How to Sniff Out a Great Company Culture during Your Job Search

A great company culture should be at the top of your priorities when searching for a new job. In fact, research shows that 77 percent of job seekers take organizational culture into consideration when applying. But since it is not a tangible asset like salary, location, or hours, getting a good read on what the organization's culture is like can be challenging. After all, the hiring manager is probably going to paint the company in the most favorable light possible, so you can’t always trust you would be a good fit just by what you are told. You need to put on your detective hat, pull out your magnifying glass, and look for clues that will solve the mystery for you. Here are some of the signs you should be looking for.

How to sniff culture_In ArticleThe interview process

Just as too many cooks can spoil the broth, too many interviewers can spoil the hiring process. If you are meeting with a half dozen “decision-makers” on separate occasions, all of whom are asking you the same questions, this may be a sign the company is vastly disorganized. Your interviews should be streamlined and tracked. Repetition of tasks in the interview process could be a signal the employer does not value efficiency. Moreover, if your interviewer cancels on you without a thought, or leaves you waiting in the lobby for an hour, this could be an indication they do not value other people’s time. On the other hand, if the interview process is systematic and respectful, this is probably a clue the company is too.


Negative attitudes in the workplace can be toxic. Fortunately, they are usually easy to spot. Your interviewer may say things like “this place is a total dumpster fire” or “unfortunately, you would be working under Mr. Gordon—we call him the tyrant.” You may think, okay, this is one individual’s problem. That does not mean the whole organizational culture is contaminated. And you may be right. So, talk to other employees on your way in or out of the building. Ask them how they like working there, and what they like about it. If they are friendly, energetic, and generally positive about the experience, you may be right about the attitude problem being a solo mission. However, if they sound pretty much like the interviewer on replay, you know you just dodged a bullet.

The “cool” approach

It is not uncommon for modern organizations to throw away the box that most employers have been thinking inside of for centuries. They believe in flexible hours, bringing your pets to work, and video game break rooms. If that is the type of organizational culture you will be joining, you will know about it pretty quickly because it will be the company’s major brag. Many people thrive in this type of environment and others, not so much. The last thing you want to do is try to force your square peg into their round hole. If you see the “cool approach” as your destiny, congratulations! You have successfully sniffed out a great fit for you. But if it sounds like your worst nightmare, don’t decide to just make it work. It won’t.

Missions and visions

When your interviewer asks if you have any questions for them, a great response is “what are the organization’s missions, vision, and values?” If they are able to tell you what they are clearly and concisely, that is a great clue the organizational culture is focused and driven. Yet if they stumble over their words, or say something like “Around here, we like to take things one day at a time,” you may want to rethink your application. Perhaps even more importantly, if their missions and values are at odds with your own, this can be a major red flag as well.

Clues to the state of a company culture are not facts. However, they are great barometers for measuring the intangible. In addition to following your gut instincts, it can’t hurt to gather as much information as possible about the organizational culture before taking the job.

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