Culture Club: How to determine if a company’s culture is your cup of tea

In today’s job market, it’s not just candidates who compete against each other for a specific job. Because of the way certain industries are booming, these days multiple companies fight for recruits from the same talent pool. An attractive company culture is just one way companies can set themselves apart from the rest.

So what is company culture, exactly? In simple terms, it’s the values a company embraces and the work environment it creates. It varies from one establishment to the next and can be more laid back (i.e. bean bag chairs, ping-pong, free lunches, telecommuting options) or more rigid (i.e. strict attendance policy, production quotas, professional dress code) or somewhere in between.

The importance of culture

Ultimately, a company’s culture has a direct impact on employee productivity, job satisfaction and overall happiness, since employees spend most of their waking hours at work, says Todd Russell, academic relations and intern program manager at IM Flash Technologies, which boasts 1,600 employees at its Lehi campus. “In my opinion, a company’s culture is the glue that holds a company together,” Russell says. “For an employee, it’s as important as the culture at home, the team they cheer for, or the friends they associate with.”

Today’s job seekers have more career options than ever before thanks to new technology and innovation. And with a more educated workforce than previous generations, employers are able to be just as picky. As such, it’s important that both parties have a mutual understanding of each other’s values and expectations up front in order to determine if the employment will be a good fit on both sides.

Working for a company takes serious commitment and accepting a job offer should not be taken lightly, adds Ryan Reeder, senior director of talent acquisition at Progrexion. “If a candidate does not know the culture they are stepping into, there is a good chance the new hire will not be successful, regardless of how competent they may be in their skills.”

There are other factors to consider beyond company culture, however, says Donna Crow, executive director of career services at Utah State University. “Combining the realities of your life, such as your need for good pay, security and advancement, with your interests, skills and personality is critical for career success,” she says.

Do your research

Reeder advises candidates do their homework prior to the job interview—and definitely before accepting any type of job offer—by researching a potential employer’s values, reputation and work environment. “It’s important that a company’s values align with your own personal interests, values and expectations,” says Reeder. Reviews and insight on specific companies can be found online through Glassdoor or LinkedIn, as well as social media sites. In addition to company culture and values, candidates should research the company’s history, such as when the company was founded and by whom, how successful the company is and how involved it is with the community. Reeder also suggests candidates contact someone who works at the company to see what that person likes and dislikes about working there.

“There are many ways to find out if you will be a good fit,” says Russell. “Go to career fairs and meet the people who work there, and take a tour if possible. Go online to see what people have to say about the company, both good and bad. You will get a good sense of the culture if you take the time to do some research.”

If done properly, candidates will know what they are walking into before they even have the first interview, Reeder says. During the interview, Reeder advises candidates ask three or four questions related to culture and employee interactions, and be prepared to drill on topics that might get skimmed over by the interviewer. Afterwards, be sure to express gratitude for the interviewer’s time and consideration and save a few questions related to culture and job expectations for a follow-up phone call or email. “Companies want to know you are interested, so if you interview and never follow up, most companies will move on to the next candidate,” says Reeder.

Fitting in

Companies looking to hire and keep top talent make it a priority to create a positive work environment and hire employees who are likely to be a good fit long-term. The result is a working relationship where both parties benefit.

“IM Flash created a set of core values that include integrity, commitment, execution and teamwork to shape our culture. In fact, we hire first to the values, and second to the technical skill set of the individual. Those who do not fit or have issues with the four values self-eject in the process, leaving a team that is focused on common goals, executed in a values-based way,” Russell says.

Following extensive research and in some cases an interview, there will be times a candidate determines the company culture is not a good fit. If that’s the case, the best decision is for the candidate to politely decline the offer. “After review of the interview and a good night’s sleep, if you still feel the job is not a fit, write a nice email to the interviewer to let them know you have decided to withdraw,” says Reeder. “Be honest. Interviewers and companies always want to know why so they can keep making adjustments to their résumé sourcing,” he adds.

In addition to company culture, there are many reasons why people choose to decline a job offer, says Crow. Perhaps the timing is off, the salary is too low or there is not enough room for growth. Whatever the cause, circumstances could change down the road. But if done correctly, turning down a job is unlikely to ruin a candidate’s chances of ever working for the company in the future. “You want to turn down an offer so that you keep the door open while not burning any bridges,” Crow says.