What Type of Company Culture Is Right for You?

Your job search is just as much about finding the company that's the right fit for you as it is finding a company that thinks you're the right fit for it. Corporate culture is as important of a consideration as compensation, commute time, and potential for growth. But how do you decide what type of company culture is right for you?

What type of company is right for youThe science of company culture

Particularly after the dot-com era, "culture" is sometimes written off as perks such as snacks at the ready, beer on Fridays, and a Ping-Pong table in the breakroom. But those perks aren't the be-all, end-all. So many factors influence a company's culture. Is it large or small? Small or really small? In-person work or remote? Progressive or traditional? Corporate or startup? How many types of culture are there?

You'll find many lists of types of company culture online, but one organizational culture tool with scientific backing is the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI) developed by Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn, researchers at the University of Michigan. More than 10,000 companies have used OCAI to assess their organizational cultures. In brief, OCAI looks at two sets of competing values: internal/external orientation and stability/flexibility. When the values are paired together in every possible combination, four cultures emerge:

  • A "create" culture or adhocracy pairs flexibility with an external focus. In this culture, risk and innovation are rewarded. A startup tends to have this culture, and it's often found in technology companies and industry disruptors (think Uber or Lyft). In this entrepreneurial environment, employees are encouraged to experiment and develop new solutions. Uncertainty is the norm.
  • A "collaborative" or "clan" culture combines flexibility with an internal focus. Consensus, loyalty, and teamwork are valued, and human development and relationship building are often goals. "Caring" industries such as health care, education, and the nonprofit world often exhibit this culture. Employees may talk about being a "family."
  • A "control" culture based on hierarchy. This culture pairs an internal focus with stability, and it's often found in industries with little room for error (think banking, insurance, government, etc.). This may be a conservative but efficient environment. Change is incremental.
  • A "compete" or "market" culture is externally focused with a high degree of stability. This is a results-oriented environment with a high focus on competition. Sales, marketing, and consultancy often have a "market" culture. Metrics are important.

Questions to ask about culture in your job interview

While these cultural categorizations can be broadly attached to industries, you cannot assume a company (or workplace team) adheres to a specific culture simply because it's in a particular industry. It's critical to ask questions about culture during your job interview to make sure it's a good fit for you. Keep in mind that there is no one "right" type of company culture—and the culture that suits you best may change throughout your career depending on outside factors.

During the hiring process, it's a good idea to ask your hiring manager about culture, and as you progress to final interviews, ask if you can meet potential peers so you can also explore culture with them. Potential questions to ask include:

  • What are the company's stated values? If the answer is innovation, then the culture will tend to be more flexible.
  • What is the company's approach to professional development? If this is important to you, listen for descriptions of established programs and examples of paths employees have taken.
  • How does the company approach team building? Consider whether the approach seems casual or intentional.
  • How is employee feedback shared, and what does the annual employee evaluation process look like? Listen for clues such as reliance on metrics and consideration of external factors.
  • What traits do successful employees tend to share? Listen for traits such as "flexibility," "attention to detail," etc.

Due diligence upfront can help you find a corporate culture that's a good match for you. But if you start a job and find that it doesn't feel right, there is nothing wrong with pursuing change. You need to find the right culture in which you can thrive at this point in your career.

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