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How To Understand The Culture Of A Company Before You Work There

  • Posted 12 Apr 2021
  • Richard Holmes
  • Article

If you made it past the rigorous screening exercise of a company’s employment process and have been chosen for an interview, then I believe that congratulations are in order.

Still, I wouldn’t be popping any bottles yet. If you ask anybody to tell you what he or she envisions his or her dream job to be like without going into the specifics, you will get a similar response from a lot of people. You will hear something like, “The pay will be good, the work will be interesting and I should be HAPPY doing my job.” 

In fact, for a lot of people, the later will come before the former if you are considering preferences. It means that as much as salary seems to be the major motivator for applying for most vacancies or openings, job satisfaction and company culture is crucial as well.

In 2019 Glassdoor, a jobs and recruiting website surveyed more than 5,000 adults across four countries: the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany measuring sentiment around mission and culture in the workplace today, along with the level of importance of both. 

Among the key findings, Glassdoor found that more than three-quarters of adults would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there, and well over half say company culture is more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction. 

It is safe to say that being a culture fit is of benefit to both employer and employee. Unfortunately, most organisations do not have a brochure of their culture at the reception or on their website. It’s almost top secret for some companies; all you may see in their employee or team web page are pictures of employees with smiling or focused faces. 

Therefore, it is left to you to discover the culture of the company before it is too late, which is about the moment you leave the interview room, receive your employment letter or the day you start working there.

Let’s kick off with doing some digging of your own

While some companies’ cultures remain a mystery until you start working there, there are still a lot of companies that have summaries and overviews of their culture up for grabs on the internet. There is a great chance that your company of choice is among them. 

Here on LinkedIn is a great start, as is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms. On LinkedIn click on the company page first and learn as much as you can. Here you can see who works for the company, click on their profiles, not just your possible future boss but several of them. You will build a picture of who works there and you’ll know where they used to work prior. Ask yourself why you think they moved there?

Then click on the other social pages and see what the company have posted. Are there any posts about their people, team events, and celebrations? Does it look like they look after there employees? 

After this click on the company website and click on their careers page (if they have one). What does it say? What are there values? Are they people focused?

Check out websites like Glassdoor and Seek. These have verified employee ratings. Have a look at these ratings, see what their people are saying. Try and gain an overall picture from the reviews but don't get too hung up on them. Sometimes only employees who have had a bad experience and want to vent their anger post reviews here. Happy employees for some reason (probably because they have better things to do) don't post reviews on these websites. I haven't and I have worked for some brilliant companies.

If you’re still struggling to research them do you know anyone that works there or know of someone who knows anyone there? If you do find someone, try and connect with them and informally ask them to share their insights into the company’s culture. 

It would be an advantage if you did this exercise before applying so you can decide if the job is ideal for you and to prepare better for the interview.

If you are using a recruitment agency, they should be able to give you some valuable insight into the culture. Well, the good ones will.

On the probability that you couldn’t get tangible information on the company’s culture until you made it to the interview day, there are yet some steps you can take, especially if you are determined to get that position.

Observe the office environment

First impressions go a long way. You can learn a lot about the place when you arrive. 

I once went to a company, rang the buzzer at reception and no one answered. I called the person I was meeting and they said they’d be there in 5 minutes. In this time 2 people walked through reception and both completely ignored me. When I eventually walked around the office the staff seemed miserable and all I could hear was my feet walking on the floor. Can you judge culture on this? Maybe, maybe not but you can take a lot away from this impression. I certainly wouldn’t want to work there.

Next time you get to your next interview what feeling do you get? Are they welcoming? Do the people seem happy and friendly?

Making the most from the interview itself

First impressions do go a long way and you can immediately judge how engaged your interviewers are with their company.

I’ve met potential clients that look physically exhausted, some that look like they haven’t seen daylight for a while! This is never a good sign and you can gauge a lot from this. On the flip side, if they’re happy and enthusiastic this also tells a lot about the company. Their employees are engaged!

Once the interview actually begins the employer will also be looking for culture fit from there side so they will be asking you questions related to being a good fit for them. Depending on what they ask you can also deduce whether you will be right for them. You will be able to figure out the kind of persona they want you to have while working with them and the possible scenarios that may occur related to the position for which you are applying. 

During the interview, the interviewer(s) will ask if you have questions, and this is where your detective work comes to play. For this part, you must always have a list even before you apply for the job, and your list should contain the right questions. Here are some great ones to ask regarding company culture:

What do you like about working here?

How does the company celebrate success?

What’s the one thing you would change about the company if you could?

Is there a lot of collaboration between the different teams?

How are employees recognised for their success?

What makes people successful here?


How would you describe the culture?


When trying to understand company culture try and do as much research as you can prior to the interview. Ask your friends and network about what they’ve heard about them. The more you know, the better equipped you will be. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions around company culture. Hiring Managers expect them and should have the answer for you. If they don’t be wary.

Judging company culture is difficult and sometimes you really don’t know until you start working there. Trust your “Gut Feeling”. If it doesn’t feel right move on to the next opportunity.

Richard Holmes is Co-Founder & Director of HPR Consulting, a leading Accounting & Finance recruitment business in Sydney, Australia.

He has been in the Executive Search & Selection Industry since 2003 and has developed a track record of recruiting senior Accounting, Finance and Commercial professionals into leading ASX listed, private and multinational organisations. Passionate about connecting talent, he has an in-depth knowledge of the Sydney market and brings a significant amount of intellectual property to his clients and candidates.


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