5 Ways to Know a Company's Work Culture (Without Asking)

I’m surprised when my friends tell me they know nothing about the culture of a company they are about to join. ‘It pays well, and I like my job title. That’s all that matters.’ ​Does it, really? These are important factors, for sure, but if you can’t be happy where you work, you won’t stick around for long.

Happiness is subjective, of course. What makes me happy, may not matter to you. I feel happy when I am doing the kind of work that satisfies my creative needs, in a workplace where I can see myself learning and growing as a person and in my career. ​This is greatly influenced by the company’s culture.

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How can you determine what a company’s work culture is before taking the plunge and accepting the job offer?

Here are a few cues to look for​​ during your in-office interview so you know what you might be getting yourself into:

1. Take a look around: ​You know how you would ​survey your potential new home? That’s what you should be doing when entering your prospective office for an interview. The only drawback here is, you can’t really ask the ‘broker’ any direct questions. Don’t fret, though, it’s amazing how much you can learn from just casually glancing around. Just keep your ​eyes and ears open.

​Overheard in the office
‘Sorry, you can’t talk on the phone inside the office premises. You should use the corridor.’ What this means: There are rules in this office, and they must be followed. If you’re someone who is at his or her productive best when in a structured environment, this place might be a good fit for you.

Seeing is believing
Family photos, comic strips, personalized desk spaces.
What this means: This company encourages employees to have a distinct voice and
personality. If you’re someone who thrives in a more free setup, you should hope for a second interview at this place.

2. ​Attentiveness goes both ways: ‘So what do you do in your free time?’ As I answer, I can tell my interviewer isn’t really listening because she has already moved on to the next question. If she’s your future manager, and she’s not interested in what you have to say … well, I don’t think you are expected to contribute much in this company. It’s probably a small role, or worse, your manager thinks you’re inconsequential. That’s neither good for your self-respect nor your career prospects. Look for signs that tell you she’s genuinely interested in you. One great way to learn more is paying attention to the questions being asked. ​If she’s really interested, you’ll find yourself in an engaging conversation instead of a one-way dialogue.

3. Are you human?: I have attended a few interviews where I wanted to jump up and display a Captcha code and ask the interviewer: Are you a human or robot?

There are so many blogs and books out there that talk about the importance of body
language at an interview. Unfortunately, they are all directed at the interviewee. And so if you observe your interviewer carefully, there’s so much you can learn about your future in that company. ​She might be saying, ‘I give a lot of freedom to my team,’ but everything about her could indicate the contrary. Watch her posture – is she uptight or at ease?

If her posture is uptight, it may mean, your potential boss has her way to get the job done. If tough-love is what you need then you’ve found your match.

4. Resume vs person: Let me just say it, I am more than my resume. Some recruiters insist on going over each point of your resume, and while that is important, isn’t an interview so much more than that? I love to see interviewers take a cue from my resume to ask me more insightful questions.

When someone looks only at the CV during an interview, it tells me the company cares for only skills and not me as an individual. They don’t want to know my story, who I am, where I’m from. They are not looking to hire a person, they’re looking for just about anyone who can get the job done.

5. Does your manager love her company?
​‘Before we give you the test, I just want to tell you this job requires a lot of hard work and long hours. It’s not all fun and games.’ I should have known then, that this was not a happy workplace (or my manager wasn’t a happy camper – either way, I should have stayed away).

Unhappy employees make an unhappy workplace. As an outsider, this is surprisingly easy to gauge. It’s true the other way round as well. When someone is in love, it shows. You don’t even have to ask. They blush, they talk incessantly, they glow at the mention of their ​company’s name.

I’ve met people who love their jobs and the companies they work for. It is rare, but when it has been a long-lasting affair, you know it is true love. When employees have worked in the same place for a considerable amount of time (product managers and architects have been with Zoho an average of 10 years), you know the company is doing something right. If your manager-to-be talks about her company’s great work culture without you having to ask, take note. ​And if she sighs deeply before the interview begins, take note of that too. ​Just remember, no one can fake happiness. Not for long, at least.


7 Replies to 5 Ways to Know a Company's Work Culture (Without Asking)

  1. Good observations. Guess. most times as an interviewee, the thought process is focussed on "how am I doing", "what else can I say about my skills"etc. rather than observing the interviewer or the surrounds. Thanks

  2. Hi Natasha, Great article and you've piqued my interest about life @ Zoho. The importance of the question of work culture cannot be overstated. I'm a recent Computer Science grad looking for software engineering jobs; however I couldn't find a link on the Zoho site. Can you direct me to one, please? I would love to apply there. Seems like a great place.

  3. Really great contents to observe, What are the merits I have seen in this content is what I have seen in Zoho while attending the interview. Unfortunately I have not selected to join with this community. I have been working on a company which pays me well and well corporate environment but totally unsatisfied job, very less career growth, where everyday I feel like going to Hell. Choose before you go. I love Zoho..

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