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Tips For Identifying Corporate Culture And Your Fit
Nimish Thakkar, MS, MBA, CCMC, CPRW, SaiCareers.com, New York
January 04, 2006

All of us are unique, they say, and so are organizations. Every company, though comprised of diverse individuals, adheres to a certain common pattern for conducting routine business activities and for making internal decisions. While experts differ on the exact definition of corporate culture, this general behavioral thread running through the company is probably the simplest indicator of its corporate culture, a culture that is uniquely its own.

Of what importance could corporate culture possibly be to a job seeker? Well, most workers spend almost 10–12 hours at work; corporate culture affects employees at multiple levels, including work arrangements, work hours, dress codes, professional development, promotions, values, compensation, environment, etc.

Identifying a company’s culture, however, is often challenging. We have outlined a few tips and resources to help you with the process:

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Company Research
Researching information about the company is the first step in identifying corporate culture. Our company research section features a wealth of resources for this purpose. The resources range from industry associations to news stories and press releases, all of which provide valuable information about the company’s culture.

The interview
If you are currently interviewing, the interviewer may be able to offer several tips about the company’s culture. Some of these tips may be express statements, while others are ones you need to observe and decipher. Depending on the interviewer’s personality and the level of comfort you establish, you may be able to ask the following questions:

What is a typical career path for someone starting from my position? How are people promoted? (Look for patterns.)
Will I be expected to work with teams or alone? (Helps determine the company’s work environment.)
What professional development programs are offered to employees? (What is the pattern here? Is it leadership? hands-on skills development? overall development? The answers will give you an indication of what the company values in its employees.)
What benefits does the company offer? (Sometimes, the benefits may include free gym membership or flexible work hours.)

While asking questions to the interviewer, don’t ever give the impression that you don’t like the responses. Always sound enthusiastic about the answers, irrespective of what you personally think.

In addition to the discussion, you should also be on the lookout for clues, such as the interviewer’s personality, the kind of questions being asked (is the interviewer following a pattern?), the level of involvement, dress, communication style, etc. Be careful, though, don’t judge the entire company based on just one interview.

Speaking with key individuals
In addition to the interviewer, you may also have the opportunity to speak with -- or know -- other individuals within the organization. Such individuals could include employees, recruiters, vendors, customers, contractors, etc. The receptionist may also be a very helpful resource for understanding the organization’s culture.

If someone in your network works at the company or knows someone within the company, you may have the opportunity to ask the following additional questions:

How would you describe the company’s culture?
What is a typical workday or workweek like?
What would you say about the work environment here?
What are the most important values?
How easy is it to communicate with senior management?
What do you like the most about this company? least?

Visual cues (onsite)
If you are observant enough, and have the opportunity to visit the company (arrive early, please), you will spot trends based on visual cues. How do the employees interact with each other? How are they dressed? Do they look happy? Are they friendly? In addition to the people, the décor and ambience may also provide several clues about the culture. How is the office layout? Is it conservative? fun? What paintings do you see? Do employees work in cubicles? Where are the offices of senior management? Do employees have family pictures on their desk? What screen savers do you see? Get the point? Keep your eyes wide open.

Be careful, though, sometimes visual cues may be misleading so don’t jump to a quick conclusion. Carefully deliberate on everything you see.

The company’s website
The company’s website, especially the careers page, will provide several clues about its culture. In addition to the careers page, the company’s website may provide additional information.

Internal information
What does their mission statement say? Most mission statements provide clues about the company’s vision, policies, and driving principles. You may also be able to review their products or projects (on their website, catalog, annual report, etc.) Are the projects and products based on a long-term perspective or do they appear to be short-term investments? Is there a trend?

Voicemails and e-mails
The tone of employees’ voice mails and e-mails can often provide great insight about the culture. E-mail addresses, signatures, and writing style may reflect the company’s personality. Do they use just first names in the e-mail address? How is the e-mail’s tone? Again, don’t judge based on just one interaction.

Recruitment news
The recruitment of a C-level executive is often a great PR story for most companies. Such stories provide the opportunity to understand how the company works. Example, what did they choose the new executive for?

Does the company sponsor community events? Does it work with a certain foundation? You can find this information either on the company’s website or through the company research process.

Researching corporate culture can often be a challenging and time consuming process, a process that requires thorough research, astute observation, and careful deliberation. Nevertheless, it is very important to understand a potential employer’s culture; after all, work, just like marriage, is always about the “right fit.”


Related Articles:
Corporate Culture
E-mail Etiquette: E-mail Bloopers To Avoid


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