Company culture
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What is it really like to work here?

27 Jan 2017

If you’re wondering whether or not a certain company would be a good fit for you, or you’re weighing up a particular job offer, you’ll want to know what the company is really like before you pack up and move there.

When you’re making the move to a new company, it can be a bit nerve-racking, especially if you’re leaving the comforts of a job you know and love.

There will come a time when you have to leave your old routine, your friendly colleagues and your familiar job, and move on to bigger and better things.

But what if you hate your new job? What if the company culture is terrible? How will you find out what it’s really like to work there?

It can be tricky to find out what the work environment is really like if you don’t know someone on the inside. Even if you do, employees don’t generally want to divulge sensitive information, so you might not get the big picture.

Leela Srinivasan is the chief marketing officer at Lever, a collaborative hiring platform that helps companies get the best talent.

Srinivasan, who previously worked in LinkedIn, said there are plenty of places candidates can scope out an honest picture of what it’s like to work at a company.

Glassdoor is perhaps the most prominent place to dig into company culture and employer brand via anonymous feedback from both employees and interviewees.”

However, she advised candidates not to get stuck on any one review. Similar to hotel or restaurant reviews, it’s better to look for the overarching theme of the reviews, be that positive or negative.

“If four out of five reviews allude to constant changes in company direction, for instance, and that doesn’t match the type of environment in which you thrive, perhaps that particular company isn’t for you,” said Srinivasan.

With more of a need for this research, more sites are emerging to give a different lens on company cultures. Srinivasan cited Kununu, which has data relevant to both Europe and the US, while InHerSight is just getting started and is US-focused at the moment.

“[That is] a platform that allows female employees to anonymously rate companies across 14 different dimensions, capturing what the company is like to work for as a woman.”

During an interview

Srinivasan said, depending on what information is available prior to an interview, you might ask different types of questions.

“If there isn’t much information available, you might begin by simply asking your first interviewer to describe the company culture and values, and then probe from there,” she said.

“Also, if the company is growing rapidly, ask how the culture has evolved during periods of high growth. Even companies with strong cultures often struggle to preserve the facets that make them special as they scale.”

However, if the company values and culture are more readily available (on their own website, for example), you should be more specific in your questioning. Ask about certain values and find out how they’re reinforced.

If you want to find out more about the team you’ll be joining, Srinivasan recommended asking: ‘Describe the type of person that is typically successful on this team’.

It can also be helpful to look for patterns if you go for more than one interview. Don’t repeat the exact same questions, but look for similar answers about what the company culture is like at each interview.

“It’s also fine to ask interviewers what they would change about the company’s culture, if they could only change one thing,” said Srinivasan. “Again, look for patterns; if every interviewer talks about the long hours they work and that’s going to be an issue for you, it’s best that you identify it up front.”

After an interview

Your prospective employer will look for references from you, so there’s nothing wrong with doing your own research for references.

While current employees might not want to paint a truly honest picture if it’s in any way negative, Srinivasan suggested finding former employees via LinkedIn.

“With a little digging, it’s possible to find current or former employees with mutual connections. Former employees are often inclined to give you the straight story, which can be very helpful.”

Srinivasan also said candidates should think about how they’ve been treated thus far. “If the company was exceptionally slow to give you feedback, or made you fill out an antiquated online application form that took multiple screens and many minutes to complete, that’s a sign that they may not be sufficiently agile, efficient or modern when it comes to hiring, and possibly other areas of the business as well.”

Companies with a positive company culture will want to show that off; be it on their website, with employee testimonials or even to you, the candidate, during the hiring process. While digging around before, during and after the interview can raise some red flags, it’s good to look out for the green lights too.

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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