Careers advice

How to tell if a company's culture is right for you

You can find out a lot about a company’s culture before stepping through the door.

A job should give you so much more than a salary.

You spend most of your waking hours at work, so you need to be in an environment where you feel happy, comfortable and part of the team. But as a job seeker, how can you tell if a company's culture is right for you when you’re on the outside looking in?

Let’s explore.

What does company culture mean?

You can define company culture as a company’s character. In other words, what it’s like to work there. In practice, company culture is an umbrella term that includes

  • The day-to-day work environment.
  • The values the company wishes to promote among staff.
  • Its mission – i.e. what the company is trying to achieve.

Why is it important? Because companies that take the time to consider and formalise their culture are showing they care about their employees’ experiences. So long as the culture is practiced and not just preached, chances are you’ll enjoy working at a company where there’s a culture that matches your own values and approach to life.

A good company culture is key to job satisfaction.

How to tell if a company’s culture is the right fit

There are a few steps in finding the perfect match when it comes to company culture:

1. Know what you want

Visualise the dream job (no, not the one where you’re chocolate tasting in the Bahamas), what does it look like? Consider:

  • Your values: it always helps to work in an organisation that has similar principles to you. These could be anything from eco-friendliness to gender diversity to integrity.
  • Your working preferences: do you like to be left alone to get on with it, or would you prefer regular meetings with your manager and other stakeholders?
  • Your lifestyle: work isn’t everything – if you’ve got a young family or other priorities, you might want to look for options involving flexiwork.
  • What drives you: this will be key for establishing whether the role will give you job satisfaction, and if the company will be a stimulating environment for you to grow and develop.

We recommend thinking about this early in your job hunt, as this will inform which roles you apply for, and how you approach job interviews in particular.

Look for a working environment that fits with your values and working style.

2. Do your research

New Zealand employers know that culture and values are important to staff, and often dedicate a section of their website to this stuff. Hint: these pages often sit in the ‘Careers’ section of the site.

We highly recommend reading this info when preparing for a job interview. Not only is there a good chance the hiring manager will ask you about it, but you’ll also get a solid idea of whether you and your potential employer are on the same page.

For an example, check out the values we promote here at Trade Me.

3. Observe and ask questions

Your job interview is a golden opportunity to get more of an insight into what life would be like as an employee of the organisation.

Take in as much as you can:

  • What is the office like? Does it have good facilities? Is it clean? Is it comfortable? In other words, is it somewhere people take pride in working?
  • Do people look happy? Are people having a bit of banter while they work, or is there a deathly silence?
  • What’s your interviewer like? Do they seem genuinely interested in you and what makes you tick, or are they trying to trip you up?

… and ask the interviewer the right questions:

  • “What do you like most about working here?”: this gives you the opportunity to gauge whether you think the values the company promotes are put into practice.
  • “What does the company do to promote (insert value)?”: this forces the interviewer to give you cold, hard proof.
  • “How does the company foster a positive workplace environment?”: here the interviewer might talk about events the company puts on, and policies that promote staff socialising.
  • “How do you celebrate success?”: it’s important to feel valued at work, so what will the company do to show they appreciate your hard work?
  • “What’s the most common reason for staff turnover?”: depending how honest the interviewer is feeling, this question can reveal red flags.

4. Talk to your network

If you have friends in the industry (or even better, in the company) ask them what they’ve heard about the organisation. Bad news travels fast, so peers in the know could help you dodge a bullet if the company is better avoided.

A good company culture will help you build social connections with your workmates.

How do you fit in with a company’s culture?

On the flipside of this, if you’re keen on the role, you’ll want to show the interviewer you’re the perfect cultural fit for the company.

To do this:

1. Research: you need to go into the interview primed with details on the company’s mission, values and history.

2. Give examples: behavioural interview questions are a great opportunity to show that you’re a good egg as well as a hard worker. Make the most of questions around teamwork, communication and dealing with stress.

3. Ask great questions: the questions you ask say a lot about you. For example, you can show you’re motivated by asking about development opportunities. Avoid questions like “how long do I get for lunch?”.

4. Show some personality: you’re not a robot, and managers want to hire interesting people. Obviously you need to be professional, but the odd (good) joke here and there won’t go amiss!