Office Culture

Get a Read on an Organization's Culture

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I am struggling with how to “read” an organization before I decide if I should apply there. Are there ways to understand the culture to see whether I would fit in?

A: Cultural fit is a critical factor in your success or failure at whichever organization you choose for your next career move. It’s smart to investigate organizational culture before you go through what might be a long application process.

Think of this as if you’re a detective trying to solve a crime: You need to gather as much information about the organization as you can. You want to know about the work environment, of course, but also about the leadership and the organization’s growth plans.

To do this research, you need to be clear about the kind of culture you’re looking for and where you can do your best work. Before you start gathering information, make a list of what’s important to you and use that list as your guide.

Be clear about the kind of culture you’re looking for and where you can do your best work. Before you start gathering information, make a list of what’s important to you and use that list as your guide.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Visit the organization’s website. Study the home page and the “about us” section with an eye toward learning about the organization’s mission, vision, and values.
  • Study the leadership. Look at the backgrounds of the organization’s staff executives and volunteer leaders, but also focus on their tenure. For example, if you see that most of the leaders have been there for 30 or more years, you may decide it’s a great place for you to quickly move up the ladder, since retirements will be coming soon. Or you may reason that they’re probably used to the way they’ve always done things and might not be open to the new ideas you’d bring. Which path you choose will depend on what you’re looking for.
  • Do a web search. Find out what other information is available online about the organization. Learn about its competition and what others say about it. Don’t just look at one or two articles—go deep to learn as much as you can.
  • Check Glassdoor.com. See what past and present employees say about the organization.
  • Check with your LinkedIn connections. See if you know anyone who works or has worked at the organization. If so, contact them and ask about the culture. If a casual, collaborative workplace is what you’re looking for and you hear that everyone at the organization works in offices with the doors closed and wears suits every day, that may not be the place for you.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR, The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook and the latest book—The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

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