Workplace culture is one of those vague and nebulous things that you don't typically notice unless you have a particularly good or particularly bad one.

The thing about culture is that unless there are extremes that venture into the zone of illegal, there's not usually a right or wrong. Most companies are started and run by individuals, and we are all unique. Some of us enjoy a fast paced, performance driven culture, while others prefer a relaxed, family feel. In order to determine if an organization is a good fit for you, you first need to determine what kind of environment prompts you to thrive. [TWEET] Do you love a hands on boss who will be there to answer your questions, or do you prefer to check in once a month with a status report. Think about your favorite and least favorite places to work (and why) and you will start to get an idea of what kind of culture you like.  Some things to ask yourself:

  • Do you prefer to operate in a structured or unstructured environment?
  • If unstructured, is it because you like to create structure, or do you find rule stifling?
  • Do you enjoy more or less team meetings?
  • Do you like regular performance feedback, or are you more 'no news is good news'?
  • How important are workplace social events?
  • Do you enjoy working primarily in teams, or on your own?
  • Do you have career goals, and would you like to be on a growth path?
  • Do you prefer formal or on the job training?
  • Do you like a lot of one-on-one time with your manager or are you okay on your own?

It's important that you know these answers, so that you can determine if an environment will be a good fit for you.

Once you are clear on what you need, you can pay attention during the interview for clues as to the culture of the organization.

  • Is there a mission and vision statement on the wall?
  • Is the front desk cluttered or clean?
  • Are you greeted warmly or coolly?
  • What kinds of questions are you asked about your preferred working environment?
  • Do the questions seem to indicate whether you will be expected to work in structure, create structure, or function in a flexible environment?

When it's your turn to ask some questions, you can ask either or questions about the environment that will give you some solid answers without making it sound like you have a strong preference for one or the other. Find out as much as you can, because it only takes one experience in a bad fit to never want to repeat it again!

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