Would you want to work for a company with this job description?
“We are looking for strong, determined candidates with 1-3 years of experience. Your boss won’t bother to invest in your career development, you won’t be able to speak your mind, and your contributions will be of little value to our leadership team. But the salary is great!”
Probably not. Sadly, this is the case in more companies than you might think, though they rarely admit that in the job description. A majority of respondents (61%) to a Glassdoor survey said that they found aspects of a new job different than what they had expected based on the interview process. Company culture was cited as one of the factors that differ most.
Whether you’re just starting out or are looking to make a career change, company culture might be the most important thing to consider during your search. In business speak, culture refers to an organization’s shared beliefs and values. Culture is often established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods. It impacts everything from your interactions with colleagues and customers to your advancement, career satisfaction, and mental health.
As a job applicant, you want to find a culture that aligns with your values, or the ethics that guide you, fulfill you, and make you feel a sense of purpose. Misalignments that take shape in the form of, say, an employer that insists you work late nights and weekends, or an organization that fails to show their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, can impact your day-to-day well-being, dampen your motivation, and in extreme cases, result in physical illness.
Pre-Covid, decoding company culture was slightly easier. Just like walking into someone’s apartment and looking at their books and décor, you can gauge a lot of information by walking into a physical office space. You can get a “feel” for the people, the layout, and generally, how things are done.
But now that most workplaces are remote, how can you actively and deliberately figure out whether an environment is right for you?
To gain clarity, I recently connected with a few experts in this area. Here’s what they had to say.
Scour the Internet for Evidence
Almost anything can be found online these days — and that includes a company’s culture. You just have to know what to look for.
“Ideally, companies will have a mission, vision, and culture statement accessible online,” Kaleem Clarkson, co-founder and COO of BlendMe, said. He told me that job seekers should start by paying extra attention to the nuances of language in these messages — as well as the ones below:
- Analyze the words used in job descriptions. Pay special attention to how postings are written; their wording can reveal beliefs and priorities that aren’t overtly shared. For example, postings that emphasize hustling to meet frequent deadlines and tout perks like happy hours — but give no nod to workplace flexibility — may indicate that work-life balance isn’t top of mind. Keep in mind that some keywords may initially sound positive: On the surface, “scrappy” might sound like “resourceful.” But it might actually mean something very different: that a company expects you to do a lot with little resources, or that they intend to underpay you.
- Use a gender bias decoder. There are a variety of online tools that read text and analyze its tone for gender bias. Job descriptions that skew more masculine with words like competitive, dominant or leader, for instance, may result in a lower response from female candidates.
- Check out job review boards like Glassdoor. Sometimes even Reddit will have threads about certain organizations, depending on how large or well-known the company is. Reading anonymous reviews from current and former employees will give you more insight — with the caveat that not every nameless review is accurate. Comments that point to unrealistic workloads or expectations, a lack of growth opportunities, group think (especially in more homogeneous industries), or toxic internal cultures are red flags.
- Lastly, do some digging on social media. See what an employer is currently sharing on their channels. Then scroll back to dates around times of controversy or uncertainty to see how they reacted to social movements, civil unrest, instances of racism, or matters of public health. Their responses in these moments can reveal a great deal about their core values and beliefs.
You might also find that certain organizations demonstrate their most valuable commitments via social media. For example, IBM promotes gender equity through their returnship program — an initiative that helps people restart their careers and has supported many women who had previously left the workforce to care for family members. Other businesses, like REI, use social media to build awareness around consumerism and its impact on the environment. REI’s #OptOutside campaign emerged as an alternative to Black Friday sales and it embodies their ethos.
Uncover What Lies Beneath
Michelle Kim, CEO of Awaken, recommends taking a more granular approach. “I’m a fan of asking specific questions during interviews,” she said. “You can use scenarios to get more detailed answers on the culture. Otherwise, people may default to overly generalized descriptions like ‘We’re very collaborative!’ ‘We’re results-oriented.’ or ‘We care about diversity and inclusion.’”
Whether your interview is in-person or virtual, Kim advised to prepare questions ahead of time — and make them as particular as possible. If you ask the right questions, she explained, you can learn much more than you think.
For instance, instead of asking “How would you describe your culture?” try posing more pointed questions. These could include:
- When someone drops the ball on a project, how does your team handle that?
- What specific efforts have been made to create an inclusive culture for underrepresented employees?
- When there is a conflict cross-functionally, how do folks resolve it?
- How does the company ensure there is a sense of community even when people are working remotely?
Kim noted the possibility that you will still get vague responses. But even that is useful information. Ambiguity indicates that the company hasn’t broached the important topics you’ve raised. Though it’s not a positive sign, it’s better to know before you accept an offer. You might discover that their culture doesn’t match the package they are trying to sell you. If their good intentions feel transactional rather than genuine, transient rather than impactful, or (even worse) only serve as a PR opportunity rather than a well-grounded policy – red flags.
Make an Effort to Connect
The above advice may be helpful if you’re still in the interviewing stage, but what if it’s too late for that? What if you’re reading this article and have already accepted the job offer?
How do you decode your new company’s culture now — especially if you’re remote?
Dr. Lauren Pasquarella Daley, the senior director of Women and the Future of Work at Catalyst, told me that remote employees should intentionally seek out information by creating opportunities to connect with others once they’re hired.
“Some organizations will have robust remote onboarding procedures in place, while others may need a few nudges to provide a more inclusive onboarding experience for new employees,” she said.
Before your first day, ask these questions:
- Are there any handbooks, online trainings, or other resources that can help me get a head start and learn more about the company?
- What social platforms is the organization active on?
- Is there anyone on the team who might want to pair up with me, as a remote onboarding buddy? (aka a peer who can teach you about the unwritten rules and norms of the organization)
“Finally, remember that it is always okay to ask if you need more information or more support,” Daley added. “Building inclusion and equity is important whether someone is in a physical office or working remotely. Small, spontaneous, and frequent social interactions can help create connections in an office — these should still happen when working remotely but may take more intentionality.”
No matter what position you find yourself in, use these tips to spot the work cultures that will — and will not — work for you. The company you ultimately choose should enable you to flourish rather than wear you (or your well-being) out.
” Company culture for job seekers is as important as salary is today, including what they represent as a product or service. There are vast opportunities your values align with today and there is certainly no harm in asking what used to be forbidden questions to a company before you decide to accept the next offer.
This is where a reputable recruitment agency can help, who intimately knows the company from years of being a trusted partner and provider of quality people. They should be able to answer all your questions. If it’s a direct application than please do your research and prepare a list of questions to ask them. It is better to ask at the interview stage than find out later the decision to join this company was a Titanic disaster.
You may discover that their culture doesn’t match the package they are trying to sell you. If their good intentions feel transactional rather than genuine, transient rather than impactful, or (even worse) only serve as a PR opportunity rather than a well-grounded policy – think alarm bells going off!
Job descriptions that skew more masculine with words like competitive, dominant or leader, for instance, may result in a lower response from female candidates.”. Also, longer job descriptions are proven to be discouraging for women due to their predisposition to impostor syndrome. However, it’s more likely that the JD is over 10 years old and no one bothered to update it
Finding out from a distance is even harder, as many jobs have gone remote. But being able to tell in advance if a role—and an organization—aligns with your values is critically important. It can impact your mental health, personal happiness, professional advancement and overall well-being in so many ways.
Organisations are improving company culture all the time as they realise to attract the best talent they need to have a serious look and say, “how do we improve our internally policies”? to attract, retain and develop our current work force. “Sometimes, its as easy as giving regular feedback, listening, saying great job well done, really impressive thanks“ It’s the personal touch that goes a long way.
If you would like some advice and tips about how to evaluate a company’s culture and decide on a job application please get in touch with an Elkho-Group consultant now.”