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The A-to-Z guide on company culture when you are looking for a new job

The A-to-Z guide on company culture when you are looking for a new job

Artwork by: Sasha Serdyukova

  • Defining company culture
  • What are the elements of company culture?
  • Goals and purpose
  • Employee attitudes
  • Employee pay and benefits
  • Human resources
  • Core values
  • Collaboration and communication
  • Leadership
  • Work environment
  • Types of corporate cultures
  • How to identify a company's culture when looking for jobs
  • 1. Visit the company’s website and social media profiles
  • 2. Read the job listing carefully
  • 3. Get to know an employee or ex-employee
  • 4. Use your interview wisely
  • What to look for in a company’s culture
  • Positive indicators
  • Red flags
  • Key takeaways

A company’s culture is one of the most important factors to consider when looking for jobs. In this blog, we’ll explore company culture and explain why it matters.

Every company has an intangible aura that makes it either a great place to work or a place to avoid. When you sense this feeling, you’re getting an insight into the company’s culture. Corporate or company culture is a way of describing a business’s identity and the way it interacts with employees, customers, rivals, and partners.

If you’re hunting for your next job, it’s vital to keep company culture in mind. It’s one of the most important factors that will affect your long-term success and happiness. In this blog, we’ll provide an A-to-Z guide to company culture and explain how to approach the topic as a job seeker. We’ll cover the following topics:

  • Defining company culture

  • What are the elements of company culture?

  • Types of corporate cultures

  • How to identify a company’s culture when looking for jobs

  • What to look for in a company’s culture

Defining company culture

What is company culture? That’s not always the easiest question to answer. There are many intangible qualities that contribute to company culture, as well as many well-defined elements. In basic terms, company culture refers to the way a company conducts business and the way its workers orient themselves. It encompasses employee attitudes, corporate values, procedures, operational methods, and shared goals.

While corporate culture often comes from the top, employee attitudes are just as important and can shape the way a business operates. A workforce that believes in its mission and enjoys its work will create a very different culture than employees who resent their company or neglect their work. In turn, these attitudes are influenced by the conduct of leaders and managers. Because of this, company culture is a two-way street that relies on both employees and their supervisors.

What are the elements of company culture?

In order to get a clearer idea of what company culture is, it might be helpful to break it down into distinct elements. Each enterprise is different, but these elements are vital in just about every business:

Goals and purpose

No matter what a company does, its culture will be shaped by its mission and strategic vision. Each industry has different demands that can shape employee outlooks and leadership strategies. In highly competitive fields, companies often adapt by holding their employees to higher standards and demanding increased productivity. Other industries may permit a more relaxed work environment. Neither one of these is necessarily better than the other, it’s just important for employees to find a company that embraces their work ethic.

Employee attitudes

Employee satisfaction is one of the most important factors in corporate culture. When you join a new company, you’re unlikely to spend much time with upper management, but you will constantly be surrounded by your coworkers. Employee attitudes are largely shaped by leadership, although people also bring their personalities to the workplace. 

Healthy company cultures are often marked by high employee retention and satisfaction. These companies have buy-in from their workers who believe in the company’s mission and enjoy their work. 

Employee pay and benefits

Employees who feel valued are likely to enjoy their jobs more and contribute to a thriving company culture. One of the best ways for a company to show appreciation is through good compensation and extensive benefits. Companies that pay well demonstrate that they have strong core values and a regard for their teams’ wellbeing.

Human resources

Human resources departments play a vital role in most companies and can have a massive influence on corporate culture. HR professionals not only handle payroll and benefits but also ensure employee well-being, handle disciplinary issues, provide training, and mitigate workplace conflicts. Good HR departments know how to keep employees safe, happy, and healthy, which can massively improve the atmosphere of an office. 

Core values

Most companies have a set of core values that they strive for. These can include things like inclusion, integrity, teamwork, employee happiness, and many others. The values that a company embraces can impact the lives of employees in significant ways, especially if leaders take them to heart.

Collaboration and communication

Interpersonal relationships are the most important intangible element of company culture. Trust, good communication, collaboration, and shared goals make every workday more enjoyable. Companies can encourage good relationships through policy, but it’s important for employees to embrace these strategies in their everyday lives. 


Good leadership is often the primary factor that separates healthy company cultures from toxic ones. Although culture-building depends on every member of a company, the buck stops with executives and managers. Effective leaders are adept at identifying the challenges that stifle growth and implementing solutions. Good leaders also embody company values and lead their teams by example. 

Work environment

The way in which employees work has a noticeable effect on their happiness and personal relationships. For example, a company that operates out of a single office space will have a much different culture than one with a distributed workforce operating remotely. Both models have their upsides and downsides, so it’s essential for job seekers to find a work environment that suits their needs and strengths. 

Types of corporate cultures

While each company is different, there are several broad categories of corporate culture. Each one has its benefits and drawbacks, so it’s helpful to think about what you want before you start searching for jobs. Here are some of the primary types of corporate cultures:

  • Hierarchical culture. Hierarchical company cultures stress a strong chain of command with clear responsibilities. Businesses with hierarchical cultures are often very centralized, have extensive oversight, and can be somewhat inflexible.

  • Purpose culture. Companies with a purpose culture have an overarching common goal besides the bottom line. This type of culture is especially common in charitable, religious, and non-profit organizations.

  • Customer-first culture. Some companies adopt a customer-first culture that stresses client satisfaction above all else. Instead of trying to sell pre-determined products or services, these companies try to identify what customers want and then fill gaps in the market.

  • Collaborative culture. Also called team or clan culture, this approach prioritizes relationships between employees. In many cases, leadership is decentralized and companies in this space tend to work horizontally rather than vertically.

  • Market culture. A market culture is a corporate culture that prioritizes competitiveness and profit above all else. While this approach works well in some industries, it can detract from employee well-being and customer satisfaction.

  • Creative culture. Creative culture is a newer concept that prioritizes innovation and flexibility. They often offer nontraditional work environments and benefits to give their employees more freedom. This model is especially common in the tech sector.

How to identify a company's culture when looking for jobs

As a job seeker, company culture should be at the top of your mind. Unless you want to look for jobs again in a few months, it’s vital to find an employer with a healthy culture. Keep in mind that different cultures will suit different people better than others. There’s no one-size-fits-all environment, so find something that works for you. Here are several steps you can take to judge a company’s culture before you accept a job:

1. Visit the company’s website and social media profiles

Before you do anything else, take a look at your potential employer’s main website and social media profiles. In most cases, you’ll be able to find a list of core values and an “about us” section. These can tell you how the company wants to be seen, although you’ll need to do more research to find out whether the company’s conduct matches its values. 

When looking at social media profiles, figure out what the company’s priority is. Do they post employee spotlights or is everything an advertisement? This can tell you a lot about what the company values in practice. You can also use your research to find out whether the company donates to charity or supports important causes. 

2. Read the job listing carefully

Job listings are the first point of contact for potential employees, and they can tell you a lot about an employer. Firstly, most job listings will describe salary and benefits which can give you insight into how companies treat their employees.

It’s also important to pay attention to the language that recruiters use. If a job listing is uptight and formal, that probably matches the company’s culture. Conversely, a light and informal job description that employs humor can tell you a lot about a business’s ethos. Neither is necessarily better, and it’s up to you to find the sweet spot. 

3. Get to know an employee or ex-employee

If you really want to know what a company is like, talk to an employee. They’ll be able to describe what goes on behind the PR curtain. If you speak to an ex-employee, try to find one that left on their own. They may be able to give a more objective opinion than someone who was terminated. Social media sites (like LinkedIn) that cater to professionals might be a good place to make contacts.

4. Use your interview wisely

At the end of your job interview, the interviewer will probably give you the chance to ask some questions of your own. Use this time wisely and try to find out more about the company culture. Here are some questions you could ask:

  • What’s your favorite part about this job?

  • How long have you worked here?

  • How do coworkers communicate?

  • What does a typical day look like?

  • What benefits are provided for this position?

  • How would you describe the atmosphere in the office?

  • How would you describe the leadership style of my supervisor?

What to look for in a company’s culture

Now that you know how to identify a company’s culture, we can explore what you should look for and what you should avoid. Here are some of the things you should keep an eye out for when exploring a potential employer:

Positive indicators

No matter what you’re looking for, there are some signs that almost always indicate a healthy corporate culture. Here are some positive indicators that might make a company enjoyable to work for:

  • Happy and positive employees

  • High employee retention

  • Thriving and responsive social media profiles

  • Good pay and extensive benefits

  • Good employee reviews

  • Lots of job applicants

  • Clearly stated company values

  • Flexibility and regard for employee wellbeing

  • Effective communication

  • A friendly and welcoming office environment

  • Charity programs and support for important causes

  • Thorough training and mentorship programs

  • A work environment that suits your personal needs

  • Team-building and extracurricular activities

Red flags

When looking at potential employers, it’s important to be on the lookout for red flags. These are factors that signal dysfunction within a company. Here are a few things that might indicate an unhealthy or toxic company culture:

  • Unhappy or stressed employees

  • Negative opinions of the company

  • Pervasive gossip

  • Hostile relationships between employees and supervisors

  • High employee turnover

  • Sub-optimal pay compared to similar employers

  • Lack of benefits

  • Confusion or lack of clarity during the application process

  • A reluctance to answer questions

  • Inflexibility regarding employee needs

  • An overly competitive environment

  • Lack of responsiveness when communicating with company representatives

Key takeaways

  1. Company culture is a complex concept that encompasses a company’s work environment, values, and interactions with partners, customers, and employees.

  2. A healthy company culture is one of the most important things to look for when searching for a new job.

  3. There are many types of company cultures, including collaborative, hierarchical, creative, purpose-driven, customer-first, and market-driven.

  4. Before you accept an offer from a company, browse its website and social media platforms for culture clues and use your interview to ask questions about company culture.

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