Company culture
By Chris Bongard
6th August 2015

When looking to take the next step in your career, many factors can make it onto your wish list. One of the most common discussions is about finding a job within a company that has “the right cultural fit”.

You undoubtedly want to understand whether your personality and way of working will be complemented by the attitudes and behaviours encouraged throughout your new workplace. This means it is important to look at any early signs that can help you to weigh up the culture of a company. Once you’ve accepted a job it’s too late to suddenly start trying to figure this out.  There are plenty of clues to take in before you reach that stage that can give you a glimpse into the real working culture of a company.

Before the Interview

First of all, take a look at the way the job description is written. A lot of companies will use their technical skill requirements to outline this but do they mention any softer skills or personality traits that would be suitable for the role? If they do, this can be a good sign as it suggests that the company has an awareness of the importance of personalities when choosing their staff, hopefully making for a more cohesive working environment.

Always be wary of vaguely written job descriptions that don’t really give you an insight into what the job entails and what will be expected of the role. This suggests that there is some uncertainty over what the company really needs from a new employee and you don’t want to be the person they use as a test dummy to figure this out. Starting a new job without your duties highlighted can causing misunderstandings and you could find that it really wasn't the right job for you.

Take a look at the company’s website – is there a “work for us” or “join our team” section? These sections again can be a bit of a wish list in terms of how those in a management position may see the culture from the top so what you really want to see proof that this translates throughout the company. Are there any photos of the team? Examples of team days out or incentives that are actually being provided?

During the interview

Once they've passed your initial scrutiny, and you've hopefully been invited for an interview – make sure you take in your surroundings. Is the reception area neat and tidy with courteous members of staff greeting you? Or is it messy and chaotic, suggesting that people are very busy and have large workloads? Different places may suit different personalities but taking note of these environments can give you a clue as to what your working life would be like there. Whilst we don’t advise turning down a job offer purely based on the state of the reception area, statistics show that 35% of interviewees would do just that!

As you walk from the reception area to the interview room, hopefully you’ll get the opportunity to glance around the office. There are countless clues you can pick up in this short space of time. Look for any corporate branding on the walls or mission statements that may demonstrate the company strategy and values.

If your interview is after hours or early in the morning, take note of whether there are many people at their desks. This can be an indicator of whether there is a 9-5 culture or whether employees are staying longer than these core hours.

You may not have much chance to take in the atmosphere of the office but listening as you walk through can tell you whether there is a lot of energy in the office or a deathly silence. This can also be influenced by how the desks are positioned; cubicles can be isolating, whilst open plan, though more collaborative, can be distracting. It’s important to consider which environment would suit you better – whilst it isn't always possible to find an absolutely perfect fit; you need to have an idea of how happy you will be there and how effectively you can work.

The person interviewing you can also give a lot away. Are they smartly dressed or in a more casual outfit? Do they appear relaxed whilst interviewing you or are they constantly checking their watch? Body language is a fascinating tool for analysing how people are feeling and responding to you, do some research on this before your interview and take note of any signals that may give away how the interviewer is feeling in the environment.

If you’re lucky enough that the interview is conducted in your potential boss’ office, there’s a huge amount of information you can gain in a short time. Are there any pictures of family on the desk, suggesting the boss will value family time or are the walls covered in certificates and awards suggesting a lot of pride in achievement? A cluttered office with paper everywhere tends to suggest the boss is a procrastinator or is it all perfectly aligned with no hint of personality? A lot of this can come down to interpretation but these signals should allow you to understand the values of your boss better.

Sometimes elaborate interview techniques can disguise the true company culture, making it difficult for you to get a real understanding of how they work – this is why it is essential to take the opportunity to ask questions to get underneath this and find out what really makes the company tick.

Listen to your intuition through-out the process. Whilst it’s good to push outside of your comfort zones, if you’re really not comfortable with the way you've been dealt with or the behaviours you've witnessed then think long and hard about whether it is the right environment for you. You need to feel that it would be a company you are proud to work for; do their values coincide with yours? 

How do you analyse the culture of a company? Which factors would be most important to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

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