Finding Your Perfect Organizational Culture, Pt. II

Here are some things to look for, as well as questions to ask, when you go in for that interview, to help you figure out the company’s culture.

In my last post, I argued that a company’s culture should be just as important a consideration for employees as it is for employers, who, everything else being equal — experience, skills, education — are increasingly wont to hire on the basis of cultural fit. Naturally, salary, benefits, title, commute, and the like are all still things you, as a jobseeker, have to consider when you’re trying to choose between opportunities. But the culture of a company and its compatibility with your values, personality, and style are no less essential ingredients for your success and happiness. A positive and inspiring environment, where the employees can’t wait to show up for work, can be rewarding in a way that even the most bloated paycheque can’t approach.

Yet if cultural fit with a company is important to consider, it’s not always easy to find, let alone measure and quantify. Trying to figure out what it would be like to work at a company or how things are done around there is no simple task. In many ways, it’s like preparing to travel to another country: you can read as many textbook descriptions as you want, look at as many photos or watch as much video footage as you can, but at the end of the day it just has to be experienced in order to be understood. Whether we’re talking about countries or companies, culture — those routines and rules that everyone knows are to be followed, even if they’ve never been committed to paper — is elusive to the outsider.

Thankfully, there are still plenty of ways you can determine if a company’s the right fit for you. In my previous post, I talked about the things candidates can do to learn about the work environment of a company. But should you land an interview, you’ll have an even better opportunity to study the organization’s culture, so that you can figure out if you’d be content working there.

“Inspect” the job site
The interview is as much an opportunity for the candidate to size up the company as it is for the company to assess the candidate. In fact, from the moment that you walk through the company’s front door, you should be scrutinizing the visual cues that point to the company’s culture — starting with the office itself. Do the employees have their own cubicles or work stations, or does everyone share a yawning open space? Where are the senior managers’ offices located — in the midst of the line employees, or far afield of them and everyone else?

These might seem like trivial things to harp on, but in the same way that a candidate’s dress and appearance can say a lot about them as an individual and a professional, so the physical layout and floor plan of a company’s offices, along with its décor (art, sculptures, paintings, plaques, photographs, and so on), can give hints to its cultural dynamics — whether it has a traditional and conservative work environment, or a looser and more unconventional one. Ask yourself: could you could see yourself working comfortably in this office space every day?

Ask yourself: could you could see yourself working comfortably in this office space every day?

Study the personnel
Take a visual survey of any employees in the office who may be milling about or hard at work. Again, pay attention to the small things, for example, whether there’s a dress code being observed: formal, business casual, none. Take note of how people interact with one another. Do they appear to be friendly and casual, or professional but distant? Is the workplace buzzing with energy, with lots of people chatting away and collaborating on projects? Or is it serenely quiet, like a library, with everyone buried in their own work? The ambience and even background noise of a workplace can speak volumes about the personality of the company.

As can the ways its employees have personalized their work areas: long tenured staffers, as a rule, will have lots of family pictures, comic strips, and the like on or around their desks, but employees at a company with high turnover will generally have fewer personal effects. In this vein, be sure to ask everyone you meet how long they’ve been with the company; too many fresh faces could be a symptom of retention problems.

Lastly, what kinds of technology are the people there working with? Have they been graced with the latest, bleeding-edge computers with quad-core processors, or have they been forced to make do with those ancient desktop towers from the early 1990s that sound like jet turbine engines when they’re powered on? Don’t let anything escape your notice. If you’re willing to don your anthropologist’s cap for a spell, you can learn a good deal about the company’s culture.

Ask questions at the interview
At the interview itself, you’ll have a chance to learn more about the company, when your interviewers invite you to raise any questions you might have about your potential employer. Make the most of this opportunity to find out what kind of organization they represent, and how things get done around here.

Of course, you can, and should, ask outright what the environment is like at the company, and what kind of personalities they think would best fit their team (an alpha dog entrepreneur, a team player, and so on). Most hiring managers will have a prepared response, along with a mission statement and perhaps other formal documentation.

But you can pose some less direct follow-up questions, too, to help you peer a bit deeper into the company’s distinctive ecology. For example, how does the company recognize the achievements of its employees and demonstrate that it values them — employee-of-the-month awards, bonuses for attaining certain performance benchmarks, encouraging and funding professional development among staff, and so on? Are their team-building functions, like a company softball team or biannual bowling night? Is the company involved in any philanthropic activities or in the community, such as sponsoring charity runs or donating to worthy causes? How important any of these are to you will, of course, depend on your particular core values, but taken together, the answers can paint you a picture of the prevailing culture at a company.

If you’re willing to don your anthropologist’s cap for a spell, you can learn a good deal about the company’s culture.

A lot of what we do at Clarity Recruitment, as finance recruiters, involves us trying to find the right match between our candidates and our clients, so that they’re both happy with their hires/hirings. And what we’ve learned, in our ten-plus years of experience, is that fit matters — as much for employees as for employers. Being stuck in an environment that makes you unhappy, and where you don’t feel you belong, can be ruinous for your career. A workplace that excites and energizes you, that you can be proud of, and that you look forward to showing up to every morning, will bring out the best in you, in terms of your productivity and performance as well as your personal satisfaction and happiness. Finding that perfect fit requires you do a little homework and ask the right questions — but the payoff won’t feel like work at all.

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!