking more autonomy and the option to work from home? Then you may not be a fit for a company that is heavily focused on collaboration and team socialising.
What is the company’s mission? Its values? Does it have a corporate social responsibility programme? A diverse workforce? Pinpoint those core values and see how they align with the messages companies are including on their employee value proposition and materials for professionals. These will inspire commitment and confidence in both your search and in the decision you land on.
How to research a company culture as a professional
Just as you’ll want to get a feel for a neighbourhood before you buy a house, the same applies when you are searching for a new job. Your actual exposure to a company can be limited within the recruitment process, so we recommend using the following to research a company’s culture.
Do some digging online
Have a look at employee review sites such as Glassdoor for comments from inside the company on their culture. However, keep in mind that people are potentially more likely to leave a bad review than a good one. This may mean, however, that a company with a slew of great reviews could be a particularly positive sign.
See if you have any connections within the company on LinkedIn and get the inside scoop from them. Again, don’t take these viewpoints as gospel, but rather as a building block and a way to get a general idea of employee experience. LinkedIn is also a way to find out the general tenure of people who work there as well as possibilities for progression and development. Good retention and development can be a sign of a positive company culture.
Branch out during your interview
While an interview is a company’s chance to determine whether your skills and experience are right for the role, a large part of the decision will come down to character fit, which is essentially another way of determining how you would fit into their culture. It’s also a two-way street, of course, meaning it’s your opportunity to figure out if their culture is a fit for you, too.
A great way to get the answers to this question that you need is to find an opportunity to speak candidly to your interviewer or others you meet within the business. These are likely the people you’ll be interacting with regularly and you’ll want to get a sense of how they communicate, both to you and to each other. Are they excited about the company? Do they seem to get along well? Do you have things in common beyond the professional? These are all factors that contribute to the overall culture and will impact your everyday experience.
Asking a generic question will give you a generic answer, and hiring managers and other people who may be part of your interview process don’t want to hear the same old question interview after interview. Instead, show the company you’re interviewing for that you’re looking for more than to just show up, do the work, and get paid. You’re an individual with more to offer, and all parties will benefit from a good cultural fit. In addition, it’s not enough for you to take their word that they have a great company culture. Get into specifics and request examples of when company values and culture have led to success or excellent employee wellbeing.
For example, say that you want to work somewhere where personal development is taken seriously, and then ask for an example where a personal development program has helped an employee achieve a promotion or a new qualification. Or if mental health support is important to you, ask about the ways in which the company offers this and whether it’s been well utilised.
These stories and examples will give you a much better impression of how the culture works rather than memorised lines about remote working policies and employee engagement. And on top of that, you’ll get a much better feel for the people behind the job titles, which is half the battle when it comes to understanding where you fit into a company’s culture.
No matter what position you find yourself in, use these tips to spot the work cultures that will — and will not — work for you. The company you ultimately choose should enable you to flourish rather than wear you (or your well-being) out.