How to uncover corporate culture during a job interview

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Jun 24

Finding a work environment that you enjoy participating in every day isn’t necessarily an easy task. It can be difficult to work your way through the lay of the land in the office jungle in order to see exactly what you’ve gotten yourself into professionally.

One hack you can learn is the best way to recognize and navigate the company culture in your new workplace. Before you can actually make that happen, you have to know what you’re looking for and how to join in.

First Things First: What’s Company Culture?

A company’s culture is based on a number of factors: the facilities available, the general atmosphere of the workplace and its employees, and the overall objective/mission of the company. Especially important for millennials is understanding whether or not your prospective company culture has the mission or goals that align with your own.

In Other Words, Research and Observe Your Prospective Employer

Check out the company website to read its mission statement and overall goal for the industry. A solid company culture will list what it’s really good at in regards to profitability, but it will also provide you with more information about the people that work there. It’s always good to hear about employees that work to help achieve the company vision.

This could be anything from professional development for young employees, a give-back opportunity within the organization and even testimonials from current employees so you have a firsthand glimpse of what your own experience might be like.

If You Have an Opportunity, Go in and Check It Out in Person

You can tell a lot about company culture simply by looking around. Ask yourself: What does the atmosphere feel like? How do the employees interact with each other? Are they happy?

Even be so bold as to ask questions directly to those already working there. They will be your best source for information. Statistics from a Columbia University study showed that companies with a good, solid work culture had a turnover rate of only 13.9 percent, whereas weaker ones were as high as 48.4 percent. If the majority of those questioned turn out to be new or suggest the company has a bit of a revolving door, it’s safe to say the work environment may not be a positive or satisfactory one for you.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Someone What a Career There Might Look Like for You

Young professionals ages 18 to 28 born in the early 1980s held an average of 7.2 different jobs over a 10-year period, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. If they company you’re looking at can’t answer questions about career advancement, learning opportunities and mentorship, you may not find yourself giving 100 percent effort on the job if it isn’t worthwhile for your own career development.

The question “Will I learn something of value?” is extremely important not only when choosing a company, but also for your own assimilation and adoption of the company culture. You want to know that looking back over two to three years of work, you can say you learned something of value, improved your skills and grew professionally. If your first instinct doesn’t paint that picture for you, you may want to look somewhere else.

You won’t be alone. A PWC survey called “Millennials at Work, Reshaping the Workplace” found that millennials highly valued mentorship and leadership training, as well as having a career not chosen out of desperation, but one that aligns with who they are.

So Be Transparent

If you find yourself unsure about the company culture you’re researching, be honest and tell them about your personal and professional goals and aspirations. Millennials now make up the majority of the workforce – and companies must create a culture based on what this demographic wants if they want to survive. By being transparent with your prospective employer, they’ll be able to tell you if the culture is or isn’t a good fit for you. This might even provide them with some valuable feedback to make their own improvements.

A new survey by Deloitte cited that misaligned purposes between the company and its employees were the largest issues facing millennials in their current work environment. Be clear with what you are looking for and what is a priority for you, and you’ll either find enthusiasm for your answer, curiosity as to why or an outright mismatch. Whatever the case, your transparency will help you find the right fit.

At the end of all your research, questions and observations, you should be able to learn whether or not you belong there quite easily. Having that information is more than half the battle.


This is a guest post by Sarah Landrum. “After spending the best three and half years of my life at Penn State, I moved to Harrisburg to pursue my career. Fast forward a few months of punching the clock and loathing cubicle life, and I chose a new path in Marketing and a side gig as a freelance writer. Passionate about career development, I started Punched Clocks to share my advice on navigating the work world and achieving happiness and success in life and at work.”

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.