How to Decide if an Employer’s Culture is Right for You

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It’s long been demonstrated that companies that create great work cultures see big benefits from doing so. They experience lower turnover and better financial performance than their peers, see improved track records on safety and customer satisfaction, and are sought out by better quality job applicants.

What’s less obvious is the payoff enjoyed by the individual employee who smartly chooses their workplace culture. As you interview for your next job, being attuned to critical cultural elements won’t just inform that important next career step, if you choose well, it’ll lift your on-the-job engagement, productivity and overall wellbeing and satisfaction.

Make sure to keep these strategies in mind as you assess the culture of your next employer:

1. Watch How People Relate To Each Other:

Often times we’re so worried about our own performance in an interview, we don’t notice how the company’s employees interact with each other. Ken Daubenspeck, CEO of Daubenspeck and Associates, an executive search firm that focuses on culture matching advises, “Interviewees should pay particular attention to the touch points between people in the organization. Try and notice how peers interact with each other, and how managers treat employees.” When dealing with a panel interview for example, are people speaking over each other—plainly interrupting colleagues—or are they respectfully letting others finish their thoughts? Is there a peer to peer kind of feeling among those interacting or is their more deference and hierarchy observed?

2. Pay Attention To The Mundane:

Author George Anders aptly noted, “Companies reveal their personas in the ways they handle life’s most routine tasks.” Notice how your interviews and meetings are scheduled, what coordination happens between parties, even how happy and engaged your interviewers are. A friend once spent a full day interviewing at a management consultancy and while there, 2 of her 6 interviews were spontaneously cancelled. An additional interviewer didn’t know he was scheduled with her and was replaced with someone who was unprepared and uncomfortable. Not surprisingly, my friend didn’t pursue the opportunity further. When she later checked tell-all site, she wasn’t surprised to see that the number one complaint from employees was a culture of disorder and dysfunction!

3. Be Highly Attuned To Your Potential Boss:

It’s been said that people don’t quit their jobs—or even their companies—they quit their bosses. In fact, 70% of those who voluntarily leave roles, cite that it was their boss, specifically, that they were leaving behind. Your manager has an everyday impact on your ability to stretch yourself and grow, and on a more basic level, they shape your experience of feeling welcomed and respected. Notice how your potential boss relates to you, how optimistically or pessimistically she speaks about your role, and how she responds to the question, “What would your ideal partnership look like with the person that assumes this role?”

4. Delve Into Conflict:

As counter-intuitive as it may feel to grill a prospective employer, asking questions about how disagreement is managed can be telling. Recommends Daubenspeck, “The nature and culture of any business enterprise is defined by interaction, and more specifically, by conflict and resolution. Ask the interviewer, ‘How does the organization handle differences of opinion when collaborating? When goals are thwarted, how do you handle it as a team? As a manager, how do you personally resolve conflict?’” Noticing how several people respond to this line of questioning should give you a clear sense of how democratic or top-down the culture is—and on a simpler level, what informal rules exist.

In the end, it behooves anyone interviewing for a job to have as many interactions as possible with a future employer. Key into the culture the same ways an anthropologist or management consultant is trained to, using the skills above. Then be painstakingly honest with yourself about the results.

How have you gotten a sense of an employer’s culture? What’s a red flag to watch out for?

This article appeared in Forbes on September 26, 2014.

Photo by Park Troopers on Unsplash.
Selena Rezvani

Selena Rezvani is a recognized consultant, speaker and author on women and leadership.  A seasoned human capital consultant, Selena uses workplace culture assessments to help corporate clients be more inclusive and welcoming to women.  She’s also the author of two leadership books targeted at professional women – Pushback: How Smart Women Ask—and Stand Up—for What They Want (Jossey-Bass, 2012) and The Next Generation of Women Leaders (Praeger, 2009). Selena has been featured in the LA Times,,, Forbes, and wrote an award-winning column on women for The Washington Post.

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