Consider the “C” Word when Job Hunting

Workplace culture (yes, that’s the C word)…it’s so hard to describe. Maybe you can portray it when you have time to think. But when a job candidate asks “what’s the culture like here”, you give them a blank stare. It’s strange because when you work in it, you know exactly what it feels like.

If the people that work there can’t describe it to you, as a job seeker, how do you know what to look for? What to ask in the interviews?

My first recommendation is to think about what you want in a job and from an employer. When looking for a job we tend to get tunnel vision and just focus on a singular aspect of the job, such as salary. Before you even start interviewing, write out the answers to these questions:

  • What kind of culture do you want at your next job? Do you need to be able to express your opinions, don’t like titles to matter, or maybe you just want to like the people you’ll work with most closely.
  • What are the top three things you want from your future employer? Is it a high salary, flexible work, or career growth? I encourage you to figure this out so you don’t lose focus on what you want.

One characteristic job seekers generally don’t think about when applying for jobs is their own well-being. Will their future employer enhance or diminish it? Well-being can be affected by many aspects of a job but let’s focus on physical well-being, benefits/perks, and relationships.

Physical Well-being

The first thing to do when interviewing is to take a look around. Observe the people you encounter. Are they rushing around? Do they have a minute to look up and give you a smile? If you wouldn’t want to look like them, be wary. You are far more likely to adopt their attitudes and behaviors then have them adopt yours.

Check out what type of food is available. A friend of mine started at a company that offered free M&M’s and as a result, he gained 5 pounds. There were healthy options but he had to overlook the candy to get to them. Even if you bring your own lunch and snacks, you’ll be influenced by junk food sitting around. At the very least you should have access to purchasing healthy food onsite.

Most companies can’t afford an onsite gym but some may offer gym discounts. Since sitting is the new smoking, are there sit to stand desks or the ability to get up and take a walk? At organizations that have a culture of well-being, you’ll see walking meetings, co-workers going for a casual stroll together or maybe employees out running.

Non-salary benefits or perks

Flexible work options are a huge benefit an employer can offer that can go a long way towards maintaining your well-being. These can be flexible hours, working from home or comp time. Working from home is a must for me, as it allows me more time to spend with my family and makes it much easier to get a workout in.

Vacation time. Most job seekers ask about the amount of time off but don’t often ask how easy it is to take it. Can you take off work when needed or is there an approval process? If you get a lot of time off but it’s discouraged to take it, it’s not such a great job perk is it?

Parental leave. If you are past this stage in your life or work outside the U.S., you may care less about this benefit. But if having a child (or adopting one) is in your future, parental leave is a huge benefit that can equate to peace of mind and having steady income while you are out caring for your child.

Career growth. This is a fairly common question most people do ask. Most high performing employees will only stay at a company as long as their career is growing. Don’t just ask if there is career growth but rather, ask them to tell you what a career path would look like for the particular role.


Talk to the team you’ll be working with and ask them about your future manager. Even if they aren’t completely honest with you, you can usually read between the lines.

Do your future co-workers get away for lunch together? A recent study showed that co-workers who eat lunch together work better together. Chances are, you won’t physically observe this but it’s a question for your future team. Do they ever hang out at work if they aren’t forced?

Looking for a job is hard work, so spend your time finding the right cultural fit. If you do, you’ll end up being happier in the long run.