Career Tip of the Month

Company Culture

Company "culture" is the personality of a company - the company's mission, values, ethics, expectations, goals, and work environment. Company culture can be influenced by the type of industry (think accounting firms versus start-up IT companies) but more importantly, culture is implemented on a daily operating basis through the philosophy of the company's CEO and its managers/supervisors.

Some companies have a very informal culture in which employees can dress casually and have flexibility in work hours, while others have a more traditional and formal management style that may include a dress code and a hierarchical administrative reporting structure. We have all heard about the perks offered by companies like Google and Microsoft who have a very informal structure that encourages creativity and teamwork. However, most companies operate in a more formal style where there are certain expectations for dress, number of work hours, and a variety of other, often unwritten, behavioral "rules" (also known as "company politics") that ultimately determine worker satisfaction and success within the company.

Ultimately, company culture can make or break your relationship with the employer, your personal satisfaction with your job and even your success at that company. So it's important to choose a company whose culture fits your ideals and personality style. For example, individuals who value independence and autonomy would not do well in an environment where supervisors or managers micro-manage. Likewise, someone who thrives on social contact and collaborating with their co-workers might feel isolated in a work environment where socializing with other employees was frowned upon and employees were expected to complete their work in their own offices behind closed doors.

The first step in determining whether a company's culture will be a good fit is to understand your own work preferences. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

How do you prefer to dress casually or professionally at work?

What type of management style best suits, or motivates you?

Do you prefer a large or small company?

Do you prefer a company with a hierarchical administrative structure or an informal, flat administrative structure?

How important is a company's mission in your decision to work there?

Do you work better in a flexible, autonomous, structured, or supervised work environment?

Would you prefer a standard Monday-Friday 40 hour work week, or are you comfortable taking work home with you or working after hours on a project?

Do you work best at a slow work pace, or do you prefer a fast work pace?

How well do you handle stress? Pressure? Interruptions? Deadlines?

What is important to you in a job?

So how do you learn about the culture of a company? One way is to research the company before your interview and learn all you can about the mission and goals of the company and how it treats its customers and employees. Another way is to use the power of social media to connect with, and talk to, people who currently work, or have worked, at that company. A third way is to observe the culture during your interview experience. Look around you and notice your surroundings. While you're waiting for your interviewing appointment in the reception area, you can gage the "busyness" of the office by noting the volume of customers coming through the doors, the number of staff on duty, and the pace that people seem to operate at while performing their jobs. Are people friendly, relaxed, and enjoying their jobs, or are they uptight, overwhelmed, rude, or rushed?

All interviewers will expect you to ask some questions during the interview. Here is a list of questions designed to gain some insight into the company's culture:

1. Who will I be reporting to? (A lead-in to who your boss is and where you fit in the organizational structure of the company)

2. How does the company balance work and personal issues? (A better way of asking than directly inquiring how the company treats its employees)

3. How would you describe the philosophy of the company or organization?

4. Describe a typical workday for me. (Provides insight into what your job is really going to be like)

5. What challenges might I encounter if I take this position? (Provides good insight into difficulties you may run into on the job, potential conflicts with staff, expectations of other departments, etc.)

6. Can you please tell me a little bit about the people I'll be working with? (Provides clues to the personalities of who you'll be working with)

7. How would you describe the corporate culture here? (This is the direct approach. Listen closely to the way the interviewer answers this question for clues to the way the company runs its business and how it treats its employees.)

Depending on what stage you're at in the interview process and the type of position that you're applying for, you may be given a tour of the facility and/or meet the other members of the team/department that you'll be working with. Keeping in mind that most people will be on their best behavior during this process, you should always rely on your first impressions.

Company culture is one more aspect to consider when deciding to accept, or not accept a position. Finding a company whose culture matches your work style and personal values will enable you to be happier, and more successful, in your career.