Corporate Culture or Culture Shock?


by Jan Johnston Osburn |

Corporate culture may very well be the key to happiness when searching for a new position. You can have exceptional knowledge and expertise but if the culture is not a match, it could spell disaster for everyone. A job is more than just a place you go for 8+ hours a day. You have to deal with a lot — coworkers, bosses, and office politics. If you don’t thrive in a certain culture, your career could take a downturn pretty quickly.

Life’s too short and you work too hard to be miserable every day. Due diligence is the name of the game when trying to uncover the corporate culture.

Why should you understand the employer’s corporate culture?

The simple answer is because it will affect you in just about every way imaginable. Some examples include: hours worked a day and a week, availability of flextime and telecommuting, how people interact with each other, how people dress, benefits offered, professional development opportunities, how performance is evaluated, what success looks like – – just about everything.

Corporate culture is the way the company “feels” and every organization is different. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong; it’s just different. The culture goes beyond the mission and values and it manifests itself in these ways:

  • Routines and customs
  • Company processes
  • Organizational and leadership structures
  • Decision making authority
  • The company story
  • How people work; do they work independently or individually?
  • Hours worked per week and hours worked from home
  • Is the organization following a consistent or aggressive growth pattern?
  • How are people held accountable?
  • What are the daily work practices?
  • Why is this position open?
  • What is the retention rate in the organization?
  • Is it organizational policy to promote from within?

Your responsibility

There are many things you should be cognizant of during your interview experience. Be a profound observer from the moment you walk in until you leave.

The interview process is never one-sided. It is to mutually decide if what the other offers is best for both parties. Great interviews flow like a good conversation and that conversation should flow into discussions about the culture.

An employee who is a good cultural fit will work well within the environment and will be much more prone to success.

Pay attention to the following:

  • How are you greeted?
  • How are you treated while interviewing (before, during, and after)? Was all of your communication professional and respectful?
  • What phrases do the interviewers use frequently?
  • Is there a theme or unspoken tone to the questions asked?
  • How does the environment “feel” to you?
  • What is the corporate image? There’s a ton of information out there and news articles about organizations.
  • Is the job description clear? The hiring manager should be able to have a detailed discussion about the role. You should know what will make you successful. If goals are not clear, that may signal an issue.
  • How are people interacting with each other? Are the people friendly or do you detect a lot of friction.
  • Are people smiling or do they look very serious?
  • How do they act in the presence of the boss?
  • Are your responses to questions treated with suspicion or understanding?

Don’t forget to ask your own questions! Here’s some questions that might help you uncover what the culture is like:

  • Ask them what five words or phrases describe the company culture? If you are meeting with a several people, get an answer from everyone. Then you can see a common thread.
  • How does the company recognize employee accomplishments?
  • Ask them to describe the leadership or managerial style at your company.
  • Ask them to describe the decision making process.
  • What qualities do the most successful employees in your company possess?
  • What is the company’s attitude toward professional and educational advancement?
  • How often does staff meet?
  • What is the common theme that ties the employees together?
  • What is the average tenure of employees?
  • How do people from different departments interact?
  • What does it take to get promoted?

Sometimes you really don’t know the culture until you get there but by being aware and asking a few key questions, you will at least obtain some insight. You can get close through your own research and observation. When you have all of the information you need, try to put together a mental picture of what your day-to-day experience would be like. The more complete the picture, the better able you will be to decide if this job is the right one for you or not.

Try not to be blindsided by the culture. Ever.

Company culture should never equal culture shock. Your gut tells you a lot but you just have to pay attention and ask questionsIf you feel troubled about the job or the people you’d be working with, don’t ignore it. Unless your gut has a history of being dramatic, it’s worth paying attention to when a voice inside you is screaming, “Don’t even think about taking this job!”

[via Linkedin]

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