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How to tell if a company's culture is right for you before accepting a job offer

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Matt Darvill Culture, Career Advice, Interviews...

One of the most important aspects of starting in a new company is how the culture aligns to your personal values and beliefs. It is one of the more difficult things to gauge, especially given the time constraints of an interview. So what can you do to ensure you have as broad an understanding of another business’ culture as possible; and give yourself the easiest transition into a new role?

We’ve outlined some tricks you can use during the screening process, so you can be confident that taking a job offer is the right decision.

USE THE LOBBY TIME

It’s always important to arrive early for an interview. It sets the right tone and shows that you’re keen and conscientious. This also gives you the opportunity to examine their existing employees for a few minutes. How friendly is the receptionist, do they make an effort to make you feel welcome? Take note of what you can see/hear around you. How do people greet each other? Does there appear to be a lot of collaboration, or is it more independent working? Are people dressed smartly or relaxed, can you hear a jovial tone in the office, or is it more stern and serious?

Clearly you cannot make an exact judgement on the basis of a few minutes, (particularly if people know you are there for an interview), but it can be a useful indicator. You’ll have researched, and will have an internal view, of what the ideal culture is for your working style. This time spent observing their existing staff can help to reaffirm if the organisational culture of this particular company is what you initially believed. Use it after the interview to think about whether this is an environment that would suit you, and how you want to work every day?

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Just as important as that initial view, is taking the time to research beforehand. With social media being so vital to an organisation’s communication, you can get an understanding of the types of activities the staff engage in.

Another source is using websites such as glassdoor, to get genuine reviews from past staff members, to see how they felt the organisation was to work for. This can be a tremendous insight but bear in mind that these can be biased against the employer, and can have a particular agenda. Also, you can message past employees on LinkedIn about their experience and whether they would recommend working there, which could be a more authentic and sincere take.

No part of this research should be more important or carry more weight than another, but it should help to paint an overall picture of the company, and how it tries to present itself.

ASK THEM

This is essential, as an interview is a two-way process of determining if it is the right fit, so ask anything that you regard as crucial to working there. Generic rhetoric on culture can be easily regurgitated by the interview team, so you need to be prepared to ask your questions in a slightly different way to get the full understanding. Be specific, and ask a few questions on the ‘make or break’ things that you need reassurance about.

If you’re wondering about flexible working, ask if anyone in the team you’re applying to join takes the option of working from home regularly? It might be that staff are expected to be in the office, and it’s somewhat discouraged. So this will get to the crux of the issue, and avoid a generic answer. If you have ambitions to develop within the company, ask about the career path of someone who took the job recently; rather than something vague about eligibility for promotion. Try to encourage the interview panel to open up and give you specific examples. Allowing you to make a more informed choice.

Try to take a well-rounded, holistic approach to this, and get your information from as many different sources as possible. The posters and policies that a company will present are of little use if the behaviours are radically different when you take a deeper dive into the company. By using these simple tricks, you can establish what types of characters the company attracts, and if you can see yourself aligning with the company you will keep in the office. Let us know if you have any tips on how to gauge company culture in the comments below!