While it may not seem as important as negotiating a salary or a short commute, company culture should be at the forefront of every job seeker’s checklist. Why, you ask? Because company culture, which is a fancy way of saying the “personality of an organization” or “how things are done around here,” is directly tied to your potential happiness at work.

For example, would you prefer to work in an office that’s centered around late nights and happy hour or one that encourages you to get home in time for dinner? Do you like working as part of a team or individually? Would you rather hear big news from the CEO in person or through an email?

Deciding what your ideal company culture looks like is easy, but finding a company that matches those desires can be tough. When you’re considering a new position, follow these steps to determine what the company culture looks like and if it works for you.

Step 1: Do Your Research

Before your interview, pull up the company’s website and check out their “about us” section to learn about their company values and what it’s like to be part of their team. It’s also worth spending some time on websites like Glassdoor.com where you can find employee reviews for many different companies. Look for comments with common themes, which are more likely to be true, and be on the lookout for red flags like sexual harassment complaints. Finally, check out their social media presence. How the company representatives interact with people online can tell you a lot about how much they value their customers.

Step 2: Ask The Right Questions

The interview is your opportunity to get a better feel for the work environment and your potential colleagues. And while most interviewers will paint the company in a positive light, there are some sly questions you can ask to get a clearer picture of how things work around the office. Consider asking some of these questions:

  • How often does the staff meet? It sounds innocent enough, but the answer should reveal how communication works within the company. Do they meet regularly and share ideas, putting a strong emphasis on teamwork? Or do they meet with their supervisor individually as needed, meaning a more independent work environment?
  • What are your busiest times of the year? Here’s where you find out if the title workaholic is in your near future. Does the interviewer say they’re “always busy” or “only the 15th of every month.” Also, does the person specifically say that you’ll be busy or do they say the entire department stays late those days until the work is done?
  • What does it take to get promoted? If the interviewer says it depends on when a position becomes available it means your upward mobility is probably contingent on someone else getting promoted or leaving the company. If they mention that promotions come easier to those who have higher education credentials and specialty training, ask if the company foots the bill. If they do, they highly value their employees and their personal development.
  • When you think of the best talent in the company, what traits would you say they all have in common? The way they answer will tell you what traits the company finds highly desirable. If they respond with energetic, independent, aggressive and competitive, it may not be the right company for you if you prefer a relaxed atmosphere with a little more teamwork and a little less competition.
  • What types of events does the company throw for its employees? Is it a holiday party once a year to say thank you to their employees? Or do they throw monthly luncheons where they recognize high achievers? It’s nice to know how much the company values their employees as well as how many additional social obligations you’ll have in that position.

Step 3: Observe

If possible, get to your interview early so you’ll have a few minutes to observe business as usual. Take note of how the employees interact with each other. Do they tease one another and joke about weekend plans? Or are they strictly professional and refer to one another with titles instead of first names? As you walk back to the office for your interview, take a peek at the desks as you walk by. If there are family photos on the desks it indicates your future colleagues are likely to take an interest in your personal life. If you only see paperwork and company calendars, it’s probably a more formal, business-like environment.

Step 4: Speak to Potential Colleagues

If it’s not already part of the interview, ask if it’s possible to speak to some of the employees in the area you’d be working. This is an opportunity to see what the environment looks like, how the employees interact with you and if you “feel” like it would be a good fit. It’s also a good time to start asking some questions. Do they go out to lunch together or brown bag it everyday? Do they enjoy working there? Is there anything they would change? How about it they feel like they’re appreciated and valued members of the company? Most employees won’t mind answering the questions as long as you’re friendly and ask in a professional way.

It may seem like a lot of extra work, but the potential pay-off is huge if you can find a company whose culture lines up with your personal desires. Follow these steps and you’re much more likely to enjoy your new job and your colleagues.

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Jennifer Cary is a freelance writer, blogger and former government employee. You can visit her website here.