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Decoding Organizational Culture

When you are looking for a job, it is important that you find the right fit.  You don't want to just leap at the first opportunity that comes your way.  It is better to find an organization that matches your values.  The problem is that from the outside, it can be difficult to assess the organizational culture.  The employer will want to make a good impression, so they may give you an idealized perception of what it's like to work there.  Here are a few tips that will help you get an accurate picture of the organizational culture:

Ask employees.  Current and past employees are one of the best sources of information about organizational culture.  They can provide a realistic idea of what it's like to work at the company on a day-to-day basis.  Look at your connections on LinkedIn and see if you are connected with anyone who has worked at your target company.  If you find a connection, send them an email letting them know that you are interested in working there and ask if they can give you some insight on what it's like.  You are probably more likely to get honest feedback from a past employee than you would from a current one. 

Pay attention at the job interview.  The job interview provides you with a lot of opportunities to get information about the organizational culture.  The key is to keep your eyes open.  Pay attention to any employees that you see.  Do they look stressed or do they look relaxed?  How do the employees interact with each other?  How does the work space look?  Do the employees have family photos at their desks?  What decorations are on the wall?  How is the workspace organized?  All of these observations can give you a picture of the organizational culture.     

Consider the hiring process.  As a candidate going through the hiring process, how has your experience been?  Has the employer shown respect for you and your time?  Has the employer always behaved with professionalism?  Is the employer's approach to hiring both organized and modern?  The way that they treat you as an applicant can give you an idea of how they will treat you as an employee.   

Ask key questions.  While it's true that employers will be trying to make a good impression at job interviews, you can still get valuable information by asking the right questions.  For example, you could ask what a typical day looks like, or you could ask what type of person would be successful at this company.  These types of questions will help you determine the organizational values.

Look for clues online.  Most companies will have clues about the organizational culture online.  Read the company website- particularly the 'About Us' section.  Look at any news articles that were written about the company and read their social media feed.  Social media provides a better indication of organizational culture than website content because companies usually spend less time editing it.       

When you are trying to decide whether a particular company would be a good fit for you, don't underestimate your intuition.  If your gut is telling you that you would be happy there (or you wouldn't), make sure that you listen to it.  You probably picked up on something that was so subtle that you couldn't consciously identify it. 

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image by