Finding Your Perfect Organizational Culture

From the outside looking in, it can be hard to tell what the work culture and environment of a company is really like. Here’s how you can figure out if an organization is the right fit for you.

“Fit.” Nothing is harder to evaluate in job candidates than their potential match with a company’s culture — how well they will mesh with an organization, its personnel and politics, its written and unwritten rules, and the like. Ask any hiring manager: trying to find the right match between your company’s corporate culture, on the one hand, and a candidate’s personality, on the other, is as inexact a science as they come.

Yet if finding fit can often feel more like alchemy than algebra, few things are more critical for the success of a hire. People are hired for fit — and fired for a lack thereof. And in a relatively tight job market, with a surplus of skilled and experienced people looking for opportunities, employers can afford to be picky and to hold out for the candidates best suited for their organizations — individuals who not only possess the desired qualifications, but also have the character, attitude, and values to match that of their new coworkers and company.

But employers aren’t the only ones looking for the right fit between candidate and culture. Down economy or not, jobseekers — even those who are looking for a rebound job — want to be in positive work environments. A big fat paycheque with plenty of zeroes, a long, fancy title that leaves you out of breath, and a brisk five-minute commute that doesn’t — what good are all of those if you’re miserable? No one wants to be in a workplace where people are afraid, because everyone has a hidden agenda, or where they feel like the odd man or woman out, because they’re the only ones to leave the office early to go home to their families, while their mostly single co-workers toil away into the wee hours of the evening. Rather, we want to work somewhere we feel that we belong and fit in and can thrive, for an employer whose values and priorities are closely aligned with our own.

A company’s culture, however, can be tough to evaluate from the outside. The truth is that you may not really be able to know what a work environment is really like until you’ve been in it for some time, i.e., until you’ve started working there. And there’s the rub: by far the best, and easiest, way to cope with a bad corporate culture is to simply not be drawn into it in the first place. Still, there are some ways for you to figure out whether a company is the right fit for you, though they require you to do a bit of sleuthing beforehand. Here are some tips for determining the prevailing culture at a company.

Know what kind of culture you’re looking for

To see if a company is the right fit for you, you first need to have an idea of the ideal kind of work culture or environment you’re actually looking for, and would make you the most happy and productive. That, of course, will require a bit of soul-searching and thoughtful introspection on your part, to identify where your values and priorities lie. What type of company do you want to work for? What do you want out of your next job and employer? To be close and chummy with your coworkers and bosses, or to be in a more formal corporate environment where there’s a clearer separation of personal and professional roles? Do you want to be part of a tightly-knit team, or to be left to your own devices, with the freedom and independence to do as you please? Would you prefer to belong to a company where seniority counts for less than merit and a newbie can leapfrog a veteran staffer based on their performance, or an outfit where company loyalty and tenure are prized over all else?

There’s no “right” or “wrong” answer to any of these questions. Nor are they always mutually exclusive. The point is simply that all of us will value some things more than others, or not at all — different strokes for different folks, after all. Determine what really matters to you, what you’re willing to negotiate or move on, and what you’re unwilling to compromise whatsoever.

Once you’ve taken a thorough inventory of your core values and beliefs, you can narrow your search to employers whose work cultures and styles accord with your own. A start-up, for example, may require a greater commitment in terms of time from its members, since getting a company off the ground and then scaling it rapidly demands that everyone pitch in (usually with the promise of shared prosperity). That may not be ideal for you, if one of your priorities is to have enough time for a life outside of the office. Similarly, a company with a fiercely competitive spirit, that’s gunning for the top spot in its industry, may be ill-suited for you. At all events, when you know what kind of a workplace you’re looking to be a part of, you can tailor your research and questions to determine if a prospective employer is suited for your style and temperament.

But the search for fit cuts both ways. Employers aren’t the only ones looking for the perfect match between candidate and culture.

Avail yourself of online resources

I’ve talked before about how important it is for candidates today to actively manage their online presences by maintaining and updating their social media profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other such sites; more and more hiring managers, after all, are screening employees by reviewing applicants’ profiles on social networking sites. But the Internet and social media haven’t just made it easier for employers to learn about candidates — they’ve also made it easier for candidates to learn about employers. In particular, popular sites like Glassdoor.com, RateMyEmployer.ca, and Vault.com, where current and former employees can post comments about their experiences working at or being recruited by a company, provide invaluable, firsthand information about the corporate culture of an organization, which you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get from mission statements or canned pitches.

As with all online reviews, you should take what you read with a grain of salt. After all, the people who might be motivated to comment on Glassdoor.com could have an axe to grind or an agenda to promote — for example, disgruntled ex-employees, or company apologists. Another, perhaps more reliable — albeit also more time-consuming — means of learning what it’s like to work at a company is to contact current employees, through your network on LinkedIn. (Of course, if you personally know someone who works there, you can always seek them out through old-fashioned means.) Either way, it’s always instructive to have an insider’s perspective. There’s nothing like hearing it from the horse’s mouth.

Also, consider looking at clients’ reviews and opinions, if these are available on industry crowdsourcing sites (e.g., Yelp). Remember: if a company doesn’t treat its customers properly, it’s unlikely to treat its employees much better.

Remember: if a company doesn’t treat its customers properly, it’s unlikely to treat its employees much better.

In my next post, I’ll describe some of the visual clues that a hawk-eyed candidate can pick up on, when they visit a company, as well as the questions they should ask, in order to determine how they do things around there. Stay tuned!

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!