Culture Club: How to Know If a Company is the Right Fit

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Welcome back to our series on company culture. If you missed part one, you can find it here

As the saying goes, “Bloom where you are planted,” but when it comes to workplace environments, job-seekers benefit more when they plant the initial seed in a nutritive, supportive company culture.

A recent survey by LaSalle Network, a recruiting and staffing firm in technology services, asked more than 4,000 technologists about the top three things they look for in a new job: 1—compensation, 2—work-life balance, and 3—benefits. However, it can be hard to distinguish that some company facets don’t necessarily speak to a company’s overarching culture or ethos.

“People often confuse culture with perks. Beer on tap is a perk, not a core competency of the culture,” says Kitty Brandtner, director of major accounts at LaSalle Network. “Certain perks can be a nice ‘cherry-on-top’ for employees, but we’ve never seen a candidate take a job because the office had a ping-pong table.”

When it comes to defining a company culture and how it fits for an individual, it’s best to weigh the value of the nice perks against necessities. Use these three tips to determine if a potential workplace is the best place for you to put down roots.

Be clear and specific on what matters most to you.

An interview process should be a learning experience to both hiring managers and job candidates; prioritizing your expectations and making sure they align with what the company offers will help bring the culture—and ultimately the decision to be part of it— into sharper focus.

“This is a candidate’s market right now, so companies are really having to adapt to the wants and desires of top talent to make the hires they need,” says Brandtner. “While money will always be a central motivator, there are other pieces that drive candidates towards or away from a role: flexibility (hours or remote work), benefits (from medical payments to parental leave policies), and initiatives, such as career pathing—it’s a big element candidates like to see from companies.”

Do some intelligent sleuthing.

In this age, performance reviews are no longer limited to employees. It’s time- and energy-saving to know at the beginning whether a company is “walking the walk” or just paying lip service to ideals that matter to you.

To find out, job-seekers need to look, listen, and learn. For example, if diversity is considered a company value, does the staffing and personnel choices reflect that? Many companies tout flexibility and remote work, but how that is defined could be ambiguous. Are employees supported when they are off-site, or do people feel that it’s frowned upon, even if stated otherwise? Separating lofty goals from the reality of how a workplace functions is the best tool for discerning if a company is a good fit for your personality and skills.

And ask around! If possible, reach out to current and past employees you have a connection to for honest and objective assessments. Check out trustworthy social media pages of people in the industry whose opinion and discretion you trust, or check reviews on specific industry groups and job search sites that encourage constructive shop talk.

Brandtner agrees, “In our business, we dive into how the company defines their culture by speaking to individuals who recently joined, as well as those who have been employed there for years, to gather a multifaceted understanding of what draws people to—and keeps them at—a company.”

Prep your interview questions.

It’s crucial to be prepared for an interview, and that includes having a list of questions to ask the hiring manager or recruiter that speak to the elements that matter most to you. Feel free to politely ask about the management style, the atmosphere of growth, preferred communication methods, and even specific or rhetorical scenarios. That way you can get a feel of how a situation is handled and if the tone and style supports your personal and professional goals.

Ask the hiring manager for references of employees in similar positions or departments to see if they can give a testimonial of the workplace. If having clear, attainable ways to move up internally is at the top of your priority list, does the company have tangible plans for this, and can they point to real-life examples of implementation? A company that takes your questions and ideas seriously—and can provide solid, informative responses—shows that they are practicing what they preach.

“Ask the interviewer why they stay at the company, what keeps them there? Ask them about their top performer—what makes that person so good? Ask about expectations outside of technical skills—What do you expect from me day-to-day? How do you like to communicate?” Brandtner adds, “We also always say, go with your gut. If something feels off or you’re not connecting with your would-be boss, there’s likely a reason.”

Company culture could be the difference between just a job and a challenging and rewarding career path. It’s up to the staff and company to passively create or actively curate the right culture to attract and motivate creative, productive staff. Be sure to stay tuned for our final installment where we discuss how to change a company culture.

Read Culture Club, part one