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Company Culture, Decoded

What is Company Culture?

A company’s culture is made up of everything from its mission and values to its work environment and rules. It’s not something you can see or touch, but it defines how a company makes hiring decisions, navigates change, and views its relationship with its employees.  In short, think of a company’s culture as it’s personality!

It’s never been more important than in today’s marketplace. Once considered a “nice-to-have”, company culture has now become a “must-have” as employers have understood its impact on a company’s ability to be profitable, productive, and retain its employees. For internship and job-seekers, decoding a company culture can seem like a daunting and even intimidating task. Fear not, we’ve got the basics covered to help you get started!

Three Indicators of Company Culture

Generally speaking, larger corporations (i.e. publicly traded companies) have more formal, traditional cultures that are often associated with role hierarchies, slower decision-making processes, and more structured business environments. Company culture within the startup world can vary depending on which “Stage” a company is in (i.e. “Early Stage”, “Growth Stage”), but startups tend to more agile, have flat hierarchies, and allow for more work autonomy than corporations.

One popular misconception is equating company “perks” as large indicators of an “employee first” culture. Free food and subsidized gym memberships are great, but if you feel like a small cog in a big machine or you find that no one takes your ideas seriously, do those things really matter to you? While there are a variety of metrics and factors you can look at to asses a culture fit with a company, here are three of the most important:

  1. Continued Learning Opportunities | Early in your career, it’s important to create a strong foundation that will determine a large portion of your future success. Look for companies that provide mentorship opportunities, on-the-job training, and new skill development by allowing you to work on a variety of projects. Larger companies like Google might have company-wide sponsored workshops to help build skillsets, and smaller startups will expose you to a multitude of learning opportunities since those roles require you to “wear many hats.” However you learn best, make sure you’re always learning!
  2. Is Working at the Company Fun? | This might seem like a no-brainer, but many people think of having fun at work as an oxymoron. Wrong! It’s important to be happy in the workplace, and employers know happiness spurs productivity and keeps employees motivated and engaged. Keeping this in mind, companies will often host team-based retreats, bring in speakers for “Lunch ‘N Learns”, and host “hackathons” to engender creativity. Look at these as indicators of companies that care about keeping their employees creative, connected, and inspired.
  3. The People | Employers tend to hire employees that reinforce its company’s values and personality. For this reason, I find talking to employees from a company an easy “common sense” approach to getting insight into a company culture. If you don’t find yourself gelling with employees from your prospective company during your interactions with them, maybe that company is not the best company for you. And that’s ok. There are 6 million companies in the United States alone, there’s bound to be one for you!

Resources to Learn about Company Culture

Company Blogs: Many companies today will have a company blog that highlights the company’s values, profiles of its employees, and news of company-wide initiatives and strategic changes (check out this excellent example by DoorDash, the popular food ordering platform).

Glassdoor:  A popular jobs and recruiting site that features over 8 million company reviews by current and former employees. Keep in mind that reviewers are anonymous and there is no quality control for the reviews. Consequently, there are many fake, ultra-positive company-written reviews as well as overwhelmingly negative reviews written by disgruntled employees. Take everything you read with a grain of salt!

LinkedIn: Without a doubt, LinkedIn is the best way to connect with employees from your target companies to get a better understanding of what it’s actually like to work at the company. Hopefully you have a “mutual connection” that can make an introduction to an employee working at the company. If you don’t, it doesn’t hurt to send an unsolicited message. Just remember to keep the message short and to the point.

The Ultimate Payoff

While finding a culture that resonates with you is no easy task, doing your due diligence will pay off in the end and make your work infinitely more rewarding. You’ll enjoy coming into work, inspired to tackle tough challenges in the workplace with teammates that motivate you to be a better you. And hey, what’s not to love about that?

Varun Uttamchandani

Varun Uttamchandani is a Business Development Manager at a startup who received his undergraduate degree at UCLA and his MBA at Wharton. In his spare time, he enjoys empowering students to get their dream internships and working with professionals to get into their dream MBA programs. Connect with him on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/varunuttam)

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