Uncovering Company Culture During the Hiring Process

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash


Do you remember working at a company with a dreadful work culture? I assume you did, like most of us, because unfortunately, this type of work environment is ubiquitous.

If you’re anything like me, you probably experienced the Sunday Scaries almost every night. There was a constant feeling of dread and fear that became so familiar, it went unnoticed. This drained any hope, creativity, or motivation you once had.

What is crazy to me is that many companies still operate like this, despite numerous studies showing the positive impact of a healthy work culture on the bottom line.

According to the Gallup State of the American Workplace Report, engaged employees are 17% more productive and have a 41% lower rate of absenteeism than their less engaged colleagues.

Research outlined in the Harvard Business Review reveals that disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects than their engaged counterparts. Companies with low employee engagement scores experienced a host of adverse effects, including 18% lower productivity, 1 % lower profitability, and 37% lower job growth.

When an organization has a good company culture, employees are engaged, committed, and excited to come to work. That’s because, in a healthy culture, there are clear expectations regarding how work gets done, why that work is essential, and how teams are expected to treat each other.

Instead of discussing how companies should improve their culture, I’d like to focus on helping you identify if a company’s culture is the right fit for you because you deserve to thrive!

Let’s start by understanding the basics of company culture.

What is Company Culture?

Company culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, behaviors, and standards that make up a work environment. It encompasses the experience people have at work and how that experience aligns with the external brand and messaging of the company. Culture is what creates the day-to-day experience at a company.

Types of Company Culture

There is no one “right” company culture (but if it’s toxic – stay away!). Professors Robert E. Quinn and Kim S. Cameron from the University of Michigan have identified four types of organizational culture:

  1. Adhocracy culture: Also known as the “create culture,” this is a highly innovative and fast-moving environment.
  2. Clan culture: A highly collaborative company culture that thrives on teamwork.
  3. Hierarchy culture: As the name suggests, this is a structured work culture that typically follows established roles and processes.
  4. Market culture: A goal-oriented, high-pressure culture that focuses on output and goal attainment.

Each of these company cultures is different and is rooted in various core values. You could find great success or struggle with any one of these, depending on your organization’s size, structure, and goals. So being able to step back and understand what kind of culture you prefer and thrive in is an important step in evaluating where you’ll do your best work.

Beyond the basics, you’ll want to identify what is important to you to feel motivated.

Company Culture Factors

There are various factors to consider when assessing a company’s culture, and some will be more important to you than others, as we all have different preferences. Therefore, it’s crucial to clarify what matters most to you and what you envision as an ideal work environment. No company is perfect since they consist of people who are, well, human.

Consider the following factors:

Communication, Feedback, and Recognition

Different companies have different communication styles. Some have an open, friendly approach that fosters strong relationships, while others have a more reserved “keep to yourself” culture that limits non-essential communication.

Consider whether you prefer direct or indirect feedback. Some companies are extremely direct, which can be clear but harsh for those who take feedback personally. Others are more indirect, delivering feedback in friendly terms, which may feel supportive but could be confusing for individuals who prefer direct communication.

Regardless of your preference, look for signs of teamwork, open dialogue, and constructive feedback. Evaluate whether the culture promotes effective communication and encourages collaboration among teams, regardless of the communication style.

Also, pay attention to how employee feedback and recognition are valued within the company. Is there a feedback culture that encourages open dialogue and continuous improvement? Look for indications that the company recognizes and celebrates employee contributions and achievements.

Consider whether the organization has an employee recognition program. A company with such a program would have a different culture than one where managers take credit for their employees’ work. Additionally, reflect on how you prefer to be recognized.

Career Development

Assess the opportunities for career development and growth within the organization. Are there clear paths for advancement, training programs, and mentorship opportunities? Look for indications of a culture that invests in employee development and supports their long-term career aspirations.

Decision Making

Consider how you prefer decisions to be made. Do you want a hierarchical approach, where the CEO or executive teams make decisions, or a more collaborative process where the company solicits employee feedback?

Neither approach is wrong, but they do have a very different pace and feel. In a hierarchical setting, decisions can be made quickly but may overlook valuable input from the field. On the other hand, a collaborative process may be slower and more deliberative but gives employees a sense of being heard. Therefore, don’t forget to ask how decisions are made and communicated. Follow up by asking how the company handles situations when there’s disagreement with a leadership decision that needs to be carried out.

Expectations around work – aka Work/Life Harmony

How organizations expect their employees to work also plays a major part in company culture. For example, is the atmosphere more laid-back or high-pressure? Do team members have flexibility in where and when they work? Is work-life harmony part of the work experience, or are employees expected to respond to work requests on nights and weekends?

Consider whether flexible work arrangements are supported and if there’s a healthy emphasis on well-being and work-life integration. Look for indications that the culture values and supports employees’ personal lives and overall well-being.

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are not buzzwords solely relevant to people of color or women. Regardless of your race or gender, they signify a company’s ability to thrive in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous).

Evaluate whether leaders are approachable, supportive, and transparent. Look for signs of strong leadership that foster a positive and inclusive culture. Are there initiatives and policies in place to promote a diverse and inclusive workforce, with stated measurable goals that are tracked and communicated throughout the organization? Pay attention to whether the company measures and tracks progress, as it demonstrates a greater commitment than just having a statement.

Get Clear on Your Ideal Environment

Before starting your job search, clarify what is important to you so you won’t be influenced by the desire to fit into a company culture that may not be the right environment for you. We are adaptable beings, and we naturally want to be liked. However, when these factors come into play during the interview process, we often unconsciously morph ourselves into what we believe the interviewers want, rather than staying true to who we are. Considering that work permeates all aspects of your life, it’s crucial to assess how a company will support you as a whole person. If a company doesn’t provide such support, it may not be the right fit for you in the long run.

Do Your Homework!

While it may feel like you need to be an investigative reporter to find out what a potential job’s company culture is really like before working there, it’s important to do your research; this goes beyond just reading the job description and company website. Here are some non-obvious tips to help to gain a more in-depth understanding:

  • Review the company’s Glassdoor page for insider information from current and former employees.
  • Research the company’s news and press releases to gain insight into recent events and initiatives.
  • Connect with employees at the company on LinkedIn and ask them about their experiences and the company culture.
  • Check the company’s social media pages to get a feel for their tone and values.
  • Read industry reports and analyst reports to understand the company’s position in the market.

During the interview process, take note of the office atmosphere. Is it lively and collaborative, or quieter and more independent? Pay attention to the overall energy and how employees interact with each other. Trust your gut feeling about whether it resonates with your working style and preferences.

Ask thoughtful questions to find out the company’s approach to diversity and inclusion, work-life balance, and employee support. Prepare a list of questions to ask during the interview that specifically target the company culture that is right for you. For example:

  • How would you describe the company culture here?
  • How do you foster professional development and growth opportunities for your employees?
  • Can you provide examples of how the company values are reflected in day-to-day operations?
  • Who are the heroes of the company? What characteristics do these individuals have in common?
  • Can you share some examples of how the company promotes diversity and inclusion within the workplace?
  • How does the company support employees in maintaining a healthy work-life balance?
  • Are there any employee resource groups or affinity groups that provide support and community for diverse employees?
  • What are some common characteristics shared by individuals who have not been successful within this company?
  • What is one thing you wished that you’d known about the company when you were interviewing?
  • What is currently your biggest concern about the company? What are you most excited about?
  • Why did you choose to work for this company?
  • Do you feel that your work here, your contribution, is important? How do you know?
  • What makes you stay?

Some candidates avoid asking questions about work-life balance, fearing that it might signal to the company that they aren’t hard workers. But that’s just gibberish. If an interviewer thinks that way, it’s a strong indicator that you wouldn’t want to work for that person (trust me!). Remember that taking care of all aspects of your life, including rest, leads to increased creativity, productivity, and overall job performance.

Pay attention to the reactions of the interviewers and what goes unsaid. Interviewers may provide expected answers, so you may not receive the full truth when asking about specific aspects of the company culture. Observe how they respond to your questions, as their reactions can indicate whether the company culture aligns with your values and expectations.

If possible, connect with current or former employees to gain firsthand perspectives. They can offer valuable insights into the company’s culture, work-life balance, and growth opportunities. Utilize LinkedIn and professional networking events to find individuals who can share their experiences. Look for signs of enthusiasm, motivation, and passion among employees, as they indicate a culture that values well-being, growth, and job satisfaction.

Ultimately, trust your intuition. Pay attention to how you feel during the interview process. Do you feel comfortable and excited about the prospect of working in this environment? Trust your instincts and evaluate if the company’s values align with your own. Remember that cultural fit is a two-way street, and it’s important to find a company where you feel valued, motivated, and can thrive.

Choosing the right company culture is crucial for your long-term job satisfaction and overall career growth. By conducting thorough research, asking relevant questions, and listening to your intuition, you can increase your chances of finding a company culture that aligns with your values and sets the stage for a fulfilling career journey.