Tips for determining the culture of a potential employer

Office Safari Josh

You are so fantastic that everybody wants you! Now it’s time to be a bit selective – do you really want to work for them and is the culture right for you? After all, it’s imperative to know whether they will appreciate your encouragement of staff to take up the desk safari challenge.

On a more serious note, it can be hard to determine what the company culture is like, and culture can make or break a job as well as influencing your confidence and drive. When interviewing, your potential new employer (like you) will put on their best game face. This means that you often won’t get a true sense of the culture in the workplace.

So how can you judge the culture of a potential employer and whether they like office pranks and desk safari challenges before signing on the dotted line?

Consider the following strategies and questioning:

1. Look up company review websites, which feature reviews and ratings by current and former employees. One company review website which is growing in popularity in New Zealand is Glassdoor.

2. Check out the companies social media accounts (and if you can, current employees). Look out for what’s going on, if they have fun and if there are any an indicators of what it’s like to work at the company. Several years ago when interviewing for a contract, I noticed the director’s PA had tweeted saying “Ops I just spilt my coffee all over my boss #fail”. I slid it into conversation at my interview, which resulted in a long funny conversation about coffee slipups – this not only gave me an insight into how she reacts to situations but also taught me how she interacts with colleagues.

3. Is there a social hierarchy? Find out whether the CEO and managers socialise, meet and connect with people outside of their team. Do they treat staff as an equal regardless of age, position or title?

4. Ask to meet some of the team members/employees (especially if you are going to be managing a person or team). If the company wants to ensure you are the right fit for the team, they should welcome this request or already have it as part of their recruiting process. Ideally, when you meet it will be in a relaxed environment over a coffee or drink. You are more likely to receive an honest response from team members rather than those who are interviewing you, so it is worthwhile. We have a peer review process, which involves the potential new employee going out for a casual drink with three or four of our current team members. Not only does that mean that we get to assess if they are right for the team and our culture, but whether they see themselves fitting in with us as well.

5. Ask in your interview what the company culture is like. I always ask this question and when I do I am looking for two things in their answer. First, I want to know how employees work together and support each other. Next, I want to know if employees are sociable and if the company puts some effort into bringing everyone together as a team. Of course, it is unlikely that they will say something negative, however if they answer enthusiastically and spend a decent amount of time describing the culture, it’s likely they like the culture themselves. For bonus points, you could try asking “why did the last two people leave?”

6. Ask what do they personally like about the culture as well as what it’s like compared to the last place they worked at? This will give you a baseline to help understand their view on the company’s culture.

7. What happens when someone makes a mistake? Are individuals able to learn from their mistakes or are they crucified the first time they make one?

8. What is the busiest time of the year or quarter? This will let you know whether they are always busy and perhaps overworked. Take note whether people work together at these busy times and if they are collaborative.

9. Look out for humour and laughter. When you arrive at the office and while in the interview look out for laughter and humour. A good sign of a company with a great culture is laughter.

10. The good and bad statements staff make. Ask what is the most common “great” statement said by staff about the company, and on the flip side, what is the worst complaint heard regularly in the office? I am proud to say that the most common thing said by my colleagues is how great the environment is and how we have a great bunch of people. I’m amused to say that the most common complaint I’ve heard is that one certain colleague likes leaving half a banana in the fruit bowl.

Finally remember New Zealand is a small place with almost two degrees of separation so ask your network if they know what the company is like as there is a good chance someone will know someone who can give you their thoughts (ensure you gain an insight into the context of their opinion, so you can measure its worth).

What is your best method on determining the culture of a potential employer?