Identifying Your Prospective Company's Culture: What Is It, And How Do You Find Out?

Post written by

Remy Schneier

Remy Schneier is the Head of Human Resources at P.volve LLC.

Company culture: two words, a lot of meaning. But what is the meaning, really?

As a human resources professional for a fast-growing startup, hiring an average of two people every week, the most common question that I am asked during an interview is, “What is your company culture?”

When people are asking this question, a part of me wonders if they don't know what else to ask, and this is an easy go-to. The other part of me believes that candidates are genuinely curious because in today’s workforce, culture is so imperative in choosing a job, especially when the candidate is very qualified and has many different opportunities to decide between.

So, the question is asked, and what is it that the candidate is expecting to hear? Likely, the person conducting the interview is ultimately trying to convince this candidate that where they work is a fantastic place, with an amazing culture. Right? So, the interviewer either tells the truth about the incredible work environment or paints a picture that is a much better representation than is the reality. Where does the candidate go from here? How can they truly assess the culture from an interviewer’s answer on this question? Is it even possible?

Let’s take it back for a moment and answer the question, What is culture? I asked Chloe Raynes, our director of music, and she described culture as the feeling of being a part of a team each day and feeling the company values manifested in a real way. I also asked community manager Ali McCowan, who was our company's first employee, and she added that culture is a confidence-raising, comfortable work environment where all voices are heard. After asking several other colleagues and friends, I have come to the conclusion that most people feel that culture is the way that they feel about the company they work for, the way they feel the company values them and how they interact and connect with their colleagues and the company as a whole.

That said, when you are the candidate being interviewed for a job, how, besides asking one person, can you gauge this very important aspect of a company? One way is to frame this question in a different light and ask all of your interviewers to see how their answers vary. For example, you could ask:

• What are the values at this company, and how do you believe they manifest on a day-to-day basis?

• What contributions have you made to this company that you are proud of?

• How do the people in the office interact with one another?

• How do you align with the mission of the company?

• What employee programs are in place that you take advantage of and enjoy?

These questions all tap into different aspects of culture that can more specifically help you to define what is important to you in the workplace.

Additionally, as a candidate, you can also ask the same question to different members of the team during the interview process in order to compare their answers to see if there are similarities and differences. This is another way to help uncover a company's culture during an interview process.

At the end of the day, people have a different idea of the type of company culture that they will thrive within and where they can be most successful. During an interview process, it is important that as a candidate you first identify what you value in a workplace, and then work to identify these patterns within the larger organization by asking the right questions to as many interviewers as you can. And if you do get a chance to interact with many members of the team, it is important to watch the dynamics and assess how you would fit into them.

Culture means something different to most people, so finding a company culture that feels right for you and will be an environment that will allow you to thrive should be the ultimate goal.

Forbes Human Resources Council is an invitation-only organization for HR executives across all industries. Do I qualify?
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Company culture: two words, a lot of meaning. But what is the meaning, really?

As a human resources professional for a fast-growing startup, hiring an average of two people every week, the most common question that I am asked during an interview is, “What is your company culture?”

When people are asking this question, a part of me wonders if they don't know what else to ask, and this is an easy go-to. The other part of me believes that candidates are genuinely curious because in today’s workforce, culture is so imperative in choosing a job, especially when the candidate is very qualified and has many different opportunities to decide between.

So, the question is asked, and what is it that the candidate is expecting to hear? Likely, the person conducting the interview is ultimately trying to convince this candidate that where they work is a fantastic place, with an amazing culture. Right? So, the interviewer either tells the truth about the incredible work environment or paints a picture that is a much better representation than is the reality. Where does the candidate go from here? How can they truly assess the culture from an interviewer’s answer on this question? Is it even possible?

Let’s take it back for a moment and answer the question, What is culture? I asked Chloe Raynes, our director of music, and she described culture as the feeling of being a part of a team each day and feeling the company values manifested in a real way. I also asked community manager Ali McCowan, who was our company's first employee, and she added that culture is a confidence-raising, comfortable work environment where all voices are heard. After asking several other colleagues and friends, I have come to the conclusion that most people feel that culture is the way that they feel about the company they work for, the way they feel the company values them and how they interact and connect with their colleagues and the company as a whole.

That said, when you are the candidate being interviewed for a job, how, besides asking one person, can you gauge this very important aspect of a company? One way is to frame this question in a different light and ask all of your interviewers to see how their answers vary. For example, you could ask:

• What are the values at this company, and how do you believe they manifest on a day-to-day basis?

• What contributions have you made to this company that you are proud of?

• How do the people in the office interact with one another?

• How do you align with the mission of the company?

• What employee programs are in place that you take advantage of and enjoy?

These questions all tap into different aspects of culture that can more specifically help you to define what is important to you in the workplace.

Additionally, as a candidate, you can also ask the same question to different members of the team during the interview process in order to compare their answers to see if there are similarities and differences. This is another way to help uncover a company's culture during an interview process.

At the end of the day, people have a different idea of the type of company culture that they will thrive within and where they can be most successful. During an interview process, it is important that as a candidate you first identify what you value in a workplace, and then work to identify these patterns within the larger organization by asking the right questions to as many interviewers as you can. And if you do get a chance to interact with many members of the team, it is important to watch the dynamics and assess how you would fit into them.

Culture means something different to most people, so finding a company culture that feels right for you and will be an environment that will allow you to thrive should be the ultimate goal.

Forbes Human Resources Council is an invitation-only organization for HR executives across all industries. Do I qualify?

P.volve LLC. Read Remy Schneier's full executive profile here....">Remy Schneier is the Head of Human Resources at P.volve LLC. Read Remy Schneier's full executive profile here....