Five dos and don’ts when assessing a company’s culture

Looking for a job in a new organisation? Find out why it’s so important to know their company culture before you accept a position, and five ways you can assess it. 

Often when we’re seeking new roles and work opportunities we create a priority list. That list usually includes all the practical things it should, such as salary, job title, location, annual leave, and flexible work hours.

But it rarely includes company culture.

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What is company culture?

‘Company culture’ can refer to a number of things, but it’s really the personality of any business or organisation. It can be defined by the work environment, company mission, values, work ethics, expectations and individual, team, and business goals.

Company culture is incredibly important, for a whole host of reasons. When you’re looking for your next opportunity, you’re probably looking for one with some sustainability, something where you can really get stuck in, feel valued and grow professionally. The ability to achieve these things will rely far more on the right company culture and fit, than it will your salary.

So how do you go about ensuring you’re applying to the right companies, who are also a good cultural fit? Scrutinising the job advertisement is a good place to start, along with some proper research into the company background.

Five dos and don’ts when assessing a company’s culture

Here are five dos and don’ts to start assessing if an opportunity offers the right culture for you.

1) Do start with the basics

What’s the day-to-day work environment like? Is it informal, formal, corporate or relaxed? Is the team all based in one open office or individual sections? Do people work from home? Do they promote team working on goals or does everyone work towards their own projects and goals?

Different people work best in different environments; you’ll know from your existing experience what works best for you. Some people thrive on team work, others prefer more individual set projects – make sure you know what’s your preference and check for these details in your research.

Statements like “working within a fast-paced and exciting environment” or “join our relaxed, friendly team” will help you start to build a picture of what’s on offer.

Other useful information that you might want to consider weighing up is the team size you’ll be working in and the different layers of management.

2) Do listen for the language they use

A business brand needs be reflected in all of their business communication, and this includes how they address and communicate with potential employees in their job ads and on their website.

This will also relate back to the type of work environment on offer. If it’s more formal and corporate, than the language and a tone will reflect this. If it’s more colloquial, you’ll know that it’s a more relaxed office and team space.

The key point here is to check for consistency in how the company communicates about itself, and how that makes you feel. If it sounds like something you want to be a part of, or if their language matches how you speak yourself, you could be onto a strong match!

3) Don’t dismiss the details

There are usually a few small quirks to every work place – little things that the employees/employers have set up just to make work more fun! It might be a weekly joke thread, a ping pong table, a stocked drinks fridge on a Friday or a bring-a-cake-Monday – these are all indicators of the company culture on a more personal level.

Benefits schemes, bonuses, team building days, community giving days – think about the things that bring real value to you as an employee in a workplace – now seek out what the current employer you’re interested in offers.

Don’t dismiss these details because you think they’re insignificant, or a ‘given’. These are the things that help you understand a company’s culture, and lets you know if it’s the right place for you.

4) Do remember your own values

What are the core values of work for you? What really stands out about your current team that you love, or don’t love? Is your value on working autonomously on creative problems, or sharing goals with a tight knit team? Are you focused on honesty and integrity? Is your work a day job or your life’s passion?

These are all important questions to ask yourself, and know the answers to. It helps you understand more fully what company culture is right for you. Not every company is going to tick all the boxes for you, but having awareness means you can make better judgments when weighing up employment decisions. You’ll also be in a good position to make proactive compromises, and seek alternatives if needed outside of the office.

5) Don’t shy away from the things you want – be honest with yourself

If you’re looking for something long term – don’t compromise. Likewise, on your minimum salary, work hours, need for professional development and progression avenues.

Going back to that priority list of practical’s, these are all important factors and they need to be weighed up alongside the right company culture.

Asking the right questions will set you up for success

Getting these ideas and understandings down takes time and experience, but making sure you’re reflecting, asking the right questions, and building your own awareness around the workplace will really help set you up for success in the long run.

When researching and meeting with potential employers, listen to your gut instincts too. If something seems too good to be true, makes you feel uncomfortable, or just doesn’t click; explore those feelings further and understand why that is.

It could save you from accepting the right job in the wrong culture.

Elaine Mead is a passionate education and careers consultant, and is particularly interested in empowering young women to be their professional best. You can follow her on Twitter and read more of her articles on medium.

Photo by Csaba Balazs