There’s no magical way of truly knowing whether a company’s culture is great — or at least a great fit for you — until you work there and experience it firsthand. Still, several signs can paint a pretty accurate picture of a company’s culture during the interviewing process.

  1. Happy employees. The hiring process typically brings us into contact with several people within the company, including administrative assistants, human resource professionals, senior leadership and, of course, the hiring manager. Do people seem to like where they work? Are they relaxed? Do they speak about the company fondly and with ease, or do they appear tense and guarded?
  2. An organized hiring process. Was the interviewer prepared? Had she read your resume and come to the interview with good questions? Did he seem clear on the duties and responsibilities of the open position? Was the information you received consistent?
  3. Employees who demonstrate integrity. If the hiring manager said he’d get back to you in a week, did he? If she promised to send you a copy of the company’s annual report or latest marketing piece, did she? In great cultures, leadership advocates for accountability and won’t make excuses for falling short.
  4. Straight answers to straight questions. If a straightforward question is met with hemming and hawing, consider that a red flag. “Why has this position become available?” is pretty standard, as are questions about benefits and compensation. And while it’s OK if your potential boss can’t explain the intricacies of the various medical plans, it’s not OK if he doesn’t put you in touch with someone who can.
  5. Respectful leadership. Just as it’s bad form for a candidate to bad-mouth a former employer, it’s bad form for company agents to bad-mouth former (or current) employees. If your interviewer can’t articulate company needs without making someone else look bad, beware. Also, be wary of anyone who responds to your questions or comments with condescension or even outright hostility. The best managers treat their employees as intellectual equals.
  6. Firm boundaries. In companies with good and healthy cultures, boundaries are honored and that includes job boundaries. If reporting relationships are blurry, or the hiring manager doesn’t seem to have authority to make decisions about the position she’ll oversee, the culture may be troubled.
  7. Decent pay and benefits. Despite the taboo against job candidates talking about money until the employer brings it up, compensation is an important factor when making decisions about work. Overall, you’ll want to look for a company that values what you value, whether that’s work-life balance or some other benefit, but you also want to decide for yourself what the compensation indicates about the company’s view of employees.
  8. A winning reputation. Forget what the company has to say about itself, what are employees saying on Glassdoor, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites? Look for trends. Just keep in mind that unhappy employees are usually more vocal than happy employees.

While many signs can point to a great corporate culture, the most important one is that it aligns with your own values. By watching for signs of a great culture (as well as heeding the signs of a not-so-great culture), you’ll be sure to increase your chances of finding that next right job — at a company that’s right for you.

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