However, one thing holds absolutely true no matter what:
Company culture can define a business.
Companies that have a positive work brand presence attract people who want to work for them.
You’ve seen those examples on the news: Google has playrooms and goof-off space. Nike has a large campus and gym with a giant track surrounding it.
Wouldn’t it be great to work at those companies?
But let’s take a little closer look at what company culture really means.
Companies who champion emotional intelligence in their leaders cultivate trust and loyalty within staff. The ones that succeed in building a superior company culture have built a strong reputation for respecting and recognizing employees, which in turn, attracts top talent. Perks are nice, but individual recognition and connection of talent to task matter more, and leaders who are savvy enough to be in tune with their employees’ needs can guide development of the company culture into ‘fun.’
Another aspect of creating a positive workplace is through reinforcement the value of the tasks assigned to employees; staff will end up taking pride in their individual ownership of job responsibilities. In a perfect scenario, the most important person is the one who is at the front line; a good company culture will make the receptionist feel that they count and have a personal stake in the company’s success.
But where does company culture really begin, at least where job seekers are concerned?
Plugging into a company’s culture can be a tough task for an outsider (job seeker). Here are some tips to gain confidence on that fit:
1. Build the major connecting bridge. Fitting within a company’s workplace culture means finding a link between your background and demonstrating a common vision and passion for their organizational mission, and this process begins in the interview. You need to connect your assets to their mission to make the first big plug-in to their culture; personal values linking to company ones are like a marriage- there has to be a solid match from the start ( but there is always room for some compromise).
2. Read the lay of the land for potential landmines in a company’s culture. On one hand, hiring managers are looking for chemistry, personality, and genuine ability to fit into an already-established culture paradigm that you must be able to fit into. But on the other hand, cues about this culture are difficult for job seekers to pick up on because no one is going to out-and-out tell you the way things REALLY are on the inside. But job seekers can find out a great deal in the interview by watching the interviewers carefully. Who defers to whom? Are there sideways glances? Does someone cut someone else off? Do they seem happy to be there? Are you greeted cheerfully when arriving for your appointment? Trust your intuition on the ‘vibe’ –if you rely on your gut instincts, almost 100% of the time you’ll find that you are reading the situation correctly.
3. Ask soft-ball questions that actually dig up the dirt on company culture. I always advise clients to ask this interview question: “What kinds of professional development does your company offer?” Employers need to be able to connect the dots of the value of professional development to being tools to do a good job. But the deeper question is this: Does the business value employees enough to invest in them? How a company treats their employees (either as valuable assets to be invested in or thrown away after being used up) is a question that should be on every job seeker’s mind in an interview. Training and professional development activities add to the mosaic of company culture while bringing in new ideas to share and excite others. Outside educational opportunities encourage employees AND companies grow… together. It’s a win-win situation: Companies are more productive; staff gain skills.
4. Transparency impacts company culture. Learn what you can from your inside contacts and also during the interview. Don’t be afraid to ask how previous organizational challenges have been handled. How the executive level handles significant strategy shifts or restructuring initiatives is indicative of that company’s core culture values and overall treatment of staff.
5. Communication styles matter. Communication is another broad term, but think about it: What clues do you pick up on during the pre- and post-interview contact with the employer? Are the interviewers clear? Do they make you feel comfortable and well-informed? Or is it more ambush-style? How do the interviewers respond during your face-to-face interview? Is it a stiff conversation, or more of an open, easy communication style? Companies with positive cultures have leaders who are open to new ideas and are focused on empowering their employees. Communication styles that allow for free expression of thoughts, ideas, and suggestions in a constructive way without negative repercussions are good indicators of what a company culture is like.
6. What interviewers like about their jobs speaks volumes about corporate culture. Ho hum. If the interviewers are not fired up about what they do, how on earth do they expect to draw in top talent? No one wants to work at a place when the interviewers can’t even sell them on the benefits of working there. One of the advantages to consider includes an upbeat work environment. People who are passionate about their jobs positively bubble enthusiasm and are excited to answer this important job seeker question. Staff will provide insights on important cultural benefits of working at this company. If they are happy, they’ll be providing a cultural transmission of happiness throughout the interview, and you’ll pick up on this right away.
7. If it doesn’t fit, don’t try to wear it. Ever make a mistake and take a job that you needed but once you got in there, you realized that you were NOT going to fit in? It could be the result of a complete culture clash, or realizing after the fact that the supervisor that you are reporting to is your worst nightmare. If you have picked on any negative vibes during the interview, and can afford to walk away from that job, be fearless, and do it. Ultimately, in the long run, you have to weigh the mental costs with the compensation… is it worth it? Some people rally and bravely try to make a ‘go’ of it, but come to the understanding that this position is not meant to be.
Defining a company’s culture is sometimes like trying to tackle a marshmallow- you can’t quite get your arms around it and you aren’t quite sure what you are going to get once you are inside. The best you can do is be smart, do your research, take a temperature ‘check’ during the interview, and base your decision there. An accurate understanding what key values are to a company can help you plug in quickly and become welcomed as part of the team.