It’s pretty obvious that you shouldn’t take a job at a company where the culture does not fit your personality. Sure, the money might be great, but before too long, their decisions, assignments, interactions, and attitudes will grate on your nerves . The question thus becomes how to ferret out the company’s culture so you can assess whether it will work for you.
Unfortunately, most of the blurbs on a company’s career page are of little help. It’s pretty typical to find oodles of vacuous cliches like, “You’ll advance your career,” “We truly care about our people,” and “We have a culture of collaboration and trust.” Those all sound lovely, but is that what the culture is really like on a daily basis?
We know from the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve taken the test “What’s Your Organizational Culture?” that there are four primary corporate cultures:
- Social Culture: This organization is often relaxed and casual, and the line may be blurred between professional relationships and friendships.
- Dependable Culture: This company is very process-focused and predictable on a day-to-day basis.
- Enterprising Culture: This organization is a meritocracy where creativity and intelligence are valued, and the organization is competitive, even if the competition is friendly.
- Hierarchical Culture: This culture is hierarchical and traditional, where people both value and compete for power.
While some cultures are more beloved than others (eg, more people prefer Enterprising than Hierarchical cultures), they all have their fans. In an ideal world, you would have someone at the company to which you’re applying take the test and share the results. But that’s usually not practical, so you’ll need to get a little crafty.
Two of the biggest differentiators between the four corporate cultures are whether the culture is more collaborative or competitive, and the extent to which the company prefers detailed planning or out-of-the-box thinking. You can get a rough assessment of those two issues pretty quickly in an interview by asking these two questions.
First, ask a question like, “Would you say that people who “stand out” and are a bit competitive are most successful here? Or would you say that people who “get along” and collaborate are most successful here?”
You can tweak the wording of this question so long as you’re still addressing the fundamental issue of to what extent this company prefers individual stars or team collaborators. Whether you’re someone who prefers working on teams or you want individual achievements, this question will tell you pretty quickly what the company is actually like.
Second, ask a question like, “Would you say that out-of-the-box thinking or careful planning is more of a core value here?” Again, you can tweak the language as long as you figure out whether the company is more process-focused or enjoys freewheeling innovation.
You may have already gotten a good read on the culture at that company without even realizing it. If you find yourself uncomfortable with either of these questions, that can sometimes be a sign that you already know the answer. For example, if I don’ t want to ask them about people standing out, it might be because I’ve already gotten a vibe that it would be impolitic to use that phrase.
Ultimately your goal is twofold: Figure out what type of culture you personally prefer and then get a handle on what your prospective employer is really like. On rare occasions, the company’s career page will provide some clues, but most of the time, you’ ll have to assess this yourself.