Sizing up Corporate Culture during an Interview

I spent last week performing an Information Systems audit for a very cool company I found myself wishing I actually worked for by the end of the week. The client is a small B2B dev shop, nestled away in a comfortable nook along one of the many Peachtree named streets in Atlanta.

Over my last three years spent in professional services, I have seen the inside of many organizations of all shapes and sizes. As a consultant and IS auditor, I get the opportunity to truly see what makes a company click. I have seen the good, bad and terribly ugly!

So, what are some of the key details to look for to give you a decent indication that a company is a good place to work?

Inspections, Inquiries and Observations to make during your next Job Interview

1. Observe the Office Environment

Key items to look for: Matching, non-worn out office chairs, up to date computer systems, the use of laptops, and attractive office décor and desk space.

The Logic and Reasoning:

  • Matching, non-worn out office chairs indicates that the organization cares about the comfort of their staff, who sit in these chairs all day.
  • Up to date systems indicates that the company cares about investing in the equipment that makes their business money.
  • Use of laptops suggests the organization is flexible and doesn’t enforce “ass in the seats” type of policies.
  • Attractive office décor and desk space indicates the company cares about promoting a positive corporate culture and environment of unity.

Real Life Horror Story: I once worked for an organization that only bought new office chairs for its staff after intense complaining. Most chairs were broke and unusable.

Another organization I worked for only provided desktop PCs because management wanted to see the workers in their desk daily. If you weren’t there, they assumed you were not working.

2. Inquire about current projects and aspirations/prospects for the future

Key items to look for: Enthusiasm and excitement from both management and staff when asking about current and future projects, regardless of how mundane the product or business might seem to the outsider.

The Logic and Reasoning:

  • Satisfied staff will typically show enthusiasm for projects they’ve truly taken ownership of. IT staff will get pumped about firewalls, programmers will get excited about backend software, and project managers will get excited about their custom take on the agile SDLC.

3. Inspect the Break Room, Coffee Machine and other Amenities

Key items to look for: High quality coffee, free beverages, bottled water, or snacks. A clean break room that is inviting and inspires conversation and other similar emenities.

The Logic and Reasoning:

  • When financial times are tough, small amenities like these are the easiest to cut first. An abundance of high grade coffee and beverages suggests a healthy business.
  • High quality coffee and complimentary beverages demonstrate that management are paying attention to what employees care about.
  • A smart manager knows that a clean, inviting break area encourages synergy and mind stimulating conversation.

4. Gather Evidence of Training and Conference Attendance

Key items to look for: Acronyms after names on business cards, email signatures and Linkedin profiles. Any overheard conversation regarding recent training. Inquire with other staff about any recent training or conferences attended.

The Logic and Reasoning:

  • Acronyms after the names of employees suggests the company cares about continuing education.
  • An organization that is willing to send its employees to conferences and training demonstrates the organization cares about developing its staff and hopefully promoting from within.

Real Life Horror Story: One consulting company I worked for in the past used its training budget as hours to pad projects that were either over or poorly budgeted.

5. Did they take you out for a team lunch?

The Logic and Reasoning:

  • Shows management is interested in making sure you fit in well with the entire team and they are looking for just another cog in the wheel.
  • Shows that the organization isn’t so cheap that they won’t take the entire team out for lunch to introduce a potential new teammate.

Have any tips of your own? Please share.

2 thoughts on “Sizing up Corporate Culture during an Interview

  • really good read here, Shane. reading your real life horror stories made me reminisce my ow. i once had this prominent retail client who had us sit in a really cramped room for the entire duration of the fieldwork. made me feel like harry potter in the cupboard under the stairs.

  • Agreed. Great list of items for consideration. Also for comparing to you current employer. Along with #4, I specifically ask about certification support. If they support/require certifications, they should also support the continuing education (CPE). A must have if you want to keep your CIA, CISA, or CISSP. While a company may require a certification to get hired – they don’t always help you support it.

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